This Way

Sometimes I walk the track with a friend who does not believe there is a God.  This often leads to deep discussions concerning our individual faiths; he follows Buddhism while I follow and practice Christianity.

During a recent walk my friend made some remarks concerning God allowing suffering and discomfort in the world.  For him it’s proof that God does not exist; for what God would allow such suffering in the world?

I laughed.

I asked him if it were true that, “Buddhism teaches that suffering is inherent in life and that one can only be liberated from it through mental and moral self-purification?”

He said yes and asked me what my point was.  I said, “You follow a religion that acknowledges suffering exists in the word and through efforts on your part to purify yourself morally and mentally you are delivered from that same suffering.  Can’t you see the parallels to Christianity?  God asks us to lead sinless lives (mental and moral purification) so that in Heaven we will be liberated from suffering.”

He responded, “Yes, but we don’t follow a God who could, if He wanted to, prevent the suffering; A God who takes credit for all the good and washes His hands of all the bad.”

I laughed again.

I told my friend that I didn’t see God that way.

But then I had to stop and think.  I had to admit to myself that  my prayers often, almost always, asked for relief of some form of suffering while thanking and praising God for something good in my life.  So wasn’t I behaving as though my friend’s statement were my belief; that I followed a God who took credit for the good and ignored the bad?

I told my friend that I didn’t follow God to be relieved of all my suffering but that I did believe God had relieved me of suffering many times in my life.

My friend then asked me a much more serious question, “If you don’t follow God for comfort and convenience, then why do you?”

I told my friend that I needed time to figure out how to best answer his question.  I was disappointed with myself for not having an immediate answer for him.  Plus, I had to admit that my interactions with God were primarily times of asking for help and times of worship.

My friend’s question didn’t ask why I believe in God, he asked why I follow God.  One can believe but not follow, right?

Over the next few days I spent my mediation time on answering the question “Why?”  Lots of answers came to mind – shallow answers.  I started thinking that maybe the Bible held the answer.

When I thought about the Jews of the Old Testament it hit me – they followed God for relief of oppression and deliverance from Egypt.  In essence, they were following God for comfort and convenience.  God asked for more though.

God asked for love, devotion, and obedience.

And therein lay my answer; I follow God because I love Him, am devoted to Him and cherish my efforts in obedience to Him.

Yes, I still ask for relief of suffering but I’m now expressing my love for Him and re-examining my efforts at obedience.  It’s an act of purification and growth.

Why do you follow God?  ~jdoe

My040 This Way

Disclaimer: I have very little knowledge about Buddhism.  What I do know has been communicated by my friend.  If there are inaccuracies in my writing concerning Buddhism I apologize.  jdoe

Roots of Faith?

I know in my mind and have faith in my heart that Jesus was born, died, and rose in triumph over sin that I may have eternal salvation.  I also know in my mind and have faith in my heart that God is active in my life every moment of every day.

Yet, my active involvement in my faith has changed.  I can attach this change to my starting medication to address the hallucinations I have and the depression I battle.

This brings into mind a question: 

What, if any, link exists between psychometric drugs and faith?

My040 Roots of Faith.jpg
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My first reaction was there is no connection between psychometric drugs and faith, after all my belief in Christ as Lord and Savior remains solidly planted in my heart and mind.  But that’s not what changed.  So I needed to look more closely at what I felt had changed, that is, my active involvement in my faith; those things that bring faith into practice as praise and worship.

I feel I still live as a Christian – loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  (Mark 12:30-31)

I’m still attending church and singing in the choir.  But… other things I used to do like praying the rosary, reading the bible, and privately praying three times daily have turned into occasional activities.  Also, participation in the choir has turned into work and no longer fulfills me. (I must add here that there are also other issues with choir that feed my ambivalence.)

To answer the question of linkage between my medication and active participation in my faith I had to look at the roots of that which drives participation beyond attending church.

I feel I can eliminate the antidepressant as the cause of change.  I was once on antidepressants while on the street (outside this prison) and experienced a positive impact on practicing my faith by becoming more involved, not less.

Yet, what of the anti-hallucinogen?

I’ve learned, through work with psychologists, that hallucinations can spring from the part of the brain associated with creativity.  Once I learned that, it became easier to deal with those hallucinations the medication had not driven away.  But the implication is clear:  If the anti-hallucinogen quiets the creative center of the brain then how I see and feel and participate in my faith is indeed connected to the creative center in my brain.

This brings a new question:

Do I see negative impacts on other creative activates undertaken?

Absolutely YES!

My writing for this blog has become challenging and for my short stories has ceased altogether.  Also, the journaling I did on a regular basis has stopped.  Next, my passion around music has waned to the point that I don’t care to sing anymore.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve found that I can no longer envision a future for myself once released from prison; from exile.

In summary then, all the creative activities that were alive in me have withered or died just as my active participation in my faith has also all but ended.

So a third question now arises: 

What role does the creative center of the brain play in one’s faith?

I once took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) survey and scored 100% for both schizophrenia and delusional disorder.  I recall a fair number of questions around belief in an omnipotent entity (God).

Apparently, I’m not the first person to see a direct link between one’s faith and the workings of the mind – the creative mind.  The implication of that survey is that your faith is something manufactured by your mind as opposed to a belief, a knowing really, in an all-encompassing deity.  And aren’t hallucinations and delusional beliefs manufactured by the mind?

This suggests then that the part of the brain that creates hallucinations and delusional beliefs also creates faith, or at least some portion thereof.

It’s a scary thought really – that my faith is no more real than a short story written for pleasure.

Where does this leave me? 

With more questions than answers.

What to do?  I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of “just do it’ and renew, even if by habit, my participation in praying the rosary, thrice daily prayer times, and reading the bible daily.  My hope is that by doing these things as tasks I will rekindle the part of me that carried these actions as an integral part of my faith practice.

I’m curious.  I’d like to know if any of you that are on psychometric medication have seen a change in how your creative self manifests.  Am I alone in seeing a direct link between the creative center of the mind and faith?

I look forward to hearing from you.  ~jdoe

Memorial Day Prayer

My040 Memorial Day Prayer

Every year we lose brave women and men and add hundreds of veterans to our nation’s roll call. These fine people do what they do for love of country and for love of their fellow countrymen. We are indeed blessed to have each and every one of them stand up for freedom and human rights around the globe. Please say an extra prayer this weekend for those lost, those who continue to battle on and those who have come home to rest.

Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone

Lyrics Chris Tomlin

Through countless dangers, doubts and fears
I have already come
God’s Grace has brought me safely here
And Grace will lead me home
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

 

Be Selfish In Prayer

My life is sort of like “Groundhog Day,” so when I realized this weekend was Mother’s Day I also realized an opportunity lost in not writing a post for Mother’s Day.   When my sister reminded me what this weekend’s post was about, we realized that it was perfect.  Mothers, just like Jabez, need to be bold and selfish in prayer.   Happy Mothers Day.

My040 Be Selfish In Prayer

I’ve been thinking that my prayers are too selfish.  I’m always asking God for guidance and blessings, protection and strength to resist temptation; especially strength for as an addict it’s easy to let my mind wander where it shouldn’t and become weak.  I feel I do a really good job in my rejection of temptation but I also feel I’m able to do so due to God’s hand upon me.

Recently, I began to wonder about my method of prayer and whether or not there was a better way to ask for God’s blessings and support.  So I asked the Priest here at the prison and he replied, “Pray like Jabez.”  I asked him who Jabez was and he said to find Jabez in my Bible.  I searched by consulting my concordance and I found that Jabez is mentioned only one time, and it’s in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.

Have you read 1 Chronicles?  If not then you need to know that the first nine chapters trace the genealogy of man from Adam to Israel’s return from captivity; a time span of thousands of years.  1 Chronicles Chapters 1 through 9 is boring to read and many (most?) people skip these chapters, as I did, and miss the single person called out for his cry to God for a strong life.  Jabez, and only Jabez, is the focus of the author’s only record beyond the genealogical record.  One must ask, “Why?”

First we need to understand Jabez’s name.  Names in Biblical times often predicted the life’s achievements of individuals.  For example Soloman means peace, which is appropriate as Soloman was the first King of Israel to reign without war.  So what does Jabez mean?  It means ‘pain,’ or more literally, ‘he causes (or will cause) pain.  Jabez’s mother named him such saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”  What a way to live life!  Can you imagine living in Biblical times with a name that predicts you’ll cause, or have already caused, pain?  Knowing this, one might wonder how Jabez won the only spotlight in the first name chapters of 1 Chronicles.

The answer is in the way Jabez prayed!

1 Chronicles 4:10 reads

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil so that I will be free from pain.”  And God granted his request.

Note that last word, “pain.”  To include his name’s meaning in his prayer underlines the importance of one’s name in Biblical times, and the belief that one’s name predicted their life’s outcome.

Jabez asked for four things:

That God bless him

That God enlarge his territory

That God would keep his hand upon him

That he be protected from evil

It all sounds like good things to pray for.  It’s when you look behind these four requests that Jabez’s wisdom becomes more evident.

First, he asks to be blessed ‘indeed.’  In these times, adding indeed to a prayer was like our adding exclamation points at the end of a sentence – a form of almost demanding to be blessed.  It also means that the request is honest and almost pleading; a pseudo command.  Jabez was not afraid of sounding selfish in his prayer for blessings – he was bold in his request!

Second, he asks for his territory to be enlarged.  At first look it sounds like he was asking for more land property – a literal translation in our culture today but not in the times of this writing.  Jabez was asking God to increase the size of his ministry.  Jabez was also asking God to provide all that was needed in order for Jabez to achieve the new, added, work God would ask of him.  In other words, Jabez was asking God to use in him a greater capacity than what He was using Jabez at the moment of this prayer – it could be translated to say, “Give me more to do for you O God.”  Again, not selfish but bold.

Next he asks for God’s hand to be with him through it all.  In this Jabez acknowledging that he could not achieve his new objectives without God’s help.  Jabez was saying, “Work through me to the glory of you, my God.”  Jabez was telling God that he wanted to be God’s instrument of glory.  Jabez did not want to become great, Jabez wanted God to become great through Jabez.  Again, not selfish but bold.

Finally, Jabez asks that God help him to maintain a blessed life by protecting him from evil.  Jabez knew there’s evil in the world and that those working to do God’s work would come under attack by that evil.  Again Jabez was acknowledging he couldn’t do it without God’s glorious help.  As bold as Jabez was in his first three requests he was equally humble in asking for God’s help and protection.  It could be translated, “I’ll do all I can, O God, help me with the rest.”

My learning from this is that maybe God wants us to be “selfish” in our payers by asking Him to use us for His greater glory.  Maybe I’m not being selfish after all.

There are people who believe that by praying this simple prayer daily that they will, and do, see God moving in their lives more obviously every day.

I’m willing to try, are you?  Please join me.  ~jdoe