Epilogue

I like books. I don’t mean I just like reading books. I mean I like books. It just feels wrong to me to read a book off of a computer screen. I like to turn the pages. I like to feel it in my hands. I like to find some odd piece of scrap paper or some random bookmark to hold my place until I can start reading again. I like to see books sitting on my bookshelf, whether I actually read them or not.

Because of this, I love to randomly cruise bookstores. I hardly ever buy anything. It’s odd. I can watch a movie multiple times and not get tired of it, but once I finish a book, well, I’ve finished it. I don’t pick it up and read it again. Nevertheless, I still like to rummage through bookstores, and occasionally I will actually spend a little money on something to read.

beyond beliefOne of my purchases last year was Josh Hamilton’s autobiography Beyond Belief. The book had been out for several years, so I was able to snag it cheap at the local Books-A-Million. Hamilton was still a member of the Texas Rangers when the book was published, before he signed a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. I had a little money with me and had always wanted to read it, so I bought the paperback edition.

By now, even non-baseball fans know Hamilton’s story of being a five-tool prospect to bottomed-out drug and alcohol addict who was booted out of baseball completely to born-again Christian who rose from the ashes of his own story to return to the major leagues and become a star player. It is a truly inspiring story, a light of hope for anyone who has ever sank to the depths of addiction and wondered if they could ever recover again.

On the left side of the book’s cover, there is a small, red circle. Typed in white letters are the words “Includes a New Chapter Updating Josh’s Journey.” This update comes in the form of an epilogue added to the end of the book. In the epilogue, Hamilton and his wife, Katie, recount his 2009 relapse, during which he was photographed shirtless in an Arizona bar with several women.

Unfortunately, the events described in that epilogue would not represent the last time Hamilton would relapse. Major League Baseball officials are currently debating whether or not to suspend Hamilton for admitting to abusing alcohol and cocaine this past February. At issue is whether the incident constitutes a violation of the drug treatment Hamilton was required to be a part of to be reinstated to baseball in 2006. He could be facing up to a year’s suspension from the game.

We Christians love heroes. We love to celebrate stories of recovery, and we love to push those who have those stories out in front of the crowd. When one of them falls, the public fallout can be vicious. Christians and non-Christians get angry. At the heart of their anger is this: That person claimed to be one thing and turned out to be another.

Obviously, Hamilton’s latest relapse is a stark reminder to Christians everywhere that no one is above a fall from grace. It is also a reminder of why people become Christians in the first place. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to stumble from time to time. Sometimes we may not even be stumbling; we may just want to leave the narrow way for a while. Whatever the case may be, we are not going to be perfect.

A greater issue to me, though, is the point I mentioned earlier about the image Christians attach today to their heroes. Barnabas Piper wrote the following words in article for WORLD Magazine:

Christians often try too hard to find heroes. There is a distinct difference between appreciating someone’s story of redemption and making them a poster boy of faith. In doing so we put the emphasis on their lives and their works, and take it off of God’s grace. Grace is the differentiating characteristic between Christianity and every other religion, and when we downplay it we actually lose our witness. So how do we respond when one of our heroes relapses? We see ourselves in it and recognize the universal, deep need for God’s grace. This is what sets us apart and it’s what Josh Hamilton (and you) need now.

I remember talking with a friend once about this particular issue. I told him I thought it was interesting that all of the Christian testimonies I hear are from people who have totally overcome their issues. Wouldn’t it be odd, I asked, to hear a speaker say that they were still struggling with sin? No one would want to hear that, even though it would be totally identifiable for scores of people. People forget that Josh Hamilton had to be accompanied by a handler everywhere he went, couldn’t have cash on him, and had to submit to weekly urine tests to keep his job. It’s not like he was an addict and walked away scot-free. That seemed to be how we all wanted to view him, though.

There could always be an epilogue to anyone’s inspiring story. King David did a lot of wonderful things … then he saw a woman bathing on her roof. Noah was the only righteous man on Earth … then he got drunk. Hamilton’s story continued after the epilogue. Everyone’s does, even if they fall a thousand more times. Whatever Hamilton’s ultimate punishment may be, the grace that saved him will always be there. Just like it is for the rest of us.

Advertisements

World Full Of Triggers

In a recent post, I described how I had been sick one weekend and had spent an entire day just watching movies on my computer. I wrote about watching the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. What I didn’t mention were the other two movies I watched that weekend. One was Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and the other was Thanks For Sharing, an ensemble-type movie with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, and Pink.

Locke was a very interesting exercise in minimalist film-making, with the whole movie comprised of Hardy driving in a car, talking to people on the phone. It’s actually much more interesting than that synopsis, but I don’t want to give too much away. Thanks For Sharing has been billed as a romantic comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is a movie about sex addicts struggling to live lives of sobriety. It’s not without its lighter moments, but it is definitely not “date night” fare.

For the most part, I respected how the film dealt with the struggle sex addicts go through to try to beat their thanks-for-sharing-movie-12step-therapy-group-sex-41addictions. Ruffalo, in particular, goes to great lengths to keep his addiction at bay, including using a flip-phone, avoiding the internet, and having televisions removed from any hotel rooms he stays in. He becomes a mentor to Gad’s character and forms a romantic relationship with Paltrow. He looks like the guy who is going to make it.

But he doesn’t. He falls. And he falls hard.

I figured a movie dealing with sex addiction would go to some uncomfortable places, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Ruffalo’s relapse. It features an explicit sex scene, with nudity, and a horrible incident with a former lover after that which nearly ends in tragedy. The fact that these scenes exist in themselves could possibly be understood from the viewpoint of someone making the film. From the standpoint of sex addicts who possibly were watching the movie to observe how it treated the condition, the two scenes could basically be considered triggers for relapses in their own lives.

Let’s face it: If you are addicted to anything in this life, you don’t have to search very hard to find something to trigger your addictive behavior. Gad’s frustrated character in Thanks For Sharing remarks at one point, “Is all of Manhattan just one big (explicative) catwalk?”. It’s not just sex, though. Alcoholics are bombarded with how cool drinking beer is. Food addicts are daily served up a steady diet of unhealthy options. Those suffering from depression can get their daily downers simply by turning on the radio for a few minutes.

All this makes me wonder… Are we actually killing ourselves?

I mean, if we’re all trying to stay away from something, how does it make sense that we get assaulted every day with the very things we’re trying to avoid? In this pretty stunning video, comedian and actor Russell Brand talks about how soft-core pornography is readily available and even the accessibility of hard-core porn has skyrocketed over the years. Numerous studies have been produced about the negative effects of pornography on the brain, but we just keep pumping it out. Are we naive or stupid or do we just not care?

Life is hard. Life with an addiction of some sort is even harder. It would be difficult living alone in an enclosed box. We don’t live in boxes, though. We live in a world where the guns are loaded.

And there are triggers everywhere.

Tuneful Tuesday: Set Me Free

Mark 5:1-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name isLegion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there,clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Different

A very, very dear friend of mine emailed me several months ago after reading on my blog that I was no longer attending counseling for my depression. I replied that my counselor felt like I had made enough progress to manage my Persistent Depressive Disorder (also known as Dysthymia) on my own, then I joked that I was given a diploma with the words “Not Krazy” written in crayon on it and released back into the unsuspecting public.

She didn’t think that was very funny. I thought it was one of my best depression-related jokes ever, to be honest.

I’ll never forget something my last counselor said before we stopped meeting: “Be as persistent as the disorder.” What he meant was, dysthymia-by-nav-sandhar-sourcesince depression was something that had dogged me for many, many years, it wasn’t going to vanish overnight. In fact, it might never go away entirely, so I would have to be persistent in practicing the techniques I had learned to keep it at bay. What he was saying made perfect sense, so I committed the saying to memory: “Be as persistent as the disorder.”

A funny thing happened after a while, though. I didn’t exactly forget everything I had learned, but I started to feel, well, pretty normal. Since I was rolling along so well, I began to get lax about some things. A bit of anxiety here, a negative thought about myself there, a doomsday scenario forming in my mind every now and then… Nothing to worry about, though, because I had learned what I needed to.

Right?

I’ve come to a realization over the past week or so. I … am … different. I don’t process information the same way a non-depressed person does. If I’m not careful, my emotions get away from me and I do stupid things. Then, instead of forgiving myself, I beat myself up about what I did. I need to pay attention to how much sleep I get at night and how often a week I can exercise. I need to head off negative self-perceptions before they sabotage me.

And I need to do all this every … single … day.

I’m not saying any of this to garner sympathy. I’m saying it because I’m beginning to realize there’s no shame in being different. Some people have to watch what they eat more than others. Some people are allergic to cats. Some people can’t go near a bottle of alcohol. I have to pay attention to what my brain is trying to tell me. If you’re in the same boat, you’re not broken or defective or stupid; you’re just different.

So I guess I need to start living a bit differently than I have been. Which means I need to get back to what’s normal for me. This could get confusing. I suppose I need to be persistent.

Tuneful Tuesdays: Ragamuffin

I had a chance this past weekend to watch the new film Ragamuffin, based on the life of the late Contemporary Christian singer Rich Mullins. I was still too in my hair band days when Mullins was alive (He was killed in 1997 in an automobile accident.) to appreciate the music he produced, but he has become a more intriguing figure to me in recent years, mainly because he seemed to be the rare Christian entertainer who never seemed interested in portraying himself as someone who had it all together.

If Ragamuffin is to be believed, in fact, Mullins was about as far from having it together as a Christian can be. He was depressed (maybe even manic). He was slightly paranoid. He was a full-blown alcoholic. The most striking aspect of Mullins’ life to me, though, is that he composed some legendary Contemporary Christian hits while he was going through all this. It’s not like he sobered up, wrote “Awesome God,” and then went on Focus on the Family to testify about his new lifestyle. No, he was a drunk, wrote “Awesome God,” was still depressed, went back to Bible college, and remained a drunk after that.

As a movie, Ragamuffin is not without is problems. The first half-hour of the movie is almost annoying in the way the filmmakers seem to want to cram every editing trick they know into the narrative (flashbacks, black-and-white sequences, odd camera angles, etc., etc.). Actor Michael Koch does a nice job portraying Mullins, but he doesn’t really look or sound that much like him. Brennan Manning (played by actor Charles Lawlor in the film) is probably romanticized a bit too much. And there seems to be a weird obsession with showing Mullins’ bare feet. I wanted to buy him a pair of shoes by the end of the movie.

All in all, though, Ragamuffin is a surprisingly sturdy, effective, and moving effort, especially if you’re a Christian who has ever stood face-to-face with depression and wondered whether you would survive. It’s not an easy movie to watch at times, and it certainly doesn’t offer any pat answers about how to live “your best life now.” It does offer some hope in the darkness, though, for those who have professed Christ as their savior but still don’t quite feel as if they belong. If Mullins life was any indication, there’s enough room at God’s table for all of us ragamuffins.

Just Stop It

“So, that’s my story. I really want to stop, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, the first thing you should do is stop…”

Ah, yes, the circular reasoning most of us apply to the addict. Obviously, what would help the addict most is to simply stop whatever it is they are addicted to. If it’s smoking, stop smoking. If it’s overeating, stop eating so much. If it’s pornography, stop looking at pictures of naked women (or men). I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Right?

matthew perryConsider the following quote from the Psychology Today website: “When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Or consider the words of actor Matthew Perry: “A lot of people think that addiction is a choice. A lot of people think it’s a matter of will. That has not been my experience. I don’t find it to have anything to do with strength.”

What makes an addict an addict? Not being able to resist compulsions. In other words, what makes an addict an addict is the fact that they’re addicted to something. If it were as easy as just stopping, they would probably have stopped by now.

Do some people need a firm word or a swift kick in the pants to get their heads straight? Yeah, definitely. Not everyone is able to respond to that, though. Call it a lack of will power or chemical dependency or an addictive personality or whatever, but there are those who just can’t flick the switch and turn it off. They struggle.

And for years I’ve sat in the judgement seat and pointed my finger at them.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how someone could be an alcoholic and still be a decent person. I didn’t get how someone could drift in and out of rehab and still have a place in society. I didn’t get how someone could look at pornography and claim to care about their marriage and family.

I didn’t understand addiction. And I didn’t understand mercy or grace.

I want to just stop judging the addict. I’ve been where they are, and most days I am where they are. I want them to feel free to come forward and ask for help without fear. I want them to be able to just stop hiding and get the help they need.

Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t that easy, though.

The Drugs We Crave

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been driving somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, be it to catch an early flight or to work the ufoearly shift at your job, and started scanning the radio dial. You flipped past some music, but somehow that just didn’t seem appropriate. You wanted something more subdued, more relaxing, so you began to seek out the talk radio stations. And that’s when you found it – that program that discusses UFOs as if they are a totally real phenomenon.

For the record, I have a difficult time believing in life on other planets coming to visit ours. I just don’t think they could have done it without some type of definitive proof being captured by now. In this age of leaks and the internet and satellite technology and who knows what other means of making sure nothing ever stays a secret for very long, it’s impossible for me to believe not one concrete piece of evidence exists to prove the existence of UFOs. True believers, you may begin spamming me now at your leisure.

At any rate, I came across one of these programs on my way in to work this week, and perhaps out of a desire to be entertained or a need to shake my head in disbelief at something to stir myself awake, I began to listen to it. The program I’m referring to is Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Noory’s guest that morning was Dr. Peter Breggin, who, according to the Coast To Coast website, is “a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant with NIMH who is in private practice in Ithaca, New York.” What held my attention on this particular morning was the topic of discussion – the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

dr-marvin-monroe-7Now, I know nothing about the validity of Dr. Breggin’s credentials as they are spelled out on the website. He may as well be Dr. Marvin Monroe from The Simpsons for all I know. Regardless, he was bringing up some very significant points on this particular morning concerning Williams’ death. For one, he pointed out how cruel and difficult the manner of death seemed to be. The method Williams chose to end his own life was not an easy one. He also mentioned how Williams’ years of drug and alcohol use could not have been beneficial to the activity in his brain.

And it was then, in the middle of this unusual forum at an ungodly hour of the day, Dr. Breggin said posed a question that made as much sense as anything I’ve heard in a long, long time: “Why do we always crave the drugs that are going to lead us deeper into depression?”

Dr. Breggin was referring to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, to name a few, but he could have been talking about a great many things we wouldn’t consider to be “drugs.” Pornography. Affairs. Excessive use of the internet. Self-pity. Hours upon hours of playing video games in darkened rooms. Promiscuous sex. Many people might look at this list and say, “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with any of that. Those things are part of my life, and I feel perfectly fine.” Maybe so. To many, though, any one of these items could have opened a portal to the dark world of depression.

The fallen part of us chases these things, though. We see sin, and we know its consequences, but so many times we charge after it anyway. Then the guilt comes pouring in, and it can only take us down, down, down. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Dr. Breggin didn’t know it, but he was describing the sin nature in all of us, the desire to do the very things we know will destroy us.

For the apostle Paul, the only deliverance from this kind of behavior was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only deliverance for me. It’s the only deliverance for you. Cognitive therapy, counseling, psychology… These all have their place, but they cannot deal with the issue of sin. Only the grace of God can do that. I may doubt the existence of flying saucers and strange visitors from other planets, but I do not doubt that.

Death In The Family

I had intended on starting a series of posts today reflecting on whether or not bad behaviors necessarily mean people are bad themselves … but my heart just isn’t in it.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Suicide is such a frightening word to consider, and it occupied a space in the news both in the county I live in and on the national level Robin WIlliamstoday. Out of respect for the family (and because I don’t really know what happened), I won’t say too much about the local instance, other than to say it allegedly involved a gunshot wound to the head. Everyone probably knows about the national news by now: Robin Williams is dead.

Authorities are stating that Williams cause of death is believed to be “a suicide due to asphyxia.” I’m sure if you glanced at the top of this page, you noticed the word “Christian” in the blog title. I know little to nothing of Williams religious affiliations, but he seemed at times to not exactly be fond of Christianity as a whole (even though he was raised in a very religious home). His language, particularly in his stand-up routines, could be off-the-charts crude. He was one of the funniest men alive, but I’m not sure what was in his soul.

None of that mattered today. When I read the news that Robin Williams had died, I felt as if I had lost a family member. And that made me very, very sad.

There was a certain tenderness beneath all the madcap antics Williams put on display. That tenderness emerged later on in his acting career in movies such as AwakeningsGood Will Hunting, and even Patch Adams (which may contain the funniest joke ever involving gynaecology). And there were also the numerous trips to rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, and, finally, the severe depression he was apparently battling prior to his death.

Through his comedy and acting, he was a part of my life. Through his struggles, I learned he was a human being, just like me.

I don’t know that a faith in God could have eased Williams’ mental suffering and the anguish that led him to apparently take his own life. Part of me wonders how he managed to make it through so many other trials only to commit suicide at the age of 63. At some point, the struggle overtook him, and he couldn’t find the strength to go on.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Interestingly, in a post on Williams’ own Take That blog site from 2011, he wrote about how he didn’t have to be enslaved by feelings of sadness and depression. I only wish these words could have sustained him today…

“We do get ‘hard wired’ by certain things about ourselves, negative soul/life destroying stuff … seems impossible to get out of. It isn’t, it’s a choice.

“Things can change. I can choose happy … what a gift.”

 

Sins vs. Mistakes

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I hear the word “mistake” used a lot these days. Thing is, I don’t think many people are using the word correctly.

Take Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, for example. By now, most people know that Rice knocked his wife out and dragged herray rice from an Atlantic City elevator (Thank you, TMZ.). He would later apologize and call the incident “the biggest mistake of my life,” but I don’t think his wording is quite adequate. I mean, to me a mistake would have been aiming for her stomach and hitting her in the head. Taking a swing, well, that doesn’t accidentally happen.

As far as wording goes, I don’t believe a “mistake” is something that can happen deliberately. For instance, if I decide to drink a bottle of tequila and get drunk, my inebriation is not an accident. It would be poor judgement, but the alcohol wouldn’t have accidentally spilled into my mouth. I would have put it there. In fact, the Bible refers to drunkenness as “debauchery,” which leads into a very uncomfortable three-letter word…

S-i-n.

I have only recently begun to understand what this word actually means. To put it more accurately, I’m gradually realizing what Jesus dying for our sins really entails. For years, this is how I thought forgiveness works: If I commit a sin by mistake (like cutting someone off in traffic accidentally or something), God is cool with that because I didn’t know what I was doing. If I knowingly did something wrong, though, I would suffer dire consequences because God does not take kindly to His rules being broken. Thus, any bad circumstance that occurred in my life must be my fault because I can’t … stop … sinning.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Okay, I like that verse. I always say that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have spent so much time telling all those churches to stop doing bad stuff unless, well, they were doing lots of bad stuff. And these were the Christians he was writing to, not the heathens on the street. It would appear, then, that God stands ready to forgive a Christian if they sin, whether it is on purpose or not.

But…

“No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he hasbrennan been born of God.” This scripture is not so reassuring. There are countless stories out there of alcoholics who poured all their liquor down the drain the night they got saved, but there are also those stories of people who continued to struggle with addiction for the rest of their lives (Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, would be an example of this.). Did the second group not really get saved? If they confessed every time they got drunk, were they still covered? I’ve never been drunk, but I’ve done plenty of other dumb things since becoming a Christian. What does that mean for me?

To be honest, I’m still struggling with the answer to that question. I look at the story of Peter in the Bible, and I see forgiveness written all over it. In fact, Jesus even told Peter how he was going to sin. Peter didn’t accidentally not recognize a photo of Jesus that night; he deliberately and purposefully said to the crowd, “I don’t know the man.” You can’t inadvertently lie and say you don’t know the son of God when, in fact, you do. If Jesus could have mercy on Peter after that, it would stand to reason that deliberate sins could be covered.

Regardless of the answer to this question, though, the key point I’m trying to make is that sins should be owned. They shouldn’t be reclassified as “mistakes” because they’re usually not committed accidentally. And if they aren’t owned and confessed as being deliberate acts – no matter how awful the judgement may be – then they can’t ever be dealt with properly.

john newtonThe mistake would be to think I’m not the kind of person who would do that kind of thing, because I obviously was. We all are, and that’s why we need Jesus so desperately. As John Newton once said:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”