Never Stop Discovering Your Spouse

Elysa photos 007

This is my most recent Greenville News column.  Inspired, of course, by my amazing wife Jan.  All my love baby!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/06/05/ed-leap-never-stop-discovering-your-spouse/85286660/

June is here, and while it certainly isn’t the only month for weddings, it is a popular one. This month, many young men will have a brand new thing called a wife, and many young women a thing called a husband. Both are perplexing, and both are wonderful. As such, I have some insight to share.
Gentlemen, what you have before you after the vows are said and rings exchanged, is a woman of your very own. She has been thinking about this her whole life. In fact, she has been unconsciously (and consciously) evaluating men as husband material since she first realized that there were boys in the world other than her father and brothers. She chose you. (Don’t question it, just be glad…she knows you’re imperfect, trust me.) And what she wants is your love and devotion. She wants you to stand by her and be faithful. She needs to know you won’t run away when things get tough. She needs to know that you still think she’s amazing when her life is a hot mess and her hair won’t do anything right and she just cries for no reason. She does not expect you to figure it out or fix it, as much as you want to do that.
The great wonder is that she just wants you (you among all other men on earth!) to share life with her, hold her, protect her and get old with her. She could have had people better looking, smarter, stronger or richer and every smart husband realizes this. She wanted you to share her mind, heart and body. She probably wants to have your baby. (It’s a compliment of the highest order.) Something about you drew her in to your orbit. Observe this advice, honor her dreams, speak kindly and treat her gently, love her lavishly and you will never in this life find an ally more true or comfort more wondrous.
This beautiful thing before you is yours; and she should be your favorite hobby, best friend, greatest confidant. She will give all of that back and more. But remember what the Little Prince said: ‘You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.’
Ladies? What you have is a man, also of your very own. As a young man, he didn’t probably didn’t think about weddings or marriage as much as you did. But deep inside, he wanted it. He wanted a woman to care for. Good men like caring for things; we protect, we defend, we provide. It’s our wiring. On some level, even as you wove your spell he ‘hunted and gathered’ you. In a hilarious expression of the whole process, ‘he chased you till you caught him,’ as my wife used to say. He is sometimes slow to understand things natural to you. Like feelings. He is sometimes uncomfortable with lengthy discussions of emotions. He is fascinated by your feminine ways, tears, declarations of love and complicated rituals. He struggles with bra-straps and is confused by make-up, skin products and your many shoes. But in all his simplicity, he is far more complex than your friends (or society) lets you believe. He is in awe of you and if you are kind to him, encourage and respect him, he will do anything you ask just to make you happy.
He needs a little space sometimes. And honest to goodness, there are times when he says ‘I’m not thinking about anything,’ and is telling the absolute truth. We men go to that place sometimes, even though your multi-tasking brains can’t fathom it. Let the man have it now and then. Just a little down-time. He’ll be back.
Your husband, properly treated, will love you and the children with a devotion that comes fairly close to worship. And when he says ‘you’re beautiful,’ don’t tell him no, don’t deny it. He really believes it because you are his, and he’s amazed that you agreed to marry him in the first place.
Husbands and wives, his whole process is an incredible mystery. Two people, two complex creatures, with dreams, hopes, wounds, bad habits and all the rest come together and make, as the Bible says, ‘one flesh.’ Two humans who barely know themselves choose to know another and love them for life.
As you pass through the portal of the wedding into the new life called marriage, may you never stop discovering the unfolding, life-long wonder that is your spouse.

After Graduation, Love the Kids. Just Don’t Worship Them

Sam and Tyler K5 graduationhttp://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/05/22/ed-leap-after-graduation-love-your-kids/84556782/

Graduation is upon us once more. All across the area high, schools, trade schools and colleges are releasing their eager, bright eyed students into the the next phase of their lives. My wife and I have graduated several times, and have graduated two sons. It’s an emotional, beautiful time when Pomp and Circumstance turns moms into weeping messes of mascara and tissue, and dads into great, red-eyed lumps who choke back tears and say muffled things like ‘I…I’m fo prd ov you. I lvvv you,’ sniff, sniff.

The kids are emotional but boy, are they ready. They toss those hats into the air (as parents try to grab them as keepsakes) and they head off to jobs, or to parties or sometimes to pre-loaded cars headed off for the beach. Some go to their own weddings and some go to basic training, or their first overseas deployment with the armed forces. Big stuff all around.
But as I thought about the whole process I realized that one of the great dangers of a successful society (and by any measure of the world at large or history ours qualifies), is that we are capable of investing all of our worth as parents into the activities and successes of our offspring who are now springing off on their own.

As such, we forget something very fundamental. Once the kids grow up, they can largely do what they want. Just like most of us did. But what does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all those graduates with all of their dreams, like ’I want to do forensics,’ ‘I want to be a marine biologist,’ ‘I want to be attorney general,’ etc. may or may not do those things. Their dreams are useful guiding stars at first, but most of them will change course for a variety of reasons. Thus, I am not a full-time magazine journalist as I originally intended. Nor an Air Force navigator…probably good given my tendency to get lost.

We love to brag about what our kids will do. I certainly do. They are hints of the future, and sometimes we believe their successes will somehow atone for our own shortcomings, our own failed dreams. But it’s important to step back on occasion and realize that the future may look very different from what they, and I, and all of us, think it will be for them.

Second, they may decide that the educational path we hoped for them to follow isn’t right. These days, many college majors are a poor economic bet compared to heating and air or welding. My professional friends in medicine and law are particularly stricken by this. When one says to another, ‘Tim dropped out of USC. He’s decided he wants to be a contractor,’ there’s an almost palpable tension and a pat on the shoulder. ‘Well, he may go back to school later.’ Or he may be a wildly successful contractor. Or he may just like building things more than thinking about things that don’t interest him. Who knew?

Third, they will love and marry people we didn’t expect. Just like we did. We can have all kinds of plans for betrothal and hopes that they’ll find this girl or that guy. But in the end, as Pascal said, ’the heart has reasons of which reason knows not.’

And now the hardest, dear weeping parents, and many of you know this. They will make their own mistakes. They will lose jobs and ruin relationships. They will set themselves back. They will violate, sometimes, the law of man and often the law of God. This is called being human. For Christians, it’s tough realizing your kid is a sinner too. (In the secular, world, the equivalent might be realizing your liberal family raised a Republican and you have to love them anyway. Cheer up! Prodigals do return!)
Allow me to review: the kids will study what they want, work at what they want, love whomever they want and make big mistakes. The best we can do is show the grace and love throughout all of it.

But to love them well, we have to take them off the altar. Our worth as humans cannot be wrapped up in our children. That’s a terrifying and overwhelming idolatry and it holds them to far too high a standard.

So as they get those certificates and diplomas, remember they’re humans. Hope and fear, success and struggle in dynamic tension.

And love them.

 

Show some patience in the bathroom debate

d87e8246a18b0a04b40041956e38707fhttp://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/05/08/ed-leap-show-patience-bathroom-debate/83918244/

 

I have to admit, I never thought that we’d be arguing about who to allow into which restroom. And yet, men and women who identify as other genders feel oppressed that everyone isn’t flinging open the stall doors to welcome them as bathroom-mates. And those (like me) who view it all with a little suspicion are considered worse than troglodytes for failing to keep up with modern progress and diversity.
Let me say from the outset that I am believe, absolutely, there are people who have issues with gender. There are those who are born with indeterminate genitalia, some with chromosomal issues or abnormalities of the endocrine system, and still others with psychological factors which make gender assignment or identity confusing.
However, that reality doesn’t obviate other concerns. Humans have been cautious about sexual predation for a very long time. In particular, but not exclusively, we’ve been suspicious about the motives of men towards vulnerable women and children. Maybe we have some deep ancestral fear of rape and abduction by invaders or raiders. (A thing well known to our forbears within about 200 years.) Isn’t it possible, therefore, that our heightened concern about this issue is not about hatred or intolerance, but represents a well honed biological instinct? That perhaps it is part of some evolutionary, survival-based instinct to protect those who are more susceptible to predation?
This may be why so many of us don’t like the idea of letting just anyone use just any restroom, changing room or locker room. These are often isolated places that typically have no back door for escape. It seems peculiar to me that while we are endlessly cautioned that college women have a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted while in university, we are mocked for having concern about opposite sex strangers in public restrooms. While it turns out the data on college rape isn’t nearly as bleak, the general concern about sexual assault is very real and reasonable.
Even if most transgender persons out there aren’t a particular threat, couldn’t it be that our concern over men lying about their gender identity, to gain access to vulnerable women or children, might be well-placed? And by the way, women are fully capable of sexual assault as well; a quick search for ‘teacher sexual assault’ will reveal a significant number of instances in which a female teacher sexually abused a student in her charge. Equality of opportunity also means equality of suspicion, you see.
Further, we keep hearing that transgender people aren’t pedophiles. Indeed, most probably aren’t. (I like to assume the best.) But neither are most men or women. And yet, most of us recognize the wisdom that a man alone shouldn’t chaperone a camping trip of adolescent girl-scouts, or be ‘house father’ to a sorority. And ask your female friends and family if they want male chaperones for their pap-smears, or if they prefer a female. And a lone young woman might not make the best choice to guide high school boys on a long field trip involving a hotel stay. These things make sense, if only to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
In addition, it is the height of politically correct folly to assume that because one has ‘transcended’ traditional sexual roles or genetic gender that they are, by default, above reproach and incapable of evil. In fact, it is demeaning to assert this. To be accepted as part of the greater collective of society is to be seen as human, not ‘super human.’ This means one is respected, seen as valuable, but also subject to the same laws and cautions as everyone else. Ultimately, since the fairly recent mainstreaming of transgenderism, I doubt if we have enough experience or data to make definitive statements about whether or not the transgendered have any increased or decreased risk of predatory behavior. I do think we can safely assume that those who would pose as transgendered are clearly dangerous, and for most of us I believe that’s the greater fear.
So why don’t we all show some respect for one another and some patience in the face of both titanic cultural shifts and time-honored mores. Then we might come to a reasonable common ground that respects differences and protects all the vulnerable.
Or to use more a more contemporary idea, maybe both sides of the issue deserve some tolerance.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Do you?

You’re not alone; especially in a stadium full of people like you.

Not Alonehttp://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/04/24/ed-leap-reminder-youre-not-alone/83295392/

When I was a resident in training, I spent a day working as a physician at the Indianapolis 500 race, with my lovely bride accompanying me. It was an impressive spectacle. In fact, at least then, it was the largest single day sporting event in the world, with some 300,000 attendees. (And coming around again next month by the way!)
Although I admit to never attending a NASCAR race, I’m sure it’s a similar feeling. The press of humanity, the sound of engines, the smell of gasoline, the rivers of soft-drinks and beer. The inappropriate clothing…but I digress. The whole thing was simultaneously exhilarating and overwhelming.
I sometimes reflect on the enormity of that place. And then I think, oddly enough, about loneliness and isolation, as if in stark contrast to the race. One of the worst things in the world is isolation, actual or perceived. Many people suffer enormously because they feel utterly alone in life. And worse, they feel alone in times of trial.
I wonder what would happen to the hearts and minds of those people if we had special days when everyone with similar problems could meet in a vast stadium for a day. If, from every small neighborhood and farm community, every big city, every subdivision, people could come together with others who shared their trials. Can you imagine? In order to help envision it, I’ve done a little research.
According to the CDC, about 3.5% of American adults suffer from Major Depression. Since we have about 314 million persons in the US, that comes to almost 11 million adults. (I’m not even counting children and adolescents afflicted with the same). If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds 250,000 persons (50,000 more in the infield), it would take 43 stadiums to get all of those folks into stadiums to come together.
How about that endless specter, cancer? The National Cancer Institute of NIH reports that in 2014 there were 14.5 million people living beyond their cancer diagnosis. They also report that it is estimated that in the US there will be some 1,685,000 new cases in 2016. That would require 138 stadiums the size of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to get the survivors together; many of whom still suffer anxiety and side effects of their treatments.
The Partnership for Drug Free Kids website says that there are, in America today, 22 million individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol. Since Clemson’s Death Valley only holds some 81,500 Tigers and other species, it would take a lot of similarly sized facilities to manage all of those with addiction issues. In fact, it would take 269 such stadiums, to be precise.
Sadly, about 800,000 persons are widowed each year in the United States, of which 700,000 are women, the remainder men. (From the website widowshope.org. ) While it would take fewer stadiums, it would still require the equivalent of eight versions of LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
In 2012, 1.25 million American adults and children had type 1, insulin dependent, diabetes. This from the American Diabetes Association, who should know such things after all. Getting them together for some low-carb food and fun would require 13 stadiums the size of Wembley in London. (For all of those fans of the ‘other’ football…)
It sounds like I’m trying to bring everyone down. But I’m not. My point is exactly the opposite. For all of the loneliness that all of these people may feel, the larger reality is that they are part of much larger groups. It’s all too easy, alone in the hospital, the doctor’s office, the same chair at home, the same lonely church pew, to feel completely alone.
This is, of course, the reason for support groups. It is also point of friendship, love and outreach. While we may not share all the same afflictions as others, we can certainly be with them, listen to them, comfort them in their trials. And to the extent that we have the same problems, we can be even greater reassurance. This is why we were instructed by St. Paul to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.’
We mean something entirely different when we quip, ‘misery loves company.’ But the truth is that it does. It craves company. Those in pain and loss, those struggling or afraid, need to know they aren’t alone.
And it needn’t take a trip to the Indy 500 to make that a reality.

 

Fighting drug abuse in the ER

Fighting Drug Abuse

My latest column in the Greenville News.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/04/09/commentary-fighting-drug-abuse-er/82713082/

I have a lot of ER stories that involve drug addiction and drug seeking behavior. I knew a patient who intentionally dislocated his shoulder three times in one day to receive pain medication. Another had a friend who stole an entire dirty needle box in order to rummage through it for injectable drugs.
I have been told by patients that pain pills were eaten by dogs, stolen by neighbors, lost in car crashes, accidentally flushed down toilets and all the rest. People have pled with me because their normal doctor was out of the country. One individual (call him Bob) came to me and was denied narcotics, then returned two hours later with a woman’s ID and saying he was she (call her Carol). ‘You aren’t Carol, I just saw you.’ ‘Yes I am, I’m Carol and I’m in pain.’ ‘Get out,’ says I. The list goes on and on and every physician has a few of his or her favorites.
In the annals of American medicine, it turns out this was all rather new territory, at least in scope. My career began in the early 90s when there were (for various reasons, corporate and otherwise) powerful initiatives encouraging us to treat pain with more narcotics pain medications like Lortab, Vicodin, Percocet and others. We were regularly scolded for being cruel and insensitive about people’s pain when we, young and innocent as we were, expressed discomfort with this practice. I remember being explicitly told, more than once, ‘you can’t create an addict in the ER.’
We were told that pain was the ‘fifth vital sign’ and were taught to use a ‘pain scale,’ which you’ll hear to this day whenever you interact with the healthcare system. ‘What’s your pain on a scale of zero to ten with zero being no pain and ten the worst pain of your life.’ Most nurses can say this in their sleep. We developed smiley face scales for small children to use.
We learned to give narcotics regularly for various types of pain, when they had been previously reserved for cancer, long bone fractures or significant surgeries. Medical boards were encouraged to discipline doctors who were reported to under-treat pain. And hospital administrators, ever in love with the ‘customer satisfaction’ model, pressured physicians whose patients complained about receiving inadequate pain treatment. (High patient satisfaction scores have been studied and associated with poor outcomes, by the way.)
Although it’s difficult to quantify because physicians feared for their jobs, I’ve spoken to many physicians over the course of my medical and writing career who were told by their employers to give narcotics when requested or risk loss of income or of employment.
This happened even in the face of staff who knew the abusers. We used to keep files so that even new physicians could tell who the problem patients were. Eventually, we were told to stop. It was a kind of profiling and it was unacceptable. Always assume they’re telling the truth, we were told.
Sew the wind, reap the whirlwind. Since 1999 prescription narcotic overdoses soared, quadrupling over the period to 2014 according to the CDC. Over that period there were 165,000 deaths from prescription opioids, most commonly Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Methadone. In 2014, over 14,000 people died from those drugs.
Now, the move is from condemning our insensitivity to questioning our judgement. Prescription drug abuse is a high priority for state and federal law enforcement, state medical boards, the Drug Enforcement Agency and The Centers for Disease Control (which recently released new, more conservative guidelines for chronic pain treatment).
States are using online prescription monitoring programs and many hospitals are putting policies in place to give as few narcotics as possible in emergency departments. It’s a Catch-22 of course, as some patients with legitimate pain are told to find pain specialists or family doctors, when they either have no money to do so, or have no physicians in the area taking patients. Thus, they circle back to the ER where we try our best to remain both diligent and sympathetic.
Physicians and hospitals are now engaged in a constant battle to combat drug abuse, to save lives and help empower the families of those struggling with addiction, who are desperate to help their sons, daughters, husbands and wives.
I hope we maintain our compassion. But I also hope that it keeps getting harder to walk into an office or ER and get addictive, lethal prescriptions.
Because it’s time for this nightmare to stop.

 

 

Instrument of torture as wearable art; Jesus mocks the cross…

Old weathered wooden cross with blood and tie ropes representative of the cross that was used during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Old weathered wooden cross with blood and tie ropes representative of the cross that was used during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/03/26/jesus-turned-cross-into-symbol-victory/82160182/

My wife has a new cross necklace, given to her by some dear friends of ours. It’s a beautiful bit of silver-work, with flowing lines, flowers and a fish symbol. In fact, our house has a lot of crosses on the walls. People have remarked at the number and artistry of them. We smile and say, ‘every entrance faces one; keeps out the vampires.’ 

It’s odd, though, that the cross became a thing of decoration to Christians. There were pre-Christian cross symbols and pre-Roman crucifixions, but the Roman penchant for this particular form of suffering, and the very execution of Jesus, would seem to have put an end to any illusions about the symbol being a thing of beauty.
And yet, it was first used to represent Christianity as early as the third century AD. At that point, the cross was still being used as a form of execution! (Indeed it probably continued for a few hundred years more and still is used in parts of the world.) Then, as now, wearing a cross was rather like wearing a necklace with an electric chair charm, and decorating with one is akin to having a wall hanging with a noose in the center; rather macabre.
For some, crosses of silver and gold, wood or stone, are nothing more than cultural decorations of minor historical interest. However, to those who really understand and keep Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, to those who take the time to study, pray and reflect, the cross is a treasure of unfathomable power and beauty.
We could say, for instance, that the death of Christ on a cross was the ultimate act of social justice. You see, Roman crucifixion was for the ‘outsiders.’ The only Roman citizens executed on the cross were army deserters. Others were exempt from its brutality. Whether or not you believe in the divinity of Jesus, his death was the death of the stranger, the immigrant, the slave, the criminal. He died with the kind of people he touched, healed, comforted, taught and came to redeem. He was not ‘connected’ or possessed of earthly power.
His cross, blood soaked, embedded with scourged skin, was a symbol of the rebellion of love and non-violence against earthly power and its vanities. He did not resist. He said to his enemies, in essence, ‘fine, have it your way. Even here I work for your good. Hate me, kill me and I will love you through my death.’ Unlike most of history’s rebels, he said of his tormentors, from the crushing height of the cross, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
All of these things make us seen the cross as compelling, even with its stains and jagged edges, ropes and nails. But the reason, in my opinion, that it became a thing we see as beautiful is that on it, Christ finally ended the tyranny of sin and death. It’s beautiful because it is empty; because finally someone died on a cross (with all of its condemnation and misery) but lived once more.
In the ancient world death lurked everywhere, but without even the staying hand of modern science, medicine, hygiene and law. And on that cross Jesus, by dying and returning, put the power of death to sleep forever, and showed mankind that although we would die as well, we could also live again like him. The message is precious to the sick and grieving; that is, all of us in the end.
There’s more; because now as then, guilt and remorse, evil and worry, sorrow, loss and brokenness were everywhere. Christians call it ‘sin,’ as unpalatable as the word is today.
The power of sin, the devastation of the entrenched separation of man from God and all that it wrought, also ended on that hill outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Finally, we could say with joy that Christ mocked the cross and all it stood for by defying its power and the power of those who used it. The old rugged cross, dark god of death, became a thing for necklaces and wall hangings, covered in flowers and rimmed in silver. The wooden torture device liberated and turned to good, like everything Jesus touched.
Easter is a time of flowers, pastels and so many beautiful things. But none as beautiful as the cross and the one who died on it and triumphed over it.

 

Beautiful cross made from flowers

Beautiful cross made from flowers

Church helps bring us together

My column in today’s Greenville News.  You don’t have to be a believer to see that, for all its flaws, the church has had, and continues to have, great benefit for those who attend.  And to the extent that it unites rather than divides, benefits for society at large.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/03/12/church-helps-bring-us-together/81575156/

By way of full disclosure, I’m a preacher’s kid. So, when I write about all of the benefits that accrue from church attendance, I’m speaking from both experience and from a slight bias. But before anyone gets angry and accuses me of all the standard Christian ‘crimes against humanity’ (shoving religion down your throat, intolerance, wanting a theocracy, hating people who are different, being ‘judgmental,’ being a right wing extremist, etc.), let me say that I’m going to talk about the benefits of church without getting into theology at all. That’s right. I’ll try not to even invoke the names of the particular deity that I worship. (I’ll save that for Easter Sunday.)
When I grew up, given that my father was a pastor, church was just what we did. Sunday morning church attendance wasn’t a negotiable (although other services were as I grew older). We got up, mom made breakfast, dad matched ties, polished his shoes and went over his sermon. Then we piled into the car and went to whichever church he was leading at the time. (We were semi-migratory United Methodists.)
In church, we children were herded into Sunday School classes where we were taught and mentored by kind men and women who knew us and our families. From them we learned the stories of our faith, many of which are idiomatic to Western culture at large. And we made dear friends. Some of them are still my friends decades later.
After Sunday School we went to the main church service. There we learned the value of decorum, respect and reverence. We witnessed and participated in the ancient traditions that our fellow believers have followed for two thousand years, and which help anchor believers in difficult times.
In the summer we had Vacation Bible School, that classic church activity held (now as then) in what was surely the hottest, muggiest time of the year, during which we did crafts, heard stories, sang songs, played dodge-ball in the basement and drank our total individual fluid volume in grape Kool-Aid,. We were nourished by sugar cookies and potato chips.
We later dated people we went to church with, although it turns out you aren’t allowed to make out with your girlfriend during church services. (A friend of mine discovered this in a fairly unpleasant manner). We went to camp and on other summer adventures with our friends. And we became adults together, moving slowly out of youth groups into adult classes and adult behavior.
We also learned music. Although these are days of microphones, amplifiers and Power-Point in church (nothing wrong with that), we not only sang in youth choirs and later with adults, we learned to read music and follow along. We appreciated melody and harmony. We read the beautiful lyrics written by great church composers, poetry filled with depth, wonder and hope. Those works are etched deeply in my memory. Many of those beautiful songs are lost to recent generations. It’s a pity. Even Christopher Hitchens, noted and brilliant atheist, suggested the value of reading the King James Bible. I feel the same way about great hymns.
In church, from childhood on, we saw sad, hurt people come to the altar to confess or lay out their troubles. There, friends and family surrounded them in love, in shared tears, touched them with compassion and prayed by their sides. It’s hard to witness that sort of fellowship and not learn to feel sorrow for the struggles of others.
We watched baptisms and took communion (and snuck extra communion wafers), even when we were still learning to fully understand their meaning. These became bits of our identities.
As time passed we enjoyed the delight of weddings. We also went to funerals. We learned with clarity that a group of people who spend so much time knowing and loving one another have to pass through both joy and the sorrow with them. And that death can be celebrated as surely as grieved.
I understand that many people take issue with Christianity. But church gave me great gifts: a community of fellow believers, meeting in love and sharing values and stories that were both culture foundations and individually inspiring. I continue to enjoy that every week.
And in these times of dissension, alienation and isolation, when the only thing we have in common seems to be division, I think we could use a little more church.

We should value each other more than politics

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/02/26/value-each-other-more-than-politics/80922306/

Allow me to spin tangentially off of politics for a bit, if you don’t mind. (I promise to bring it back around.) After all, I suspect even the most passionate political advocate would welcome some news coverage of an alien invasion or a cat that speaks French, or anything just to take our minds off of the endless drone of political conversation. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the classic movie, Groundhog Day. ‘There’s no way… this winter (or election)…is ever going to end.’
Instead, I want to talk about perspective. Many readers and friends will recall that five short years ago my wife Jan had a metastatic throat cancer. She endured some pretty miserable radiation and chemotherapy. After that she had a large pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lung) which put her into intensive care and scared us all.
Over time she recuperated fully and our family went back to life as before, but with some incredible perspectives on the value of life, love, health and the inevitable passage of time. She recently had her last oncology visit and was released. Like a cat tip-toeing on wet grass, the years crept up on us and the thing we hoped and prayed for arrived at last, with less fanfare and perhaps more joy than ever. This year we celebrate her 13th birthday, on February 29th, seeing her as the treasure she is.
The great insight here is that all of our battles, won or lost, illustrate an often neglected fact. Which is that however much we may care about elections or economies or all the rest, the real joy and pain of life circles around that person, or those persons, we love the very most. And anything that makes life better for them, or us, probably won’t come from any elected official of any party but will mostly be the fruit of individual effort (and insight) motivated by intimacy and love.
Indeed, those who govern us have their effects, but hour to hour, day to day, year to year, they remain (quite expectedly) unfamiliar with the unique issues of the many and varied lives of their citizens. We, who love one another year to year, hour to hour, day to day, are best suited to improve the lives of our friends and family members, simply by holding them close in life’s assaults.
Happily, this election too, shall pass. Winners and losers will rise and fall, switch places and mostly end up as impotent to steer the ship of state as all those before them. Scandals will strike, accusations fly, a few good things will result and standard political doldrums will likely set in as always. The political pendulum will pause and swing back and forth as it has for ages, with utter disregard for our messianic political prophecies.
The future will come however we fret about the present. In the end, we will (hopefully) leave behind all of our invective, our screaming, our memes, rallies, slogans and our absolute conviction that a particular candidate will end or miraculously transform life as we know it. We’ll simply move on, as all humans do, to new idols. We’ll then cast the current objects of veneration on the dust-bin of history.
Perhaps, if we are attentive, we’ll then see that the things we dread about the future rarely come to pass at all and suddenly, five years, or ten, will pass and we will still be here, expecting the worst. All the while, of course, living in what is possibly the best time to be human in the history of the world. Many of the things that seemed so immediately critical will probably fade and many of the things that really mattered will remain despite the way we ignored their value. Then we can move forward…till the next election!
Ah, but those we love! Their troubles and victories will remain. Our shared joys and struggles will go on, bonding us together as no election ever could, motivating us far more than any party. They are the arena, they are the causes and campaigns where we make the most difference. They the ‘candidates’ who need and deserve our endless, unwavering devotion and sacrifice.
In our deep need to follow, let’s never forget to follow most closely the ones entrusted to us in the daily trials and wonders of ordinary life.

 

Churches Shy Away From Hard Questions

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  While primary responsibility for teaching our children rests with us as parents, the church often drops the ball in its mission to the young.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/24/churches-shy-away-hard-questions/79054658/

I have a problem with the church. It’s not the music, or the ‘mega-church’ concept. It’s not the donuts or the coffee or any other petty issue. The problem I have with the church is that I fear we are doing a poor job of preparing our kids for life.

What troubles me is the way we dumb things down for Christian young people. Maybe we don’t want to frighten them, maybe we don’t want to confuse them or cast any doubt into the faith we’re trying to mold. But frankly, we are failing them. Because it’s a world of hard times and hard questions, and unless we teach kids how to answer them, they’ll have grave difficulties believing all of the stuff we tried to teach.

One of my kids used to come home from Sunday School and we’d ask, ‘what did your teacher talk about?’ He’d shake his little head and sigh. ‘Moses…again.’ Like all of my kids he wanted more than stock stories designed to get through a study guide every year. In fact, our family has often used the term ‘Sunday School answer,’ when having discussions. For example: ‘why is it wrong to steal?’ Answer: ‘Jesus.’ We all laugh at that, but we all know that Sunday School answers don’t always cut it.

The problem we Christians tend to have is that we have a kind of global ‘Sunday School’ answer for the world, which usually comes down to ‘it’s in the Bible.’ Which is great for established believers to say to one another. But at a certain point in time, thinking Christian kids will start to ask about that book we hold as sacred and about that God we worship. And they’ll wonder whether to believe or consign their faith to myth.

Now, if Christian kids ask that, what will non-Christian folks ask them, or say about it? If they don’t recognize the book, or the faith, or the rules, then all of our ‘but it say so,’ and ‘Jesus loves you,’ may fall on deaf ears. So, when our kids go off to work, college or the armed forces, it won’t take long until someone easily shatters their beliefs; not even intentionally, but simply by asking hard, honest questions.

Kids in many churches today are very kind and good. They go on mission trips and they work in the food-bank. They teach the younger kids in children’s ministries, etc. But all too often they aren’t being asked the hard questions in church, or being taught how to deal with them. And I don’t mean that they aren’t being taught how to ‘make the sale.’ I mean they aren’t sure how to face the issues themselves.

What questions do we need to help them answer? Here are some: ‘Why am I here? Do I have a purpose? What is my purpose? Is there such a thing as truth? Why can’t all of our truths be equally true? Did Jesus exist? Does God exist? What do we need Him for? Is there evil? What is sin? Is the Bible reliable? Aren’t all religions the same? How can we be scientific and true to our beliefs? Is Christianity cruel and mean and oppressive? What if I screw up? Why is there pain, suffering and loss? If there is, what does it say about God? Can I have hope in trouble? What happens when we die?’ (Incidentally, many of the same questions are asked by every kid, whether their families are Christian or atheist.)

That’s only a short list. But if we love our kids then we’ll sit down with them and address those life-shaping uncertainties. We’ll do it using the Bible, and by taking from philosophy and history, art and music, biology and physics and every other area of human endeavor, so that they will go into life equipped with solid answers, not fragile platitudes that blow over at the first wind of disagreement.

They’ll ask other questions; sometimes questions we hadn’t imagined. And may of them will have serious doubts. They may walk away from their faith. But they deserve our patience, love and prayers. Because a faith shaken by honest skepticism will be better in the end.

Church leaders and parents, let’s prepare our young people. They need depth to face the world and transform it. They need truth to help them endure life’s struggles. They need to know they are loved and that their lives have meaning.

But Sunday School snippets aren’t enough anymore.

 

Don’t Freak Out! Be Calm in 2016…

Here is my column in this week’s Greenville News.  Enjoy!  (And call your grandparents…they love you.)

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/10/dont-freak-out-calm-2016/78362386/

A common theme in the emergency department is this one: ‘Doc, I freaked out and came straight to the ER!’ I wish I knew how many times someone has said something similar to me. ‘The baby had a fever so I freaked out.’ ‘I fell and got a big bruise and I was afraid I had a blood clot so I freaked out.’ ‘I saw a spider on my leg and I freaked out so here I am!’

I’ve wondered about this for a while now. I have a theory. I believe that some of the freaking out that leads people to the ER results from the absence of sufficient grandmothers and grandfathers. It isn’t that those dear folks aren’t out there doing their best. It’s that families are often mobile or broken, disconnected from all roots. So the collective calm and wisdom of the ages, often found in grandparents, is often difficult to obtain.

I remember any number of my childhood injuries consoled, bandaged and painted with Merthiolate by my grandmothers. What I don’t remember is anyone freaking out. Not even when I nearly impaled my foot on a makeshift spear whittled from a broom handle.

In addition to ‘the grandparent’ issue, we really don’t do a good job of teaching young people about sickness, injury or even health outside of birth-control; even though life involves far more than reproduction.

The medical world of freaking out, however, is a microcosm of a greater problem. We seem to be a nation that ‘freaks out.’ We freak out over weather, politics, culture, relationships, celebrities and whether or not our own social media posts or pictures are getting enough traction. We freak out when life is difficult and we freak out when we’re bored because life is so good. And when we freak out, we go looking for someone to keep us calm, cover our wounds and give us hope.

Maybe we freak out simply because we watch too much television, where every medical event is a screaming, chaotic blood-fest. Or it could be that we spend too much time on the Internet, where every insect bite is deadly and every bit of swelling is (of course) the sure-path to cancer. Sometimes we freak out because of what we put in our minds. A patient once told me, in tears, that he thought about death all day. It turns out his television viewing exclusively involved shows about murder.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s more than being educated (by school or grandma) about all the the things which should make us ‘freak out’ or not. Maybe it’s a matter of how to deal with anxiety and uncertainty in general. I have observed over the years that children from chaotic home-lives are much more anxious when we have to stitch their wounds, start IV’s, give them injections or any other stressful, frightening procedure. Those who come from homes filled with consistency and calm can often be managed with simple reassurance. It could be that calm was the most important salve applied by grandmothers.

I believe in preparing for crises. I became a physician in large part because I didn’t want to be powerless in the face of medical emergencies. I say we teach young people as much as we can to prepare them for life’s troubles, whether they involve open wounds or flat tires. Knowledge is power, as they say.

But I believe we can help the ‘freak out’ crisis with two other things. The first is by keeping families connected and involved, so that the young can see how adults handle stress. It’s important to model this for our kids, well into their 20s.

The second, however, is a little harder. I believe that everyone needs a belief system to bear them through hard times. As modern, technological and scientific as we have become, we have yet to escape our deep need for hope and meaning, for transcendence in the face of trouble. And yep, I’ll say it; for a God who will calm the storm or calm us in the storm and be waiting on the other side of it, in this life or the next.

Life is hard and scary. But there’s way too much freaking out. And with the right application of grandma, knowledge and God above, maybe we can spend 2016 with just a little less freaking out and a little more hope.