Yummy in my Tummy

Psychology

Exodus 16:4 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”

You would expect God to deliver a swift judgment for their insolent appetites (eventually He does after multiple offenses in Num. 11), yet, contrary to popular opinion God shows a cool hand. His patience is slow to anger. Instead of a stern rebuke, Moses and Aaron receive the assurance that a celestial ration, called mana, would calm their hunger. But this mystery portion did not come without an ulterior motive, for the Lord packaged their meal plan with a set of fine instructions to act as a window to expose the thankless heart.

I don’t think the Hebrew people necessarily struggled to trust in God’s ability to feed them—they had just walked through the Red Sea, a mind-bending miracle(!)—it appears they struggled to settle for anything less than a buffet of meat pots and bread. The problem wasn’t with their theology (can God feed us?) but with their appetite, for a menu and service; a fast food kingdom of have it your way.

There is nothing wrong with hunger. The fact that their stomachs craved to be filled again is of no surprise. During enslavement it was a daily routine to get stuffed with the gruel guaranteed for their labor. Should God not at least match the feedings of the despot? Is not the Almighty fairer than the Egyptian chefs? The famished Hebrews didn’t think so, and the moment they suffered hunger pains they were willing to forfeit a land of milk and honey, just as, in eerie fashion, Esau forfeited his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Did the Egyptians offer better food than manna? Perhaps. I’m no epicurean.

It would be a no-brainer to choose an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of indentured soup over the plain servings of manna for “the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil (Num. 11:7).” Quantity over quality is the motto of my tummy. I eat to the tune of Sam’s Club—in bulk.

But manna was not meant for pleasure but for purification. Hunger compelled them to wrongly test God when it was their worship that needed to be tested, for it was found lacking. God did not bring them out of Egypt to outdo the indulgences of their past slavery. He set them free to have covenant-worship with Him; and it shouldn’t take an expired menu to solicit their worship.

With the gift of manna came a set of instructions designed to test their appetite for worship. To test their hearts. But, for now, the stomach ruled. Meat pots once satisfied their hunger, would manna satisfy their worship.

There is no worship without gratitude and there is no gratitude without being overwhelmed by WONDER.

70 Years

Church, Grief, Holy Spirit, Psychology

Grief is a normal part of healthy human existence.  Without the ability to grieve we wouldn’t have the ability to love, to feel connected at a deep level to someone, something, or even an idea.  We can and should grieve the loss of a dream, the loss of our home, or the loss of a person that we love to death or relational mayhem.  It is a God designed part of our humanness.

Let Wisdom Lead the Way

Holy Spirit, Old Testament, Psychology

For counselors who profess Christ it is sometimes difficult to remember that God is at work in the world.  Spending day after day with clients who come into sessions with little to no change in their lives, and carrying the same brokenness around with them.  It is easy to question where God is in all of this mess, and it is easy to feel like we’re alone in the trenches with our clients, getting covered in the slime of a more-than-difficult situation.  Sometimes it feels like our client is in another trench and No Man’s Land is in between us with every attempt to cross the distance rebuffed by machine guns, razor wire, and artillery fire.

The Cracked Pot (Anonymous)

Psychology

There was once a water carrier in India whose job it was to bring water from the river to his master’s house. Day after day, he would take two pots on a long pole down to the river, fill them up, and bring them back to his master’s house.

One fateful day, the water carrier stumbled and fell. When he fell, one of his water pots cracked a little.

The water carrier resumed his vocation, going down to the water, filling up his two pots and going back to his master’s house. The difference now, was that one of the pots – the cracked pot, only took back half of the water that it had been endowed with at the river.

One morning, before the water carrier went down to the river, the water pot spoke to the water carrier. It said, “I am ashamed of myself.” The water carrier asked “why?” The pot explained that it had felt bad ever since they day that they had fell. Ever since that day, the water pot had only been able to bring back half of the water it had been entrusted with.

“I long to go back to the days when I could bring back the full contents of what you had filled me with. Since I cannot go back to those days, I ask that you simply break me on a rock and throw me on the rubbish pile.”

The water carrier, seeing that the pot was distressed, said “I see that you are feeling bad. I tell you what. Today I will not fill you up with any water. Relax, take it easy. Today all I want you to do is to enjoy the ride to the river and back and to watch for the flowers along the way.”

Sure enough, the water pot watched all the flowers go by, but all the while it was fuming. “Watch the flowers? You have to be kidding me! You want me to watch the flowers and be even more ineffective than what I have been before? Now I can’t bring ANY water. I just have to wait and watch these stupid flowers.”

At the end of the day, the water pot again spoke to the water carrier. It said the same thing, “I feel ashamed of myself. I want you to stop using me. Just break me and leave me on the rubbish pile.”

The water carrier smiled a little and asked the pot, “Did you notice the flowers?”

The water pot shot back, “Of course I noticed the stupid flowers, but that has nothing to do with me.”

“Ahhh,” said the water carrier, “but it does.” “You see, two weeks after I had fallen I noticed that I was leaving a trail of water behind me. That day I took some wildflower seeds and I spread them along that side of the path. You have watered those seeds, which have become flowers, which I pick every day now when I am coming back. Now I do not only grace my master’s table with water, but with beautiful flowers as well.”

Empathy and the Cure for Violence

Holy Spirit, Jesus, Psychology, Social Issues, Violence

One of the hot topics in psychology/counseling right now is empathy.  Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential – and Endangered, by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, addresses a lack of empathy in society that the authors see as connected to some of the brokenness of contemporary US society: things like murder rates, gang activity, structural oppression, and other social issues.

Empathy is defined as:

  • a person’s ability to appreciate another person’s perspective and experience in a way that makes them care about that other person.
  • It is the skill/ability that helps us do things for the other person’s good, even at some cost to ourselves.

Perry and Szalavitz write about the developmental (i.e., human physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and moral growth) connection to the development of empathy and assert that those who grow up in highly stressful environments (inconsistent care from primary caregivers, abuse, neglect, etc.) are more at risk in developing empathy.  While a person can develop empathy even with severe deficits in learning/development in childhood, it is much harder to learn this important skill later in life and, according to the developmental model, some important time-periods for brain development tied to the growth of empathy are lost.  What this means is that the more a child is deprived of basic human needs in their life the more difficult it will be for them to develop the important skill/trait of empathy that assists them in contributing good things to their relationships and to society.

To jump to a topic not too far from the empathy discussion, we’ll look at some practical connections with nonviolence and peacemaking.   The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking, a book planned and partially written before his untimely death by John Howard Yoder and edited by Glen Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher, addresses a problem that Perry and Szalavitz find within their social science understanding of human nature.  While we all have the capacity for empathy, we all have a tendency to what Perry & Szalavitz call “Us vs. them thinking” and what John Howard Yoder calls “violence”.  Both agree that this is an inherent piece of being human, and while Perry & Szalavitz see it as a sometimes useful evolutionary mechanism, Yoder sees “Us vs. them thinking” or “violence” as a result of the fall of humanity and prototypically expressed in the story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in the book of Genesis in the Bible.  Both see this human trait as cyclical: those who are hurt lose the ability to empathize with the perpetrator and have a visceral need for retribution. Yoder contends that what is needed to address this violence within the human being is recognizing the natural human need for retribution and the subversion of the cyclical violence of retribution by the sacrifice of Jesus:

Yoder states “We have projected the tacit claim that there is something uncouth about the destructive reflex itself, rather than granting it a deep anthropological legitimacy.  Instead of posing the foundations for a nonretributive society upon ways of processing the deep demand of blood for blood […] we have tried to make our culture ashamed of its vengefulness […] Only when we retrieve an awareness of the foundational place of retribution in our social psyche can we hope to discover the role of redemption in a newly pertinent form”  (Yoder, p. 33).  He writes also, “The good news is that the violence with which we heirs of Cain respond to our brother’s differentness is the occasion of our salvation.   Were it not for that primeval destructive reflex, there would have been no suffering servant, and no wisdom and power of God in the cross” (Yoder, p. 32).

What we have then from Yoder’s understanding of the Christian Gospel is a way to satisfy and render powerless our deep need for retribution, for an eye for an eye, for blood payment, for sacrifice.  It is submission to the very instrument of our torture that is used to bring an end to that torture.  “Innocent suffering is the victory over the vengeful urge, and over the institutions that exploit it, on a anthropologically far more fundamental level than our usual theories of the state or of social hygiene” (Yoder, p. 33).  Justice has been done already for those who believe in the work of Jesus on the Cross, a work that was proven enough by His resurrection from the dead.  Empathy is essential, but it can only provide a safeguard against the violence in our hearts if it is not accompanied by our transformation by the work of the Spirit of Jesus.  Indeed, empathy for the perpetrator should be increased for those whose Lord is Jesus because we know that their retribution has been dealt with by a God who is in control of His universe and who has spoken the Sermon on the Mount:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5:38-48, NIV, 2010)