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Is Suicide Ever Right?

17 Jun

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” The suicide recently, of a friend has spurred the revisiting of an older post. On the heels of California becoming the fifth state to legalize a “right to die” for patients, the events of this trying week beg the question: Is suicide ever the right thing to do?
Before I move into a bit of conversation, I would like us to make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, spouses, families, and friends. We must state our love in words and in actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point. The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddled with chemical imbalances, at times. We are frail and all of us one breath from the end of life here on earth. We also live in a world that would swallow us up, as a vortex vanquishes its volume. The pressures are great on us all.
For me, there is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted by internal and external forces to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose, and that is our fault as Americans. There is also no mistaking the fact that there are other factors that can cause people to “feel” hopeless, and convince themselves there is only one way to deal with this hopelessness. These feelings are real. These feelings are heightened beyond reality, sometimes. They are feelings, nonetheless. I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into depression and destructive thoughts.
With that last query in mind, I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause irrational thoughts and bizarre behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or PTSDs–and even child sexual abuse. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously by loved ones and friends. A person living with “harmed and fractured insides” sometimes believes that such harm is a norm and that what we would call “additional harm” may be viewed as that person’s “additional norm.” When this happens, something is wrong inside the person. Add to this some form of chemical or substance abuse, and the brain is all cross-circuited, and emotions are imbalanced. The brain both affects and is affected by biology and chemistry. Emotions and the brain are inseparable, especially so for girls and women.
As a Christian man, I can assure you that praying for people is the right thing to do. Miracles do occur. I have seen some. But God gives us common sense also, and sometimes prayer has to be coupled with professional assistance and treatment. Asking a person to simply pray their way out of depression, or for healing from a fractured youth is one thing. Walking through these issues has to be accomplished by the person first admitting there is a problem. This is where there is often a hang up.
As quickly as we go to the doctor for a physical disease, the same should be done for something problematic emotionally and mentally. However, getting the right help with the right worldview is critical. I am no physician, and certainly I am not a psychotherapist. But I am a man of common sense and signs of trouble are perceptible if we take the time to see them and act accordingly. They are easily missed, and even more easily dismissed–until it is too late. Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for additional conversational purposes.
First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such? Love to know your thoughts.
Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is certain death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide? Can it ever be heroic for a person to take his or her own life, albeit for a higher cause–even if it means pain in the present? I have heard people say, “They would be better off without me, in the long run.” Some people actually think they are choosing a higher path, in their own minds. That is the issue. They see this negative as a positive. In a disabled mental or emotional state, one’s mind can confuse purposeful actions.
Therefore, third, is it possible for a person to be in such a confused state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? The converse of this is whether suicide is a cheap and selfish way out of problems a person sees not end to, and it is ultimately purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic. I have always said, if those who kill themselves by their own choice, could float above the room in which their family and friends gather, and see the devastation and grief their actions leave behind in the people they claim to love, they might very well wish to un-choose their actions. Yes, this is only speculation. But, we struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction.
If we trace the family history, sometimes is seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. But this is not always the case for the first person in the family to carry out the act. But now there is a precedent and a bridge crossed for others to more easily justify the action for themselves. I have heard people say, “I have suicidal thoughts because my mom and grandfather committed suicide.”
Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on. I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might can fit as factors. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not. We must understand that death is not a part of life, like a nap from which we awaken later. Death is the cessation of physical life. Taking one’s life with the hope that there is an eternal life, lessens the value of this temple we are given–the very house of the Holy Spirit and new creations, at that! This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I have my beliefs and these are strong beliefs–but I simply do not know. This is where my faith comes in.
I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and the eternal state of created souls. Certainly we cannot practice anything we want at any time, and think our lives are in line with the Almighty. What is more, we cannot expect those in their right minds, who rake their lives, to be accountable. Inasmuch as a small child’s brain is not fully developed to be accountable for his or her actions, I also believe there are probably some adults whose brains, hearts, and minds are so injured that they are not accountable for their actions, either. My only dilemma is whether or not all suicides fit this accountability factor. Again, that’s up to the Almighty.
In summation, here are six questions to consider:
(1) How is killing another the same, or different from killing self? Is killing still killing?
(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?
(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot repent and ask for forgiveness, after the fact?
(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?
(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?
(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or does not keep one from heaven?
Thanks for reading and thanks, in advance, for your comments. Please keep them respectful.

Coming Out . . . The Genius of It All

2 Mar

coffee3

A few years back, our school newspaper published an article titled, “Sexuality loses meaning as it becomes career booster.” The title, in-and-of-itself, was an oxymoron. The very thing that enhances careers is indeed meaningful. In fact, the claim of “sexuality” at all has become and “enigmatic enhancement” of the first order. How’s THAT for an oxymoron?

But semantics aside, titles are meant to catch people’s attention. What is it about today’s culture, anyway? Everyone seems to be defining themselves by their sexuality. The stars in the media always have to come across as sexy. Clothes have to be sexy. Food has to be sexy. Then there are mouthwashes, toothpastes, cars, whatever! Sex sells, I guess. Being sexy-gay, and metro-sexual also sell in today’s culture. Even Facebook has caved to the pressures of sexual expression, called by progressives as “gender identity.”

In that issue of the school newspaper, comments by students were printed in response to others, who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Isn’t everyone’s lifestyle an alternative one? Titles really do not define us, and neither do nicknames. What they do, though, is capture attention. Consequently, if a person favors traditional marriage, he or she is labeled “anti-homosexual,” or a homophobe.” Attention pushes emotions and thus, fads are born. High school campuses are replete with fads. Sex is just one more fad. However, fads based on sexuality are just a bit different, in that people seem to think their sex and gender are who they are.

The Genius of It All

Here is an example. If I call myself a genius, a born genius, and I am someone who joins up with groups of geniuses—and even begin to wear the “attire of the genius” groups, use the language of geniuses, etc.–I am perceived by these actions as a genius. But am I truly a genius? Would a genius seek to be one so desperately that he must come out as one and join a group?

Taking things even farther, I could even have participated in a community parade of geniuses and protested people of ordinary intelligence, calling them all hater of geniuses, if they dared to speak of the ordinary in ways that validated their ordinary intelligence. All things considered, do any of these actions mean I am a genius? Participation in the actions that some equate with lifestyle does not necessarily equate to the conclusion that I am a genius. I could bear the title of GENIUS and not be one. What is more, I could claim to have been born a genius, only to arrive later in life at the realization that I am quite an “ordinary genius.” Talk about oxymorons?

We live in a heightened state of sexual identity today, media-driven to be sure! How else would high schoolers—or anyone for that matter—know their sexuality, absent the practice? In my opinion, the titles we ascribe to our identities are not the real points of identification. Just like one’s beliefs, names are just that—NAMES. It is the actual, continued practice that defines us, in my opinion. Attraction is not the main issue. In the same way no one can claim to be a potato because of one’s regular cravings, attractions–and even addiction–for french fries, no one can say they are heterosexual or homosexual merely by attraction, or sexual lust. I’ll return to this conclusion a bit later. One thing is certain: We are all born sexual.

In case no one has paid attention yet, allow me to open a door and reveal this truth. We, the human race, are sexual creatures. Did you hear me? WE ARE SEXUAL. Why should we have to go around labeling ourselves by culturally-spotlighted titles? Why should heterosexuals and homosexuals have to somehow be certain that their sexuality is front-and-center? Think about it. Why do we have “sexuality clubs” on school campus? The Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) is a club titled after sexual orientation and practice? Is being “straight” a belief or a practice? Or is it a world-view? Or better yet is it an inalienable right to be homosexual, found somewhere in Jefferson’s Declaration, or Locke’s Natural Rights?

Considering Teenagers

How do teens ever know what they are, unless they practice something long enough to know? Are high schoolers even oriented yet? Their brains and bodies are changing daily. Do we expect that teens WILL inevitably experiment with sexuality to discover their orientation? I hope not. That is quite dangerous. So, what purpose does a “sexual-titled” club have? I’d love to hear of the celibate homosexual–talk about the ultimate in doublespeak!!!

Any Google search will produce the answers to the questions just raised. There are places all over the nation popping up that base their identity on sexuality—as far down as middle and elementary schools. However, instead of going Google, many young people are going “Gaga.” Here is one such recent example:

The Youth Empowerment Summit (YES)

YES took place at Everett Middle School, just one of dozens of locations in the past few years. YES remains a FREE conference, sponsored by GSA Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, and straight ally youth dedicated to fostering safe schools and youth activism. The conference is open to all youth and allies, with a focus on middle school and high school. Adults and teachers are welcome. Under the guise of “bullying,” the homosexuality agenda has made its was into all the corners of our kids lives.

It is not a moot issue to ask why not have a BSC Club too (Bi-Sexual Curious club). What about a Transgender Club? Many GSAs include these other orientations and lifestyles as protectionary, for those choose to proclaim a different sexuality. If gays do not feel comfortable in places, based upon their sexuality, then bisexuals and transgenders will probably feel just as uncomfortable. Should all sexual expressions have their own club? I would like to know just what “alliance” is formed between students of different sexual expressions? What about the “teenagers with crushes on their teachers clubs”? I’ll stop there at the edge of absurdity.

Why can’t we just stick to clubs period, you know, those that enhance civic participation and not sexuality? Why does sexuality have to be the open door? I shudder to think that demonstrating sexual practice is somehow one’s civic duty. Does there have to be a heterosexual community service club and a homosexual service club? Could we ever envision a non-gender club? Hmmm. How about naming it the Interact Club, where everyone interacts? What about Rotary, or Lions Clubs?

What About the Celibates?

What I am pointing out in this article, and hopefully the reader is catching some of my sarcasm and facetious allusions, along the way, is that we are all sexual creatures– including celibates? Those folks are defined by their LACK of practice, or orientation. Are they born that way, or is it a choice? Do we have opportunities for them to be celibate, and are they offended by all of this intolerable sex-talk? Celibates are still male or female, therefore sexual. I would like to see the statistics on gay celibates–those who have never had sex before. I would enjoy a discussion to discover how celibates know they are gay. The norm never has to explain itself. It is pure silliness to think that just attraction and even physical lust makes one gay, yet these are the primary determinants of one’s “same-sex-ploration,” if you will, all pigeonholed by the phrase “born that way.”

We live in a society that is so afraid to discuss the gay-issue, for fear of being labeled a homophobe (fear of gays). Labels, Schmabels, Carling Black-Labels (Calm down; The latter is a beer). As a person, I dislike bashing of any kind. Bashing heterosexuals who speak out as activists against the gay-lifestyle, with labels of bigotry, is as bad as heterosexuals who bashing gays at every opportunity. I agree with my colleagues that bashing and sexual slurs have to stop. But, I will go one further. Defining oneself by their sexuality invites polarization, and that also has to stop, unless we are going to allow additional marginalization of Americans with whom they choose to love and with whom to have sex. I call that form of identification quite shallow. But we live in a culture of labels and shallowness, and it is as if people are so uncontrolled in their desires they cannot help themselves and have little choice in their actions. Additional labels are assigned when one finds heterosexuality, and comes out of the homosexual lifestyle. It seems that with sex, you can’t have it “both ways.”

Lost and Found?

Anyone who comes out of the closet to admit their sexuality is somehow viewed as a person who has found himself, or herself. When were they lost? Many gay-adults are people who had opposite-sex spouses and families, children, and were involved in mainstream American life and living. Suddenly some of these folks walk away from marriages, many of their responsibilities, and those they reared, in order to pursue themselves? That is quite the height of selfishness, if you ask me–another hallmark of the current culture.

Do I have to admit to being a heterosexual for the world to accept me? Am I intolerant if I have different set of beliefs about sexuality? Not at all in either case.

New Civil Rights?

I have heard it said that the gay rights issue of today is a new “race” issue, like unto what the blacks faced in earlier decades. I think that argument is a red herring. No one I know has chosen to leave the Asian, Black, or Caucasian races to join another. Slaves were property with no rights, no freedom of speech, etc. Gays have all of these constitutional rights and more, depending on the state–where the Constitution grants everyone the same basic rights. Your skin color and DNA are what they are. If just one person leaves homosexuality and lives a heterosexual life, then there goes the ALL GAYS ARE BORN THAT WAY.

If a person uses race as analogous to sexuality, in order to define or identify oneself, then a coming out of one race to realize he or she is not truly that race, would suffice. Many of us have heard about, or know gays and straights, that have chosen another lifestyle. Trust me on this. There is nothing Eminem, Madonna, or JT can do to be Timbaland, “no matta how day dress wiff dare cloves.” I know we are “One Nation,” but don’t ask the aforementioned to “Apologize” for their own identities. They did NOT choose them. I reiterate, if just one gay or straight has chosen the alternate lifestyle, then the “birth” argument needs to be reexamined. And believe me, it does need to be reexamined. There are many reasons for “being” homosexual, departing from the norm. Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe we are all born homosexual, and because of abuse, social conditioning, or gender identity maturity, we just come out as heterosexual–even though we say nothing about it. Are you shaking your head yet?

Today we have gay sports teams being sued by bisexual players for sexual discrimination. Homosexuals are demanding that marriage is a right, when it is clearly NOT a right. Government might grant a legal right, but it can never be “right.” Gays in Texas want to divorce there, even when they were not married in that state. They’ll try anything to get a state to recognize marriage. If states against gay-marriage grant divorces from OTHER states’ marriages, then they (1) would have to recognize the marriage for a divorce to be granted, and (2) “the full faith and credit clause” would be implied, opening the door to federal decisions to bring the “doctrine of incorporation” into the mix. Having said that, it is just a matter of time before homosexual marriage (notice, I did not say same-sex marriage) is brought to the Supreme Court. The trend is that soon, homosexual marriage will be a legally done deal, and incorporated into all 50 states. Then it will be like abortion–forever an issue that will raise anger and disgust for many.

Radicalism

We have proms being cancelled because lesbians and gay teenagers want to make it a point to being same-sex dates. Things are so out of control that there is little sense anymore. It’s all about the individual and not the common good. Soon there will be heterosexual proms, homosexual proms, bisexual proms, transgender proms, etc. There are already proms and graduation parties designated by race and ethnicity. I am starting to see some reasons why some Muslims of the radical sects want to destroy the western world. But they don’t have to do it. We are doing it to ourselves.

In closing, I reiterate, we are all born sexual, for that is what being male and female imply when you check the gender box. I know it is popular today for people to define gender and sex different ways. Expressing that reality with sexual practice, or not expressing that is mostly about one’s choice. Without the practice, who knows? We all have our feelings and passions. How does anyone really know what his preferences are, when they are based in experimentation? I would not trust a teenage mind to make a lifelong determination about sexuality.

Teenagers and Life-Altering Decisions

I would hate to define anybody by their feelings and passions—especially high-schoolers–whose brains and bodies are changing every day. Here’s the bottom line. Am I against gays, or somehow a homophobe? Nope. That would be silly. I can easily separate issues from people. What I am against is this notion that somehow we must accept that everyone’s individuality who is either born gay, straight, whatever–over and against the vast majority of others. I am against a group hijacking sexuality and calling those who speak out, all sorts of names. It is classical republicanism versus individual rights all over again. Common good for the majority, versus the individuality expression of one, or a group. This is a good struggle to have in a democracy, as long as the struggle is not enjoined by haters using media and politics to ruin dissenters.

Coming out of the closet is a choice. I repeat, coming out in a “choice.” So too, is coming out of, and entering a lifestyle. No one is so compelled and driven to practice a lifestyle, unless there are issues of abuse, self-control, or some other sociological or personal concerns, such as addictions. Does this mean that out of all homosexuals, NONE are born that way? Probably not. However, no one has discovered the “gay gene,” yet. But does that mean all are born as such? I would reject that notion, because humans are not so bound that they cannot un-choose, make new choices, or choose not to choose, at all.

Speaking of such concerns, I want to go on record and come out and state that I am a “caffeinexual.” I have been hiding this fact and been cavorting with tea drinkers. People think I actually am a “tea-drinker.” I feel highly empowered, after having written this piece. I also feel like a parade is “brewing.” Coffee drinkers unite! We are all born this way. I can now check the gender box as a caffeinexual. But I can both ways, honestly–and I have! Coffee or tea? I am attracted to both, depending on my moods and the days of the week. Come and join me in my classroom any morning in my new Coffee-Tea-Alliance, to celebrate my “phreshness,” as long as you have “grounds” to do so.

Attention Educators!

20 Apr

Front Cover

Front Cover

We have a national epidemic on our hands!

http://www.amazon.com/Teacher-Student-Relationships-Crossing-Emotional-Physical/dp/1475802366/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1366476640&sr=8-1″ title=”Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing Into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms” target=”_blank”>

Is Suicide Unpardonable?

6 Apr

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” Of course, the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, age 27, has spurred this post. Is suicide ever justified?

I am saddened about the death of Matthew Warren, and I am dedicated to praying for the family. I hope you are also.

Furthermore, let us make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, and making certain to state our love in words and by actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point.

The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddle with chemical imbalances, at time. We also live in a world that clamors for our lives. There is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose.

I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into suicidal thoughts. I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause destructive thoughts and irrational behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or clinical depression. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously. There is the reality that the brain is affected by biology and chemistry, and emotions and the brain are connected.

When these connections line up and negative emotions emerge from angry moods and language of destruction, we all must listen. However, what happens when we are all blindsided by irrational acts?

Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for conversational purposes.

First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such?

Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is sure death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide?

Third, is it possible for a person to be in such a state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? Alternatively, is suicide a cheap way out of problems, purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic?
We struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction. Yet, if we trace the family history, it seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on.

I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might fit as reasons. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not.

This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and eternality.

Additional issues for concern:

(1) How is killing others the same, or different from killing self?

(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?

(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot ask for forgiveness after the fact?

(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?

(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?

(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or allows one into heaven?

I do not pretend to know everything, and I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I have opinions. I shared some of mine. Now, I would like to know yours!

Interesting Times: 2013

17 Feb

These are interesting times.  Two-thousand-thirteen has been quite eventful, thus far.  Somewhere between the words “interesting” and “eventful” lies the reality that affects us all:  Nothing in this world stays the same.

Friends retire from their lifelong vocations and press into their permanent vacations.  Others have medical issues arise and leave work, and full-time ministry.  Personal and moral issues drive a certain number into involuntary retirement way too soon.  Still others switch jobs and look for additional excitement.  Whether work or ministry, such revelations seem the pointers that guide each sunrise during the early days of this current year.

The possibility exists that many of the changes I write about are age-related, and that this is the season for change for those in question.  However, most are changing by choice, and doing so for a variety of reasons.  For example, I have lost colleagues and co-workers, pastors and friends, and sports buddies to change.  Some of these changes are conscious and weighed, others compelled by circumstances.  Even sickness and death have reared their ugly heads in 2013.  In fact, far too many of my family and friends are now ill and battling with one dreadful thing, or another.

In the midst of all of this change, so many wonderful opportunities have emerged for so many–even for many of those I reference above.  We could easily find ourselves mired in the negative aspects of life’s shortcomings.  That would be understandable.  However, in so doing, we would miss the blessings of each moment we are granted.  I use the word “granted,” for none of us are guaranteed any breaths or heartbeats.

Focusing on despair means sometimes missing out on the joys emerging, from within whatever struggles we face.  We will have them, and most of us will endure.  Those of us who are older are realizing the blessings of new family members, grandchildren, job-changes, ministry opportunities, writing ventures, and the  joy of realizing we have affected many lives for good, along the way.  I thank God for the people in my life.  Specifically, for example, I am grateful for people who decide to overlook what I do, in favor of whom I am.  Aligning these two, indeed, takes more than a life time, and is accomplished best by the Almighty.  This year the losses might be great, but we are all dispensable in this world.

I was reflecting on this very truth this past week.  My wife and I arrive at work very early each morning.  One day this week I commented, “imagine putting a sign up on your classroom door that read, ‘Mrs. Z’s classes will not meet this week.  See you next week.'”  She smiled and then laughed.  We both understand that laugh.  I then said, “You know, within 24 hours of your last day on this job, the system will continue like you never existed.  Things will change and the new students and teachers will have no idea of your life’s work.”  In her wisdom, my wife replied, “I know.  But hopefully what I do will live on in the lives  I affected.”  She is absolutely correct!

I share this brief conversation to say that we are products of the many people who left us long ago.  We are also living proof of those who left us recently, as well as emerging souls by the efforts of our contemporaries, including family and friends.  In change, and in God, there are always remnants–seeds planted–that germinate and flower through the efforts of others, later in life.  We owe much to those who gave their lives–only to be left along the trail of dusty memories.  Soon we will all be in that class, as we are mere passengers on this planet, transients, and this is not our home.  

At the sunset of one phase of our lives, where will we stand?  In the words of John the Baptist, when asked about his followers, directed all of his affection toward the Lord:  “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Therein lies the beauty of a life-in-focus, and priorities-in-line.  Life is not about my presence.  Life is about His presence in me.

The tabulation of the bottom-line for 2013 has begun.  No one knows what lies out there for any one of us.  However, I can assure you that making choices to thwart the status quo, and comfort, is what drives my passion for life.  Care to join me in the possibilities?

Open the door, God, if only for a moment . . . Walking by faith and not by sight, should get easier with age and diminished eye sight.  [smile]

Doubters, Dreamers, People of Faith

4 Jan

Dreamers think of the “wonders and excitement of the opportunity, yet rarely act.”

Doubters begin to mount a list of “Why I can’t,” quickly dashing the notion of things most often quite probable.

People of Faith weigh dreams and doubt, sometimes over-analyze, make a decision, and then thank God for the direction.

When situations arise that present those marvelous and unique opportunities in life, we have to take personal inventory.  We must consider whether we are stuck in the “I just can’t” mode.  We must also consider whether our past choices and disappointments speak too loudly for us to even consider a choice by faith?  Consider that we only go around once in this lifetime and it begs the question, “How many opportunities do I have left to seize those moments?  I am curious about the reader.  So, let me ask you:  What is YOUR first response to new opportunities that come your way?  And what is your ultimate response to the same opportunities?

I would like to go on record as saying we should never make decisions based in fear, or doubt.  Neither should decisions be made by faith only, without using the God-given reason and common-sense, with which we were born.  But there are those unconventional moments, when the world is screaming “No, don’t!”  Those moments aside for a bit, here are a few things I remind myself about decision-making:

  • Making a decision by faith is not accomplished by a strong feeling
  • Stepping out in faith is seldom blind
  • There are promptings, assurances, confirmations, and definite affirmations for us to take another step, then another, and so on.

COMMON SENSE

Never in my life has God said, “Go ahead jump off that cliff unprepared, and I’ll bail you out.”  He has bailed me out of some dumb decisions I have made, but He never encouraged me to make a dumb decision.  He has led to some unconventional decisions and, in retrospect, I see clearly the reasons why.  Jumping off a cliff with a parachute is a bold move, but it is also a move that incorporates the common sense with which God graced us.

The difference between dumb choice and unconventional opportunity is found in the overall purpose and outcomes.  Usually, the former is about the individual and long-term insight is lacking.  Whereas, with unconventional opportunities, the focus in the purpose, but the medium through which the accomplish the purpose might take some special kind of action.  Personally, I have been at the junctures of both.

When it comes to the really big decisions in life, the life or career-changing decisions, I have found that direction and leading had been underway in my life, long before the big decisions occurred.  The decision is just the mechanism to move things along–the “yes button” that, when pushed, sets God’s will and our will in alignment.  I do make state lightly that I believe God is an integral part of the decisions–both prior, in the midst of, and afterwards.

GRACED WITH CHOICES

God allows us to choose, and He is often gracious to allow us second and third opportunities if we make mistakes, “or jump the gun,” as it were.  He knows us well.  Yet, there comes a time when a window of opportunity closes.  It is at those times I ask myself whether I missed the opportunity, did something wrong to forfeit the opportunity, or whether it was simply not meant for me.  Here is where I take consolation in considering God has at least three answers to prayers:  “No, Yes, and Not Now!”

Have you ever sought God’s direction and came to the conclusion that He replied “No,” or “Not now!”  I have been there before.

BABY-BOOMERS

We Baby Boomers feel way too young to be sedentary and irrelevant.  We are just a bit old enough to think about retirement, but we still have lots of zest and vigor left to both work and play.  Yet, many of us have thought about those big life-altering dreams–the “WHAT-IFS!”  I wanted to play professional soccer in the worst way.  I asked God what He wanted for my life and then a knee injury took away the drive for professional sports, at least for a time.  My focus and passion became education after that.

ARE WE AFRAID?

Dare I say, many of us are stuck in the ruts of life’s routines and comforts.  Another issue is the economy, where most of us are settling for what we already have, versus the unknown and what we would give up.  So where does this leave us?  Where does the conclusion, already drawn in our minds, place us in the grander scheme of our lives?  We wouldn’t want to hurt our families just for a selfish dream, would we?

For some of us we are left with unfulfilled lifelong dreams and goals.  Some of these have been voided do to unexpected health and family concerns.  For others, it is just too late to start over.  Still, others, are fearful of branching out, and find all sorts of excuses to stay put.  Those of us in the latter camp make me wonder “What are you waiting for?”  Easier said than done, I understand.

LIKE OUR PARENTS?

There is some truth that we are becoming more like our parents everyday.  The really disappointing part is that they have regrets about life and so will we, it seems.  Maybe regrets are simply a realistic part of life.  Could it be that we humans dream things into reality in our thoughts, and are disappointed that our thoughts weren’t as powerful as we “imagined” them to be?  I think there is some truth to this.

WALKING BY FAITH

A few of us seem to escape ourselves and reach that pinnacle of life’s experiences by choosing faith.  Examples of these kinds of persons are found in the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and other Old Testament saints–including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego seemed to walk by faith.

Our children have their futures ahead of them.  They look to us for guidance.  Where is it that “we” look?  And what do they see in us when they peer in our direction?  I am still working out these issues, and I am probably not alone.  Bit I am moving more toward faith than apathy.

When it is all said and done, I think most of our dreams are youthful and unrealistic desires–some even bordering on the lusty things of life, hence material and fleshly objects.  We all grow up and our dreams and goals change.  They also shift from “self” to “others,” which is definitely not a bad thing at all.  After all, love does change throughout the years, even if priorities do change.  Somehow, the word “vicarious” takes on entirely new dimensions and different meanings with the passage of time.

MAKING AN EFFORT

Instead of thinking, “If I had it to do all over again, I would do this or that,”  I have a novel idea.  Why not band together and state, “While I am still able, I will choose to do this, or that.”  Rather than live by “if statements,” let us make realistic plans and goals and strive for them.  Goals do not have to be life-changing.  They can be just as fun if they are routine-changing.

So, Boomers, what are we waiting for?  It has been said about our generation that we have given this nation a lot for which to be thankful.  It has also be said about us that we stumbled along in life, at times, seemingly aimless, self-absorbed, and fearful of getting old.

We have been accused of plowing through relationships, burying ourselves in work, and after the kids are raised we ask “What’s left for me?”  Honestly, what I have found is that it is quite difficult to stumble through life if we are spending time on our knees seeking direction.

Care to join me?  It might be time for that “Yes” answer from above!

Psychology and Jury Decisions

9 Jul

Here we are, just having come off the media-blitzed Anthony Trial.  Somewhere between 80-90% of Americans polled, believed Casey Anthony murdered her toddler, Caylee.  Yet, after just a mere 11 hours of deliberations, the jury of her “peers” returned a verdict of “not guilty” to first-degree-murder, and a host of other charges, etc.  They did convict her, however, of several charges of lying to law enforcement.  Lies are cover-ups–unless one is a liar by nature–which then means a person has nothing to hide if lies become one’s “truth-to-live-by.”

Much of the nation that watched with interest were shocked at the Anthony jury-verdict.  Some of us were not shocked, and predicted the outcome.  I am in the camp of the latter, thank you very much.  However, I am not pleased.  Like many, I am torn between the disconnect between justice and legality.  This is especially prevalent in the criminal “justice” system whenever a person walks because of improper prosecution, or well-paid lawyers who know psychology.

MORE TO THE CASE THAN WE KNOW

Aside from the evidence that lacked a clear connection in the Anthony case–the kind needed to actually convict a young woman in Florida of killing her child–there was a lot more taking place in the courtroom than the average person may know.

First, only two women in the history of Florida criminal justice system have been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  These two women were hardened serial killers, and the evidence of multiple murders was against them.  There was no such “level” of evidence against Casey Anthony, which is why I predicted acquittal.

Second, psychology was present in the courtroom, as a replacement for DNA and other evidence.  This stratagem was skillfully used by the defense team, and born out of research of juries of the past–the Orenthal James Simpson case being one of these.  Jury consultants were brought in and with them, so too was psychology.

Third, there was strategy.  Consider the following strategy.  Defense attorney Baez admitted his client was a liar right at the beginning of his opening statement.  This is much more than a lawyer’s admission of his client’s nature.  Baez seized the psyches of the jurors.  Baez also claimed Anthony was sexually abused by her father, and that Caylee died of an accidental drowning.  See the picture?  “LIAR + ABUSE = ACCIDENT.”  Was there evidence for any of this?  Hardly.  Was there supposed to be evidence for this?  Not really.  Why then did Baez use extraneous things in his opening in a very important capital murder trial?  The answer is in the “psychology” of it all.

JURY CONSULTANTS

The truth is that law-firms usually employ jury experts, so that they can understand the make up of a jury, based on their written surveys, voir dire, and body language.  The make-up of a jury is way beyond the qualification of an assembly of “peers.”  Lawyers are sometimes not the best judges of people, so they need help in that area.  Group dynamics have a psychological dynamic of their own.  Lawyers attempt to assemble juries which they consider subjective enough, and sympathetic enough to their arguments.  Jury selection and jury assembling is not random.  As a result, the qualification of “peerdom” for a defendant is quite inapplicable.  I say this with the larger cases in mind; the more impacting the case in the media, the more attention will be paid to psychology.  How peer-oriented is that?  Unfortunately, the average person is not privy to such counsel.  This is also a huge inequity in our system of justice.  The italicized phrase being somewhat of a legal conundrum–at least–a moral oxymoron at most!

Trial lawyer consultant, Jonathan Lytle Ph.D., writes the following in the Orange County (CA) Bar Association’s Lawyer Journal:

A familiar refrain from trial consultants is that attorneys should give the strongest possible opening statement.  Consultants grant so much weight to these first words partially based on intuition and anecdotal evidence, but also because actual scientific research supports them as a powerful tool.  An opening statement allows the attorney to provide the framework through which jurors view a case and process evidence.  Information that fits into the established framework is easily remembered.  Information that does not synch is discarded or distorted by jurors.  Research has demonstrated that jurors make their decisions early in a trial.  So, the faster an attorney can ge the jury on their side, the better.  (Lytle, July 2011, Orange County Lawyer, p. 28)

SCHEMATA

In other words, first impressions, whether fictional, false, or flamboyant are the psychological pictures from which a jury will begin processing what is to come.  This suggested picture is an attempt to create in a juror’s mind what psychologists refer to as “schemata,” a type of framework into which additional bits of information can be placed.

Juries are known to make up their minds early in a trial and then discard what does not fit into their framework, or schemata.  This is called “predecisional distortion.”  Lawyers are encouraged to take advantage of this distortion in alignment with the order of evidence presentation.  The presentation of strongest points of opening and argument, aligned with strongest evidence creates the best-case for juries making up their minds prior to deliberation.

Every day in courts around this nation, attorneys use this reality to paint the prosecutorial, colorful canvas of conviction, or create doubt.  Inasmuch as one understand colors objectively, shades exist and there are layers of paint unseen on all canvases.  The same is true in the courtroom.

In the Anthony case, did not Baez create an unbelievable opening argument?  Did not the jury, throughout the trial, discard the outrageous claims and hold what they considered relevant?  The discards and irrelevancies are indicative that the jury had made up its mind rather quickly in the trial.  Their schemata had been established, due in large part to Baez’s opening statement.  Allow me to expand my point.  Experts, like Lytle, maintain that lawyers should “not leave the good stuff until the end” (p. 29).  Obviously, Baez and team took advantage of this advice.  It is pure psychology.

All things considered, Americans are upset that Baez did not prove the story of what he said happened to Caylee.  Any time a child’s murder is at the center of a trial, it does something serious to the psyche of a nation.  But the truth of the matter is:  BAEZ DID NOT HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING!  He knew full well, that in order to get the jury to arrive at “reasonable doubt,” all he had to do was use psychology of distortion and distraction to arrive at juror predecision.

Sure, like most Americans, I wish our system was more aggressive toward the accused–especially now that our culture has definitely become more dangerous and criminal.  But it is what it is.  We cannot expect perfection from a highly imperfect system that protects up-front, both the innocent and the evil.  What most of us resent is the acquittal of the evil.

PSYCHOLOGICAL PLOYS

Here are a few of the psychological ploys used by Baez.  First, everyone understands how important first-impressions are in all of all lives.  Lawyers, like the rest of us, never have a second-chance to make a first-impression.  First-impressions are what are what the average person relies on the most, in forming opinions.  Baez’s persona and words made a distinct first-impression.

Second, the creation of a story that is unbelievable utilizes what all psychology-experts call the “big-lie that is more believable than small lies strung together.”  Surround a “fish-story” with witnesses that cannot tell the truth, contradict each other, and create doubt of any veracity and consistency, is confusing to the human brain.  If a jury does not know what to believe, then such inconsistency creates doubt.  This is the way it is in the real-world.  Consider a child’s paramour.  If his or her life, recent actions and words are confusing to the parents, then we would probably going to doubt that such a relationship has any future.  Couple this doubt with possible in-laws that are devious by nature, and I don’t think for a moment that the average person would give a blessing to such a marital, or familial connection.  I know I would not.

Third, the human brain cannot operate in a vacuum.  It needs to categorize and come to  conclusions.  The average person does not have the mental toughness to remain in a vacuum for weeks.  Brains work to sift and decide.  As a result, “objectivity” of a jury is truly a notion beyond reality.  Long trials do next-to-nothing in arriving at truth, or to change a jury’s corporate mind.  The longer the trial went on, the more extraneous the information, the more disconnected the testimony, and the more it bolstered predecision on the part of the jury.

HUMANS TAKE SIDES

Humans take sides early on, then look for reasons to bolster their beliefs.  This happens in politics.  It happens in sports.  This also happens in marriages.  The average person is simply falling into the “comfort zone.”  We do it quickly and we do it comfortably.  Our brain needs closure.  Is this not why open-endings in movies, and in books, etc., really cause our emotions discomfort?  This is simply who we are, whether teenagers, or adults.  Our brains classify, sift, and decide.  When we allow a lawyer to determine the schemata into which evidence is placed, there is a distinct psychological advantage to the lawyer.  Baez used this to his advantage.

IDEALISM AS DISTORTION

The use of psychology can also backfire.  Relying on public sympathies and idealism to reach a death penalty is all right for media attention.  But these same sympathies enter the courtroom with a jury that views a conviction as death sentence for a mid-20s, fresh-faced, weeping liar.  When the prosecution went for the capital-crime home run, their idealism got in the way.  Make no mistake about it. I believe someone killed the toddler.  I believe Casey had a hand in it, or did it herself.  But my belief is not evidence.  My belief is not objective.  My belief is subjective.  It is a fallacy to think that jurors make up their minds as objective humans.  This is not how life is lived.  The same thing can be argued about a relationship.  Allow me to explain.

If a person thinks another person is perfect, how long can that admission hold up before the humanity of the idolized becomes all too obvious.  Overlooking the imperfect means there is a boas, or subjectivity in the way of reality.  Furthermore, trying to prove perfection based on real-life circumstances is not a good strategy.  One would have to be deluded to believe another human is perfect, when the circumstances showed otherwise.  Being imperfect by circumstances does not mean a person is a murderer.

PSYCHOLOGY GONE AWRY

The prosecution used an “idealism” principle and it backfired.  The defense merely stated that to believe in the prosecution’s case would be to believe in something that did not exist, amidst the circumstances.  The Baez and team painted an unbelievable scenario of its own, essentially creating possibility to bolster predecision and bias.  Knowing that proof was not needed to back up its defense, Baez simply allowed jurors to believe early on that an accident was the possible cause of Caylee’s death.  He used psychology on them and allowed them to believe they were making up their own minds.  Realistically, can a jury possibly convict a woman to death if an accident killed the infant?  Bingo.  Case over.

The accident theory has already been put out as to why Juror #4 voted to acquit Anthony of the murder charges.  Baez used psychology to persuade the jury early on.  it obviously worked in on juror #4, and others, according to her.  That’s all it took to create reasonable doubt.  He bolstered the case for the defense by bringing in witnesses who tossed contradiction around like it was candy at Halloween.  Doubt plus doubt does not equal truth.  Unfortunately, either does it equate to justice for a dead toddler.  Nevertheless, once that was established, the trial was over.  The jury had made up its mind.  In the words of Lytle, “Asking the right questions will plant ideas in the jurors’ minds and begin to frame the case according to your position.”  (p. 29)  Lytle is quite astute.  Baez knew exactly what strategy to employ.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

In closing, a few curious points warrant further investigative research on my part:

  1. What parts do political underpinnings of jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys play in the psychology of jury selection and ultimately jurors’ decision-making processes?
  2. Is it possible that the vast number of defense attorneys are Democrats, whereas it is the opposite, politically, for prosecutors?
  3. How much do lawyers rely on the “psychology of thought in connection to political sympathy” as an unspoken, underlying factor for jury selection?  How much does this affect jury decision-making?  [Is there any thing closer to the truth in politics than the axiom “Republicans and Democrats do not think alike and do not see the world through the same eyes.”]
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