What is Addiction? – A response (It’s not just a sin problem)

Paul Tautges posted an article January 5 on his blog titled What is Addiction?.

He got some things not quite right. In his attempt to show the disease model of addiction is false, he singled out alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous specifically, only he didn’t quite tell the whole story about AA.

It is true that Bill W began his journey to sobriety with the disease model. William D. Silkworth, M.D. had a theory that alcoholics have what can be described as an allergy to alcohol that most people who drink do not have, and shared this theory with Bill W. Bill thought he had the solution now that he knew what his problem was, but self-knowledge was not enough. He was unable to keep from taking that first drink until after he was visited by an old friend who had “found religion.” This friend had been part of the Oxford Group which was a Christian organization. (Summarized from “The Doctor’s Opinion” and “Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, and Pass it On, Chapter 5.)

Bill W wrote the initial text of the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” and does not reduce alcoholism to simply a physical disease, but understood that “we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, page 64.) Now I am not going to write an entire response based on AA, but I will point out that it is not a “self help” program, nor is Narcotics Anonymous, or any other 12 Step based groups that help people find a way out of addiction, obsession, and co-dependence. AA developed the 12 Steps that every other 12 Step group is based on. Each of the 12 Steps is done in the order they are because each builds upon the previous step. Step 1 is admission of powerlessness, step 2 is coming to believe in a higher power for restoration to sanity, and step 3 is the “decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand him.” They have been written such that nonbelievers as well as believers can find sobriety, but while I didn’t go through the remaining steps, they model the process of coming to faith in Jesus, and growing in sanctification. (The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) In fact, the AA Big Book quotes the book of James on page 76, “Faith without works is dead.” That marks the beginning of the description of making amends. After all, the alcoholic who wants to be free of his “spiritual malady” must take full responsibility for all of his or her actions that caused harm to others, and not hide behind the drink. It is not a program of “cheap grace” or “easy believism.”

One last thing before I move on. From page 60 of the AA Big Book:
“Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if he were sought.”

And Step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Paul quotes from Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “The Bible says that we first choose our addictions, and only then do our addictions choose us.” I own a few of Ed’s books, and have read 2, and found them very helpful. But that statement is not entirely true. The reason I say that is because I became an addict when I was 8 years old, and it was through absolutely no choice I made. I became an addict at my first dental appointment. Our family dentist gave me nitrous oxide (laughing gas) before he began to work on my cavities. I was not given a choice to go to the dentist. I was not given a choice whether or not to have laughing gas. But from that point on, I looked forward to going to the dentist because I loved how the laughing gas made me feel. The hallucinations didn’t even bother me.

I was 8 years old. I didn’t really know what addiction was even though I knew one of my uncles was an alcoholic. But I didn’t understand what that meant except that it involved drinking, and that was wrong because the Church Covenant hanging prominently on the front wall of the church auditorium said it was. I knew absolutely nothing about drugs. I also had a very limited concept of sin which was really just a matter of following rules so as not to get in trouble. Despite being a deacon’s kid and accepting religious teaching without question, at that point, I had no tangible concept of God. Even after coming to know Jesus at 12, I had a hard time with seeking out things that made me feel good because of a complex mixture of rigid legalism, outright false teaching, abuse, and a good dose of genetic disposition. That combination resulted in a “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.” approach to life while seeking anything that would bring relief from my inner turmoil. (I did finally find that peace in Jesus, but it took me until I was in my 40s, but it took a lot of “environmental” change.)

Last semester I took a course called Substance Abuse Overview. I felt we only scratched the surface, but it is just a freshman level overview. It isn’t designed to be that in-depth. However, between it and a general psychology course, I learned quite a bit about the physiological affects of drugs in the brain. I’m going to post portions of a paper I wrote where I compared the addictiveness of marijuana to alcohol and opiates.

Dependence is defined as a physiological dependence on a drug that is marked by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer taken. Addiction can be defined as both physiological and psychological dependence resulting in compulsive use of the substance. (Van Wormer and Davis, 2014). Dr. Kevin McCauley looked at the neurological factors that play a role in dependence and addiction. The frontal cortex is where our conscious selves reside with the reasoning and logic that govern our morals, spirituality, socializing, etc. His research has shown that drugs do not affect that portion of our brains, but operate on the midbrain, which is the survival portion of the brain that contains the instincts to eat, kill, and have sex. The midbrain gets sensory information before the frontal cortex. (Fifth Direction, 2015). The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is thought to modulate and dampen the amygdala (which is the portion of the midbrain that is the center of the base survival emotions) as it communicates with the frontal lobe. (Rhodes College, 2012). In the Olds rodent experiments, they used cocaine to discover two spots that trigger addiction in the midbrain, the ventral tegmentum and the nucleus accumbens. When the drug was administered in either of those two locations, the mice would do only the task(s) that would give them the drug. The drug goes to the top of the survival hierarchy, and they will do it to the point of death. (Fifth Direction, 2015).

Once THC is in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body, to each organ including the brain. (Yacoubian, 2007). Its greatest influence on addiction is due to its affect in the mesolimbic system (rewards area) of the brain much like other drugs. (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). Once in the brain, the THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells (Yacoubian, 2007) due to its similarity in structure to an endogenous cannabinoid called anandamide. (NIDA, 2017). It is believed to act on the receptors much like endogenous opioids (Miller and Oberbarnschiedt, 2017). An endogenous opioid is a substance like an opiate that the body produces, such as endorphins. (endogenous opioid, n.d.) The endogenous cannabinoids, also called endocannabinoids, are produced by the body as well. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. They are named such due their initial identification as the neurotransmitters that activated the same receptors as the cannabinoids in marijuana, of which THC belongs. Endocannabinoid synthesis acts as “on demand” synthesis because they are not synthesized in advance and stored in vesicles the way other neuromodulators are. (Mackie, 2008). Because many of the receptors are located in the area of the brain that control pleasure (the midbrain), THC stimulates the reward system to release dopamine (Yacoubian, 2017), but at much higher levels than normal. (NIDA, 2017). THC also binds to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia which affects coordination and balance. (Yacoubian, 2007). Additionally, it disrupts the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex which are areas that are associated with memory formation and attention. (NIDA, 2017).

Most drugs increase the level of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain (Alila Medical Media, 2014), and alcohol is no exception. It interacts with the endogenous mu opioid in the brain similarly to opiates. Alcohol also increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity which is instrumental in the feelings of euphoria, disinhibition, anxiety reduction, and sedation with drinking. (Miller and Carroll, 2006). Interference with the neurotransmitter glutamate is believed to be a cause of “black outs,” or not being able to remember what a person did after drinking heavily. (NIAAA, 2015). Alcohol lowers the glutamate activity in the brain particularly in the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). Alcohol causes increased levels of serotonin which helps regulate emotion (NIAAA, 2015), but the increase is temporary, and results in later serotonin depletion. (Gilpin and Koob, 2008). The brain adapts to the disruption of the balance, but these adaptations lead to alcohol tolerance and dependence, which result in withdrawal symptoms. Abstinence over time reverses many of the negative cognitive effects from heavy drinking. (NIAAA, 2015).

Each of the opiates, once they reach the brain from the bloodstream, attach to mu opioid receptors on opiate-sensitive neurons. Similar to THC in marijuana, opiates operate heavily in the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward center which produces more dopamine than normal. This increases the desire for the drug even in the absence of pain. With increased usage and dosage, the brain functioning is altered so that the brain functions normally when the drugs are present, but abnormally in their absence similarly to the brain’s compensation for the disruption caused by alcohol leading to tolerance and dependence. (Kosten and George, 2002).

Opiate dependence and some withdrawal occur from changes to the locus coeruleus (LC) which is located at the base of the brain. It produces a chemical called noradrenaline (NA) which when distributed stimulates many of the activities of being awake. Opiate molecules in the LC suppress NA, producing the intoxicating effects of opiates. After times of repeated presence of opiates, the LC will compensate by increasing production of NA. When the opiates are no longer in the system, the LC will continue to overproduce NA resulting in withdrawal symptoms such as jitters, anxiety, muscle cramps, and diarrhea. This is in addition to the disruptive activity in the midbrain. (Kosten and George, 2002).

With that much neurobiological interruption, the claim cannot be made that there is no biological factor to addiction and that it is purely a sin problem. The neurobiological affects strongly affect the psychological functions. The brain is a very complex organ, and it stands to reason that it would be since it is the central core of how the rest of the body functions together and how information received via our 5 senses are processed. Sin is a result of conscious choice. Not all addicts are addicted because of a conscious choice they made. Not all people who use or abuse drugs or alcohol become addicted. Regardless, addiction won’t be thrown off just because someone tells them they are just being sinful. To reduce addiction exclusively to sin can serve to burden an addict or alcoholic with shame whenever he or she is tempted to drink or use because that temptation has a biological component to it.
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References
Alila Medical Media. (2014, September 10). Mechanism of Drug Addiction in the Brain Animation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxHNxmJv2bQ

endogenous opioid. (n.d.) Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. (2009). Retrieved from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/endogenous+opioid

Fifth Direction. (2015, June 25). Is Addiction Really a Disease? Dr. Kevin McCauley [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2emgrRoT2c

Gilpin, N. W., & Koob, G. F. (2008). Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence: Focus on Motivational Mechanisms. Alcohol Research & Health, 31(3), 185–195.

Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives, 1(1), 13–20.

Mackie, K. (2008), Cannabinoid Receptors: Where They are and What They do. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 20: 10–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01671.x

Miller, N. S., & Oberbarnschiedt, T. (2017). Current medical and legal status for smoked “medical marijuana” and addiction. Psychiatric Annals, 47(6), 335-340. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20170424-01

NIAAA. (2015, October). Beyond Hangovers: understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. NIH Publication No. 15-7604. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf

NIDA. (2017, August 1). Marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

Rhodes College. (2012, October 9). Steven Schlozman – “How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience…” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM2oUPgymJ8&t=1s

Van Wormer, K., & Davis, D. (2014). Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Yacoubian, G.S. (2007). Assessing the relationship between marijuana availability and marijuana use: A legal and sociological comparison between the United States and the Netherlands. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 51(4), 17-34. Retrieved from https://login.proxy033.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/217439225?accountid=9994

End of 2017

2016 was the year I became cynical and disillusioned. This was the year I said it out loud and made it my tagline.

Now I know that the change in year means nothing more than me continuing to write 2017 for the year until at least February. Nothing is going to happen at midnight tonight that is different from any other time of the day or day of the month or day of the year.

It’s just another day. Albeit a day that I don’t have to go to work and yet still get paid.

I did a word for the year this year after swearing I’d never do that. My word was contentment.

I wrote these verses on an index card and put it on my bathroom mirror:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

Y’all, I had some tough stuff this year. Kind of like the last 4. No, more like 8. Maybe 9. But this was the year I grew some stunted emotions. It’s really tough to go through hard stuff and feel it.

Good stuff happened, too, and I took a great big leap going back to school with the goal of changing careers. AT MY AGE! I have to say that because it was earlier this year that I said to Petra, “I can’t start a new career at my age,” and she called me out on my crap. I certainly stressed on it a lot, but unlike most college classes I’ve taken in my life – undergraduate and graduate – I did not lose interest in any of my classes during the semester. I think that is a good sign that I picked the right major this time.

It’s unlikely that I will make it to midnight. It’s just not a goal of mine anymore. Sleep is way more valuable to me.

Here’s to the new year! It won’t be a new me, but I’m going to start it off with a new yoga mat and a return to some older, but healthy habits I had before my facade fell apart.

This would be a clever title if I wasn’t so tired #NaBloPoMo

This might even have been a post with substance if I wasn’t so tired. But alas. I am only even putting up a post so I don’t miss a day of NaBloPoMo.

First, I am going to share some things I find amusing. Like my WoW character. Her name is on the pic, but I call her Fartfancy.

A few funny (to my 12 year old sense of humor) interactions have happened within the game.

My first guild, Gay Lady Coven. It was mostly guys. I think I was 3rd female. Also I am significantly older than all of them, one of them being Chad.

We are Midnight Court now. I pretty much do nothing with them, and am more of a novelty being “Clock’s mom.” Also since starting school, ain’t nobody got time for WoW. But I have several quests I need to do that are dungeons so I will have to stay up ungodly late sometime and do those with the guild. Assuming any of them are still playing.

This should be my next tattoo:

Except saying “Drop the rock.”

I found this pretty funny:

Culture wars and agendas #NaBloPoMo

I was going to start this off by saying that I think fighting culture wars are a colossal waste for Christians. But I sat long enough to come up with some cultures that are worth the time and effort to fight against, such as racism, rape culture, patriarchy, fascism, and the like. You know, cultures whose primary aim is to control and harm others. I am wholeheartedly for fighting for justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. There’s a few commandments throughout the Bible to do just that.

So really, what I find the colossal waste is the agenda wars. These so-called “agendas” are touted all the time by the right. I’m using the right rather than the left because I was part of the right wing for so many years. I not only heard the rhetoric, I spoke it. I was all in with it, and looking back, it’s because I never really thought the ideas all the way through. After all, you don’t have to think it all the way through when you are in an echo chamber and your adversaries are largely abstract epithets.

I wish I could say that one day my eyes opened and I could see the propaganda for what it is, and it is propaganda, but it was a gradual awakening that took a few years. I also cannot take any credit for the change in thinking. Additionally, I still have a long way to go, because I go from 0 to 88 mph when I get outraged. Like Matt Walsh tweets popping up in my feed TWICE today. To be honest, I mostly agreed with one of them (which is rare!), but his smug tone eclipsed his moral stand.

Anyway, I was listening to a sermon the other day, and I could not finish because of the presentation. The use of a particular culture’s “agenda” killed the message, and not in a good way. Harping on a secular/any type of sexual/atheistic/liberal/conservative agenda in a way the presents it as a threat turns the members of the target group into an enemy, first by stoking fear, then by demonizing which dehumanizes an entire group. It caricaturizes people making them objects to be fought against rather than fought for. While this method of preaching gets a lot of amens, I’m sitting there wondering, where is Jesus in this? How would He have us engage these groups? How do these menacing portraits of others equip us to reach them with the Gospel, literally, the Good News of Jesus Christ? If we are presenting these people as abstract entities with agendas that threaten our comfortable way of life, how are we going to “Go, therefore, and teach all nations?”

Yes, we are to be counter-cultural, but we aren’t counter-cultural when we just want to preserve our way of life and/or we fear God’s wrath. That makes us just as worldly as the rest of the world. Instead, if we are going to truly follow Christ, if we are indeed his disciples, we will be counter-cultural because of our love and kindness to our fellow man – even those who hate us and want to kill us. Because we serve a risen King who has already won the battle. Satan isn’t just at work in the world, he is at work in the church as well. Jesus warned about tares among the wheat. He warned us about laying up treasure on earth rather than treasure in heaven. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

New blog series #NaBloPoMo

I am considering a series for November for National Blog Posting Month (NoBloPoMo). Every November for the past few years I have said I’m going to blog every day in November and I never get beyond 5 days. This would also be the perfect time to work on my fiction that I just left hanging. But life happened, and then school happened. Now I’ve got bunch of papers and projects to do between now and semester’s end, so what better time than now to commit to something I probably won’t finish. Haha!

I’ve probably mentioned this before (possibly more than once), but over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time revisiting all the Christian doctrine I was taught. I was taught some contradictory stuff, though it wasn’t much and most of that was my parents teaching something different than the official doctrinal statement with the caveat, “It’s not a hill to die on.” I still find it out of character for my dad to have a point to argue about, but to not find it important enough to argue. Because he seemed to love to argue. But I digress. My point is, I had to own my faith as an adult by reevaluating what I believed by asking myself, “Do I believe this just because it’s what I was taught, or is this really what the bible teaches.”

But this series isn’t going to be me picking apart denominational doctrine. It’s going to be more cultural and political, but that many American Christians have conflated with the Gospel. I’m going to look at some issues from the standpoint of, “Where is Jesus in that.”

And maybe this will turn out to be more than just one post.

It’s been a while

I was told today that I haven’t blogged in months. Technically that’s true, but it’s only been two and half months. These things happen when you go back to school full time while you’re working full time. Ain’t nobody got time for blogging! But I have gotten caught up(ish), and I’m going to take a few minutes to throw out some non-pot stirring things.

These boys crossed the rainbow bridge at the end of July. I fully expected one or the other of them to not come back from the vet. I did not expect neither to come home. I haven’t cried over an animal since I was very young. I didn’t even shed a tear a few years ago when I found Darci in the road, and she was my girl. I cried over these boys for 2 days, and decided I finally grew all of my emotions.

I went to DC in August. I promised my family for years that I would take them, and this was me fulfilling that promise. Chad backed out a couple days before, so I will probably still take him sometime. Or send him if his friend can meet him there. This wasn’t my first time, though, and I made Jamie take a picture with me at the Marine Corps Memorial just as I had done with my mom in 2000.

We went Arlington National Cemetery, but I ended up going to JFK’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown by myself. As I was walking up that last hill to the Tomb of the Unknown, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I was sure I would make it up there, but that I would never make it back to the entry. As I was walking up to the Tomb, I heard a bunch of clicking and I knew what it was that I was hearing, and stepped up my pace. I just happened to get there for the end of the changing of the guard. That was pretty stinking cool!

If you’ve never been, you can’t grasp the size of Arlington unless you are there in it. And I was able to make it back without having to find a ranger to rescue me.

I took the above photo from the WW2 Memorial and thought to myself, “Jenny ran though this?!?”

I got to have dinner with my friends Michele, Heidi, and Todd while I was there. Darrel couldn’t make it because I forgot to tell them all until the week of and he already had plans.

Labor Day weekend I flew home to AR for a birthday celebration. There were 3 “big” birthdays right together and my cousin Sharon (who turned the big 50) threw a shindig. It was really nice for so many of us to get together without it being for a funeral. Our parents came from large families that came from large families so there are a bunch of us. This is just a few of the girls:

I’m not sure who took that, but I stole it from Sharon’s Facebook.

Almost a month ago, Evie started having seizures out of the blue. I took her to the emergency vet, dropped way more money than I ever thought I would drop on an old dog, and she was in such bad shape, we let her go. I cried after talking to the day vet the next day (before we made the decision). I cried a little bit every day after that for 3 or 4 days. And then I melted down when I went to pick up her ashes.

She was a puker, but aside from that, she was the absolutely sweetest dog ever.

Chad finally got his driver’s license, so now when he writes “milk” on the white board, I give him $5 and tell him to go get it himself. Unlike Jamie, he is quite happy to go get stuff I send him for.

And back to that whole thing about going to school full time while I’m working full time?

I will NOT take 4 classes next semester. I spend a crazy amount of time at Starbucks because I cannot get homework done at home. I have never wanted to clean and organize so much as I have since school started.

Oh, and I got a tattoo.

Epiphany #1294

I was thinking about how crowds make me uncomfortable. Going to a party or function where there are a bunch of people I don’t know or don’t know well causes me a great deal of anxiety and has since I was at least a teenager. Now, I could go to a dance in high school, or a football game, and I was fine. I was always at those functions with my gang (as my mom called my friends and I), so it was just like normal hanging out with them. But if it was just one other of my group and we were at a big thing? Oh, man. Anxiety city!

I learned how to get around that anxiety though. One drink would chill me out. Of course, it was rarely just one drink, and if there were 2, well, who stops at 2? Not this girl. Needless to say, going to functions without that liquid courage have been met with all that anxiety. Therefore, the DragonLady does not do them if she doesn’t have to. And this is a problem the drinking was a symptom of.

I told a close friend not too long ago that I am the most arrogant insecure person she will probably ever meet. (Naturally I have to be the best at both. Or is that the worst? – haha!) But self-knowledge only goes so far. I know I’m arrogant and I know I’m just as insecure. What hit me this morning was something that friend tried to tell me a couple years or so ago about the insecurity. I just wasn’t ready to understand it.

One morning a few weeks ago as I was trying to listen to a podcast while my mind was wandering to a conversation some people had a few days ago, I kept coming back to those times when I have to go to an event, but have intense anxiety. I was slowly working through why I get anxious, while knowing it’s insecurity, but I just have to know why. Well, it’s because in my mind, everyone there is looking at me and judging me and confirming all those negative things my mind tells me to fuel the insecurity. Ugly. Fat. Old. Weird. Stupid. Yes, I know I’m not any of those. Ok, I am a little weird, but everyone has quirks. And I am overweight and I’m no spring chicken. Much like a lot of people my age. Hey, I made it to my age! But anyway, those are just variations of baggage I’ve carried since I was a little girl. In the moment, I’m not conscious of the specifics of the shame under the fear.

Then the epiphany happened.

My insecurity is every bit as much a manifestation of self-centeredness as my arrogance. It’s that whole “The world revolves around me” mentality. Most people at those functions aren’t constantly looking at/thinking about me, if we’re not directly interacting. I’m thinking about them thinking about me way more than they are actually thinking about me. Seriously, no one is as focused on me as I am. If they are, well, bless their heart. Haha

And as long as I am looking at me, I’m stuck.

Roughly twice a month I stand on a stage with the worship band at my church and both play guitar and sing. At my former church it was almost every Sunday, and a few times just me and my guitar. Admittedly, I get a little nervous each time, and I do a lot of concentrating on remembering the chord progressions and words. I’m not worried about how I look. I’m not even that concerned about how I sound because I practice the vocals hard during the week prior. I know people are looking at me. I mean, that’s part of it. But once the lights dim, and that click track starts, the fact that there is a sanctuary full of people in front of me takes a back seat to the greater purpose. We are, all of us, worshiping together. Sure, the worship team is leading it, but we’re doing it as a team, with the rest of the congregation to the glory of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17, ESV

Anxiety from my insecurity seeks to keep me isolated. When I isolate, I don’t grow. I don’t contribute. Insecurity lies to me about who I am and whose I am.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10, ESV

When I am focused on me, believing myself to be the center of the universe (whether subconsciously or not), I am believing a lie about who I am and whose I am. I’m living life according to “what if” believing that if I do the wrong thing or don’t do the right thing, that catastrophe is sure to follow, and ultimately that it is God’s judgment upon me for not living up to his standard. Granted, I cannot ever live up to his standard. That’s where Jesus comes in.

Jesus is much more than a get out of hell free card. He is life. Not just life after we die. He is life in the here and now. The Pharisees held law in one hand, and nationalism in the other. Their hands were full of self-sufficiency and self-interest, and they were unwilling to let go of self to serve others and too afraid of losing their status in their tiny world that they wouldn’t even listen to Jesus, let alone follow him. Reputation was everything to them because as long as they kept the law better than the common sinners, they would keep their status and privilege. Their earthly treasures (wealth and power) proved, in their minds, that they were accepted by God. But this thinking is contrary to the message of the teaching of the bible, which is what Jesus kept pointing out to them. This has never been the way of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus repeatedly turned everything upside down.

The world values power and wealth. The world cares about self.

Jesus gave up both power and wealth to live among as as one of us to give himself for us. He doesn’t do it by force. He does not play the victim. He simply demonstrates how much we are loved, how much the God who created our universe loves us and is willing to give up to keep us. All we have to do is believe this and that Jesus is enough. Not just enough to get us to heaven, but enough to fill our deepest desires, and to set us free from the bondage of self-interest that causes us to view other people as threats to our security, whether real or imagined. Either Jesus is enough, or we are following the ways of the world and seeking treasure on earth which is temporary.

And if I truly believe Jesus is enough, then I have no need to hide out of insecurity because I am no longer the center of the universe. I am free. Free to be salt and light. Free to love as I am loved.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 ESV

Meetings and plans

This is part 4 of a story. Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3

The prince strode across the top of the castle and gazed out into the darkness. He often did this to clear his thoughts, but on this evening, he would find no peace. Still, he needed some time to absorb the news. The runner was sent to eat and rest, and Commodore Sharpthorn and King Loll would be expecting Andun to join them soon. No doubt, the prince would be sent to Pitmerden.

“Who would indiscriminately wipe out an entire village?” He thought it an unimaginable evil beyond the worst act of piracy or banditry he had encountered in the short time he had been training under Commodore Sharpthorn. He also had heard the stories of a time so long past the monsters of myth were thought to be the workings of imagination. The report of the strange tracks from the village to the mountains left them all a bit shaken. No one in living memory had fought against such a creature, and now no one wanted to believe such existed.

Andun joined his father and the commodore once more as they discussed what to do. As expected, King Loll made the decision to send Andun with a squad of elite soldiers to investigate the attack. “The festival will go ahead tomorrow as planned, and you and your men will leave the next morning.” “Yes, Father, ” Andun replied, much less confident than he intended. “My son, Commodore Sharpthorn assures me you are ready for this. I have watched you train, and have seen the attention and dedication you have given to your training. You have excelled in every combat skill. You are ready to lead.”

As the men left the hall, King Loll stopped Andun, and said to him, “I mean that, Andun. It’s time, and you need more than a few skirmishes with bandits and pirates to prepare you to succeed me. I have been fortunate to have had such peace during my lifetime, as my father before me. My grandfather fought other kings, but my gut tells me this is different from his wars. And not just because of the evidence the outpost reports. Now I need to rest. It has been a long day for us all.”

King Loll went towards his private quarters, while Andun took a moment to gather himself. Perhaps he, too, should get some rest, but before he could take one step, Oda popped out from behind a pillar and block his path. “What was that all about,” she asked? “Was it necessary to jump out in front of me? You’re lucky I didn’t punch you in the face,” Andun replied, clearly annoyed. “You’re not that fast. Now what’s up?”

Andun filled her in on the message and the meeting, and added, “Father said we are still going ahead with the festival tomorrow, and he will make an announcement to the city himself.” Oda said, “Well, I’m going with you to investigate.” Andun replied, “No, you are not. Father would never allow it. I know that won’t stop you, but I want you here for a different reason. I feel very uneasy about leaving, as if the Pitmerden attack might be just a distraction. Despite his discouragement, I know you are a capable fighter and your observation is almost unnerving sometimes. If my instinct is right, you need to be here to aid in defense of the city.”

Oda wanted to protest, but she could not argue that logic. “Fair enough, Andun. You’ve always had good instinct. For a stick in the mud.” She smiled and took his arm as they walked towards their rooms. He smiled back at her and said, “I don’t like to throw caution to the wind. It’s kept me out of trouble, unlike you.” They both laughed as they remembered her penchant for mischief. Arriving at their quarters, they retired though sleep would elude them both.

To be continued

Bad news

This is part 3 of a story. Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2

It had been a long night. The queen had been ill for many weeks, and struggled out her last few breaths until very early morning. The king, and their 2 children sat around her until the end. “At long last, she is at peace,” stated King Loll as he brushed away the tears he was fighting.

King Utsich Loll fell in love with Pobvom the first time he saw her. She came to Rockhorn with a group of refugees whose village had been destroyed by an earthquake and landslide. It had been a small mining village, and most of the men had been in the mine, and were buried alive. Utsich and Pobvom married young, but it would be several years before they Pobvom would give birth to twins, Andun and Oda.

Andun and Oda grew up fighting, usually each other, but each would fight alongside each other for one another. As heir to his father’s throne, Andun was trained for command from an early age, and took seriously his position. Oda dreamed of becoming a paladin like the heroes she would overhear tales of near the tavern. The priests had long since given up trying to dissuade her, and would teach her healing and faith even while hoping she would outgrow this fantasy and act like a princess.

The king and queen took 2 other children in to raise, Ebla and Tir Totuuz. Their mother died within hours of Tir’s birth, and their father was so consumed with grief, that he drank himself to death within 5 years. Ebla was only a year younger than Oda, and the two of them were the best of friends.

Now they all mourned the loss of Queen Loll, as did the town of Rockhorn, because she was loved by all. She had told her family where she wished to be buried, and as the sun rose, the gravediggers proceeeded to a small grove of trees along the riverbank where Pobvom loved to go when she needed some tranquility.

The day was spent in preparation for the burial the next day. There was barely time to sit and eat, and all went to bed that evening exhausted, and knowing the next day was going to be little better.

It was nearing noon when the rites began. The family and village mourned together as their beloved queen was laid to rest. Little was said beyond the chanting of the priests, and soon the final resting place of the queen’s remains were covered.

“She could not have asked for a more beautiful day.” Ebla hugged Oda, and then held Andun’s hand as they all heading back toward town. Oda slipped her hand around her father’s arm noting how tired and defeated he looked. King Loll saw the concern on her face, and noted how much she looked like her mother. Smiling, he reached over and squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry about me, Oda. I am merely tired. It’s been a long season watching my beloved slowly fade from this world. It took a toll on us all.”

Oda, smiled back and relaxed a little knowing her father was right. Death comes for everyone, and illness cares nothing for status nor station. Each of her parents had lived many years, and her mother would not want any of them to wallow. Grieve, but don’t wallow. Besides, her mother had requested a feast for the people of Rockhorn – one last gift from her to the people she had come to call her own.

Ebla turned to observe Tir who was following close behind and saw how utterly distraught he was despite his effort to hide it. She grabbed his hand and said, “You’re not alone, little brother. We are all here with you.” He smiled weakly, and said, “I know. But I’m still really sad. She was the the only mother I ever knew. And now she’s gone.” Before Ebla could respond, Oda put her arm around Tir, and said, “I understand how you are feeling. It hurts me, too. We’ll get through this. Now how about you come with me and we’ll see how the preparations are going for the feast tomorrow.”

Ebla joined Oda and Tir while Andun went with his father to speak to the commander of the guards. Commodore Terric Sharpthorn wanted to report to the king and prince with his plan to keep the city guard both staffed as normal while giving them opportunity to join in the feast. It was a fairly mundane meeting, but there had not been a feast like this for many years. King Loll and Prince Andun were very pleased with Commodore Sharpthorn’s plan, and expressed to him their gratitude for his dedication to the protection of the city and his care for the city guard under his command.

The formalities having been discussed, the men stood to leave when 2 guards entered the hall to inform Commodore Sharpthorn and King Loll that a runner from Honorwatcher Outpost had just arrived and was demanding to speak to the king. “Of course, send him in,” said King Loll.

“Sire! Commodore! Forgive my haste! I bring grave news from Pitmerden!”

To be continued
Click for part 4

Why do you go to church?

“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)

I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).

So why do I?

“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.

Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)

When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.

I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.

I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.

I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.

So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28

If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.