Health Update and New Podcast

I have a new podcast titled: Finding God the Hard Way; A Descartian Odyssey. You can find it here. Below is the update on my health and thanks so much for your interest.

Last Thursday I had my quarterly labs with two obvious concerns, the state of my renal failure and the state of my cancer.

Renal Function: I was very pleased to see that my eGFR (estimation of renal function) rose by 7 points in 90 days. That is unheard of. So, I went from 29 to 36. As a reminder, I started at 4 three years ago. I had some modest improvement along the way as about 1 point per 3-6 months. So, I am very pleased, especially considering there is usually no further improvement in renal function after the insult of Multiple Myeloma once you’ve reached the 6 month mark and I’m at the 3 year mark.

Cancer State: You can imagine, and some of you don’t have to imagine because you’ve had cancer, how much is riding on tests that tell you if your cancer is raging or in remission. Whether you have an immediate path of suffering and death, or one or relative normalcy. I have a large lab panel that looks at many things, but a pocket of tests (serum lambda and kappa light chains and ratio) which looks directly at my cancer. Most of the time I go to the lab the lab technician looks at the computer screen and the appearance on their face is like a deer in the headlights. As one technician explained, the new (very expensive EMR) is very confusing with old labs piling on top of new orders. So, each time I have to tell them which ones I need. Still, most of the time they omit the most important ones. This happened again last Thursday, even though I told her that my life depended upon getting the right tests done and told her which tests must be done. So, I’m still clueless if my cancer is raging or in submission. I’m heading back to the lab with new paper orders to see if they can get it right this time and the outcome hangs in suspense. I will update again when I know something.

Why Truth Matters

I’m still waiting for my labs and will report on those when they come in. My book is at the editor, so I have time on my hand to participate in a little satiric mischief. I now try to leave controversial things off my blog, however, there is no way to convert this into a pod cast. I will remind the reader that I don’t consider myself political. I have no party affiliation, have never been a big fan of Joe Biden, but I don’t think he’s the devil. The points of this satiric cartoon come from personal conversations and polls of opinions of white evangelicals. My honest pursuit is truth regardless if it comes from the political right or left or from inside the American church or from its outside. Surveys show that 66% of children raised in the Christian church leave it by age 22 and this cartoon expresses one of many reasons they leave.

Mom: Ashley, I just can’t understand how you’ve turned your back on the church. When is the last time you’ve darkened the doors of one? You don’t go to the one on campus. Are you even a believer anymore? And we raised you as a Christian, what happened?

Daughter: Mom, you told me the earth was six thousand years old and that turned out to be a lie. You told me your relationship with that Roger guy from your office was platonic, well we both know that was a lie. You and Dad told me you had a perfect marriage and that was a lie. You told me that Donald Trump was a “godly man” and that was a lie. You taught me that gay people were evil and had a conspiracy to convert all children to “gayness,” and that was a lie. You taught me that all Muslims were terrorists and wanted to kill us or convert us to Islam, and that was a lie. You taught me that undocumented immigrants were dirty, criminals and came here to sponge off the government, and that is certainly not true. You told me God hated them because they were stealing from us. But they pay taxes and receive no benefits from the government, so that was a lie. You told me that COVID was made up and no one had died from it, until grandpa did. You told me that it came from a lab in China, funded by Dr. Fauci, and that was a lie. You post things on Face Book without fact-checking them, and many of them are lies. You told me that masks were of no benefit, even the devil’s veil, which was a lie. You told me that the COVID vaccine was dangerous, which was a lie. Then you told me that Jesus would protect us from COVID, and how many died from it in your church–four? You told me that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and that absolutely was a lie. You told me that climate change was a liberal conspiracy with no evidence, which was certainly a lie. You told me that Joe Biden was a pedophile and Nancy Pelosi was part of the mafia, which were lies. You told me that the people who attacked our government on January 6th were liberal actors, not Trump supporters, which was a lie. And Mom, you told me the Bible was the center of your life, but really its your political party isn’t it? So Mom, now I have to assume that all the things you taught me about God and Jesus were lies too. So, that’s why I don’t go to church anymore.

New Podcast-The Transexual

I’ve added a new podcast, The Transexual-A Philosophical Perspective. You can listen to it here. I love controversy.

I’m taking my first airplane trip since the pandemic to visit my family in Jacksonville this week. It is a bit scary, but I’m glad the numbers for COVID are down. I will have my cancer quarterly testing as soon as I’m back. I had been doing well. My severe diarrhea from the chemo had settled to to near normal. After nine months I was never so happy to see a real turd again. However, since last summer I’ve had increasing, rather severe, whole back pain. It isn’t your typical back pain. We looked last summer from cancer metastasis in my back (PET scan) and there was no evidence of that. I suspect that it is the chemo. It doesn’t scare me, but it makes it very hard to get the chores done that spring is requiring. Appreciate your prayers that it would go away. I will share health updates when the tests are back circ April 18-19th.

Take care. I hope you are well.

Mike

Real Men (and women) Do Get PTSD

If you are like me, you are captivated by the war in Ukraine. The draw to me is certainly not the “sport” of war. I have never had a desire to play war video games and have a dislike of war movies. I was in the Air Force as a medical officer, and we had arms training and participated in war games. As a civilian I’ve worked in war refugee camps in the Middle East. I would fight to defend my family. I do think the Ukrainians have the right to take up arms to defend their families and country. But I think it is the empathy that draws me in. I check the news on the hour with the hope and pray that there is an off-ramp developing, where this tragedy could find an end to the suffering. But if the war ended tonight, the “clean up” and rebuilding would take years and the personal suffering will last generations.

While the numbers killed are untrustworthy at this juncture, the fog of war is making it difficult to count bodies and propaganda machines working overtime to deceive us, the numbers are certainly high. But whatever the number of dead are, both Ukrainians and Russians, the number of traumatized will be much higher.

I just watched an interview with a little Ukrainian boy and that became the impetus of this writing. He and his mother were escaping in their car when they were either hit by a shell or drove over a mine. But nonetheless, their car exploded. He was thrown from the front seat with both legs seriously damaged (and possible lost) and looking back at his bleeding mother. She was on fire and pleaded for help, but he could not stand. He laid in the dirt and watched his mother burn to death, screaming all the while—him helpless to move. How can his life ever be normal after this? It can’t.

I never knew my father. I knew the man who inhabited the body of the man who fathered me. But the real man disappeared in the fog on Normandy beach a decade before I was born. This man that I loved but didn’t really know, never spoke of the war–or anything personal for that matter. The only think I knew about his service was a display case on our wall of his metals. When I was in college and studied World War II, I came home one weekend just to ask him about the war. He was not hesitant to tell me, just that no one had asked. Years later I watched the movie, Saving Private Ryan. Based on what Dad told me that weekend home from college, the movie was very accurate.

Dad stepped off his landing boat in ten feet of French surf. With a heavy backpack on and his sniper’s rifle, he sank to the bottom of the sea. He fought his way to the surface where he watched his pals around him being shot or drowning. Sea water diluting his pal’s blood filled his mouth. Somehow, he and his best friend made it to shore. The two of them ran to an anti-tank obstacle, which the Nazi’s had laid across the beach. The two men laid behind the iron obstacles that looked like giant versions of the metal jacks or knucklebones in the game of jacks. You may have seen similar obstacles constructed by Uranian welders placed in city centers.

My dad and his best friend laid behind the obstacle for some time as bullets came across them like horizonal rain drops in a wind-driven summer’s squall. They laid there long enough that his friend took out photos of his family and shared them with Dad. They each took turns looking above the metal to see if American shelling had taken out enough German “pill boxes” that they could run to the cliffs. It was Dad’s friend’s turn to look and when he raised his head above the metal beam, it exploded into a million pieces—stuck by a large shell. Suddenly Dad was covered with the blood, brains, and eye of his best friend. In a panic, Dad ran for the cliffs and scaled them to the top.

Dad was in the fight for weeks in France where he experienced hand-to-hand combat with German soldiers, having to kill at least one—Dad was a sniper. I know this because I have that dead German’s arm band in my drawer.

We were told as a kid that my Dad got hit by a shell in France and was hospitalized in England. But as an adult, I learned that Dad wasn’t hit by a shell, but had a mental breakdown, which they called in those days, “Shell shock.” Something to be ashamed of. We now call it PTSD.

When I studied medicine in the early 1980s and during my first decades of practice, we had an unwritten belief within the medical establishment, that if a machine could not find a health problem, it wasn’t real. Fibromyalgia was one such disorder. Virtually all mental health problems where thought were on the spectra or continua that spread from normal people to the insane. The point being poor mental health was due to bad personal choices in our thinking.

To exacerbate this error of perspective, I was an evangelical at the time. Within that subculture, we did not believe in the brain. The existence of the brain was just another lie told to us by the scientists. We didn’t believe in science. We only believed in conspiracy theories that all the scientists were out to get us. We believed that we were only a soul. Ghostlike. Steam or air, that is easily directed with no material interface. The way we were (mentally) was the sum of our choices. Mental illness, we believed in the 1970s and 80s, was always about bad moral choses, or what we called sin. Anxiety disorders the result of being lazy or stupid, by not trusting God. Depression was being lazy or stupid by not “looking on the bright side of life or God’s blessings.” But this attitude predates American evangelicalism.

A few years ago I was at a scientific meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. During a down time, I visited an old Victorian hospital and cemetery. There was an sign from the early nineteenth century that marked the old cemetery into to parts, “The Baptized” and “The Unbaptized and Insane.” The belief at that time that insanity was a moral problem, and you could not be a real Christian, according to the Church of England, and “insane.”

 In the line of thinking of my medical establishment and my brand of evangelism, PTSD was the result of not being manly enough, brave enough, or righteous enough. I hope that many in that community, who thought things like that, have come to their loving senses. I believe that they have.

But something does happen, physically, when the level of trauma is high enough to cause PTSD. I will not get into the lengthy description of the recent research, as the machines now show us the damage.1 I will say I know this from experience as a PA. It could be war. It could be a car accident, where you barely escape with your life. It could be the horrors where a previous wonderful father (or youth pastor) came into your bedroom—to rape you. It could be from losing a child. It could be having the shit beat out of you by your husband over and over. It could be many things, but then you felt it. You snap, like a priceless Tiffany lamp dropped to the floor–pieces of colored glass going everywhere. Something inside your brain breaks and life will never, ever be the same again. The world looks very differently, more dangerous, relating to other humans more onerous. All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men could never put that brain right again.

General mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or even bipolar disorders can find a great deal of healing. It is like a bad burn, with lots of help (therapists), self-help, and sometimes medications, the skin may look near normal, a little scaring and hypersensitive. But PTSD is more like a double amputation. A prosthetist can fit them with artificial legs to the point they could walk again, but they can never be whole in the same way as before, the same with a good therapist and hard work in PTSD. I think modern medical science now recognizes this, how serious PTSD is and that prevention is far easier than treatment. It is for this additional reason I grieve for Ukrainians, and the Russian soldiers. I do not grieve for Putin and his little spineless men.

Can’t God heal PTSD through prayer? I’ve never seen it and I’m a realist. No reflection on his ability as I do believe that God created the 13.7 billion light year wide universe, but for some reasons he does not work outside of natural laws now, or at least I’ve never witnessed it. At least I’ve never seen God heal someone with PTSD to the point they are normal. In my attempts to keep controversial topics off this main blog page, if you want to hear more about my views on this go here, but please be respectful as I am of you.

So my conclusion is that this war in the Ukraine is doing far more damage each day than meets the eye. All wars do. My dad was a tough bustard. He checked 110 Volt power lines with his finger. Sorry about any typos as this is my chemo-steroid day and it makes me a bit manic and wordy and not a stickler for details.

Mike

The Hermit at Loch Eyre (just had my first hair cut after 3 years so maybe that doesn’t make me a hermit anymore)

Footnote for scientific research into PTSD

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3142267/

A Couple of Thoughts and a New Podcast

I suspect we are all mesmerized by the war in Ukraine. It breaks my heart. One of my greatest interest these days is the pursuit of truth, or epistemology (the study of how we find truth or knowledge). This horrible war is an example of lies gone to seed as hate. Putin lies to himself. His inner circle lies to him. They lie to their citizens via propaganda. It reminds me how dangerous it is to tolerate lies. To tolerate it from our leaders, from our “news” outlets and etc. The more we are in touch with reality, the better the world is.

I have a new podcast for those who are interested, titled “True Spirituality.” What if everything we think of as spiritual, is actually emotional? You can hear it here.

Personal notes:

Denise and I just got back from a quick drive and hike through the redwoods in norther California as she is on spring break. It was a fun time. In ten days I will take my first flight since COVID hit, going to Florida to see my sisters. I just pray that COVID numbers stay down. The day after I get back, April 13th, I will be getting my next labs to monitor my cancer. Things have been going pretty well except I am having a lot of pain recently. It is not clear why. It could be side effects from my chemo, which can cause nerve pain. I just hope we can sort it out for a better quality of life. I will give an update after those labs as to the state of my cancer. Take care. Stay safe. Mike

Two New Podcasts

I’ve been busy making podcasts. Actually, with my book at the editors and there is no writing waiting for me each morning, and the fact that I will be traveling starting this Friday for a few weeks, I thought I would do two podcast back to back. But these are two in a series which I’ve titled The Theology of Cancer Part I and Part II. These will possibly be the hardest podcasts I ever attempt because the story is so personal. My goal is to help anyone facing suffering to sort out the meaning of it all. You can listen to Part I here, and Part II, here.

Take care,

Mike, The Hermit at Loch Eyre.

New Podcast

Here is my new podcast, titled Possible Answers to Basic Philosophical Questions and you can listen to it here. What are the possible answers to why the cosmos exist, why do we sense we are persons, and why is there evil in the world. This is a 29- minute lecture that summarizes a 2-hour lecture given originally by the late theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer in Huemoz, Switzerland in 1965. His original lecture can be found here.

Ukraine, to Watch or not to Watch?

As part of my struggle against cancer, I try to exercise when I can. My friend Jerry was a godsend when I first came home from the hospital, encouraging me to walk with him daily around a 2.5-mile loop. As my strength grew, I added more exercise including dog walks, climbing our local 1000-foot mountain once a week, and running a 3-mile route on Fridays.

Besides my walks with Jerry, which have diminished due to his own health reasons, I am in the woods alone. I do a shorter hike with my dog each morning along a “city route” by the water. It’s a course she loves, where she meets other dogs with sniff-able butts and homo-sapiens who tell her how beautiful she is. But during my other times, it is just me and the trees—oh, and the birds, and the chipmunks, and sometimes the deer. It is a good time to think, to listen to good novels or music. I think a lot about the big questions of life. Metaphysics, morals, society, nature, and of course God. It has nothing to do with having cancer as I’ve always had these thoughts and conversations inside my head or between God and myself.

While our island has a wonderful network of over 50 miles of wooded trails, and there are trails where you can be alone, some of the more popular ones are strewn with amblers, especially on a spring-like day amid an otherwise gloomy Pacific Northwest winter. It was on such a day a couple of weeks ago when I was climbing our mountain that I was slowly gaining on a woman climbing alone ahead of me. Me gaining on anyone is unusual because due to my anemia, the result of the ugly disease that co-inhabits my body with me, I am easily winded and slow. But as I methodically approached her to overtake her and pass her, she turned around and began yelling at me. I could tell she was stressed out.

“Why are you here? I came to the woods to get alone,” she said. “I’m sick of the news and all the garbage and just want to be left the hell alone! I heard you talking a mile back. I come to the woods for silence.”

Holding my hands up like I had a gun to my back, catching my slippery breath, I said, “I’m sorry … uh, but it wasn’t me talking … it was another group behind me. I haven’t said a word since I entered the woods two miles back.” I wasn’t talking audibly to God, was I?

I slowed down from my turtle’s pace to that of a snail, giving up my aspirations of passing her. However, with the distance between us spreading, she wasn’t done talking to me.

“You don’t know what’s it like being a woman alone in the woods,” she said. “You never know when some pervert man is going to show up. My father was a prison guard and I know about evil men. As a woman I have to constantly be on guard.”

I slowed down more, considering turning around and trying another route. I really didn’t want to be having this conversation. Unfortunately, she slowed too. For a woman who came to the wood to avoid conversation, she was quite talkative. I was trying to make a point by not saying another word.

She continued, “COVID for two years now this fucking war in Ukraine … I’m sick of it … all of it!”

I kept quiet trying to figure if she was going to let me pass her or not.

“And I’m a cancer survivor,” she suddenly exclaimed. “You don’t know what it’s like being a cancer survivor [and she certainly got that right as to be one, is just a fantasy of mine] and I heard you talking about cancer. That is so painful to someone like me who has had cancer.”

“That wasn’t me!” I said in a loud voice. “It was the group behind me. I have not said a word since entering the woods.”

Then she continued, “But you don’t know what it’s like having chemo and all that crap for cancer. It’s horrible and to hear people like you come to the woods and talk about these things is painful!”

“It wasn’t me! And yes, I do know what it is like but I rarely talk about it and certainly wasn’t today.”

We are stressed. I’ve had to block out the plethora of things that have been put on my personal plate over the past three years, just to maintain a sliver of sanity. But here we are, in a world war. That’s why I’ve learned to approach life as if it is a dark comedy, laughing is better than crying, at least at times.

They say that while a train wreck is hard to look at, yet, it is impossible to take your eyes away. That is how I see world disasters. They consume me, but not in a bad way. I think much of it has to do with how fortunate I was to have been a citizen of the world. I have worked in war-torn refugee camp in Afghanistan (1981), and where an earthquake destroyed countryside of Pakistan. I’ve worked in a garbage dump inhabited by sixty-thousand impoverished people. I’ve been lucky enough to feel the suffering of those dear souls but being blessed where I could fly out of those situations, back to peace and prosperity.

I felt the Ukrainian war coming. The American intelligence got it right this time. The night the missiles came into that peaceful country, I was glued to the TV and radio. I got up several times during the night for updates. This pace continued for days, only slowing down recently to one middle-of-the-night check up on the war. I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I’ve felt the stress.

I hate war. I hate suffering. It is like humanity is offered the opportunity to live in the state of heaven on earth, and somehow, we always choose a hellish nightmare instead. Murder each other. Burn down the entire planet. But it usually is not the victims’ choosing. It is usually one man, or group of men (never have seen a group of women start a war) who has some deeply personal sense of inadequacy. Weaned too early, perhaps? Born with a small dick? There’s something that causes them to have this black hole of insecurity. One rumor was Hitler’s inadequacy was not getting into art school. Give me a break. These insecure men, like Putin, think that going down in history as a conqueror, is the only thing that will redeem them. It is a pathological absence of empathy toward other human beings.

If I could be the lady on the trail’s therapist, I would tell her to turn off her TV, silence her car radio, and get into the woods. Find a good novel and cuddle up beside a fire. But that was what she was trying to do on that day wasn’t it? Maybe she needed more time in the woods. As I feel the stress of the war, I have thought it was time I did the same. But then I had second thoughts. News, bad news, should distress us. Being at ill-ease—is being human. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I want to mourn. I want to feel the suffering of the Ukrainians in my soul. I wish I could help carry their burden, somehow. I shed tears for them. Yes, there are times when me must step away from the train wreck, to look the other way for our own sanity’s sake. But if these past three years have taught me anything is that our capacity to mourn, to feel pain, and then stay upright is higher than I ever thought possible

Mike

Written but not proofed.

Exchanging Negative for Positive Strokes for Lent, Making this a Better World

(Unrelated to this topic, I published a new podcast today, The Search for Truth; A Neurologist’s Perspective here.)

What are Strokes?

There was a psychological theory called transactional analysis (circ. 1950) that was somewhat of a bridge from Freudian psychoanalytic analysis to behaviorism. When I earned my degree in psychology (and a simple BS in psychology gives me no expertise) transactional analysis was ending, being swamped by B.F. Skinner and behaviorism. One of the key components of transactional analysis was the role of strokes in our mental health and while that movement fizzled out, it is worth revisiting this one concept.

The stroke is simply a positive or negative experience (words, looks, touches, etc.) that either buttresses our self esteem or harms it. Think of it as stroking your dog. If you do it softly the dog sees it as a “pet” and likes it. Do it hard, then it becomes a “hit” and the dog sees it as punishment.

I had an old professor, still with allegiances to transactional analysis, who claimed that if we all just practiced giving positive strokes to other people, mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, within our society would plummet. I have to add the caveat that in that time, circ. 1977, the role of our biology such as genetics and traumatic experiences, were poorly understood.

In our socially-distant, electronic world that we now live in, the most that we hope for is someone clicking a “like” on something we post on Facebook or in response to an e-mail. But within that impersonal electronic world, you are more likely to get a negative stroke. Same is true in the real world. Of course the pandemic has magnified the problem and made our social interactions even more impersonal. When disagreements abound in social media contexts, the negative strokes can be brutal, with words like, “you’re an idiot, moron, go to hell,” or worse. But often the negative strokes are more subtle such as, “I’m surprised that you are still–” You can fill in the blank, but the implication is a negative one.

The Fundamentals of Persona

If you were to boil down the MO of all of our behaviors and thoughts, in my opinion, you would find the appraisal of self-value or “self-esteem” as the fundamental basis for most of our existence. Those who end their lives usually do it because–falsely–believe that they have no value in this world. The reason that people pursue money, careers, to be seen as good parents, good Christians, good any religion, or good people is from this fundamental psychological driver. Positive, honest strokes is a healthy way of increasing another person’s sense of self-esteem and becomes a powerful blocker of unhealthy self-appraisals.

The Practical Application of Strokes

This is not the first time I’ve thought about the act of giving strokes. I remember a few years ago, that I made it my ambition to give each of my patients one positive stroke on each visit. These were not phony statements. I can’t stand it when someone gives me a phony praise, you know, one that you can see right through. But I wanted to give my patients a well-thought-out praise.

For most of my patients it was easy. “I can see that you have worked really hard on this.” But sometimes, as I tried to train my eyes to notice these things I would add, “Wow, I can tell by the way you interact with your children, you are a good mother.” Now, that was no accident as many of my patients, who spent days each week in bed, felt like they were horrible mothers and wives. My comment brought many to tears. My real goal was that their interaction with me would be their best social interaction of their day. Why? Simply because I cared about these people from my heart and I wanted them to feel good about themselves . But it also dove-tailed into my goal of reducing their migraines. Patients who don’t like themselves or don’t see value in their lives, aren’t motivated to get better. I’ve found that out in my own cancer fight. There are days I want to chuck it all.

Even when I focused on giving patients strokes, I would quickly fall out of the habit. Even now, when I see the value in them, I often forget to do it. The reason is, giving strokes by nature is very altruistic and most of us, including myself, prefer to do things that are more self-centered. But imagine if we worked to create a better world, where compliments were honest and dropped like the drips in the forest just after a spring rain. Where we would not attack the person we disagreed with, but compliment them while not compromising on our ideas. “Wow, I can tell you’ve put a lot of study into this and that you are a very smart person … but I have to disagree.”

My Challenge

So, I encourage everyone to work their hardest on dispensing positive strokes to people. You could call it “for Lent” if you want, giving up negative comments and replacing them with positive ones. Giving up cake was ego-centric anyway. What am I saying? I suspect that most people reading this give positive strokes already, better than I do. But if you need help, here’s a list you can draw from.

I think it would make this a better world. But I have one exception to this at this moment in history … Vladimir Putin.

Mike

Is Blind Patriotism a Virtue? A lesson from a Russian chat-room.

I am a news junky, but only when there is something big in the world like an earthquake, or a war. As I’ve tried to get as much real-time information on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I found myself in a Russian chat room. With the help of a good Russian-English translator, I followed the discussion including real-time Ukrainians reporting what they were seeing on the ground outside their windows. So, with Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russians (both pro war and anti-war) being in the same virtual room, you can imagine that opinions were strong. And you thought that Facebook gets testy.

The most bizarre statements I heard were from a Russian man who was insisting that the war is all “fake news” orchestrated by America and the West. So, think about it, that there in that same virtual room were Ukrainian people living in the middle of the war in Kyiv. Such comments, of course, outraged them. Then, some anti-war Russians (living in Russia now) told the Ukrainians that they were in support of them. But then came the most interesting statement of the evening. A Russian woman, who had many patriotic statements in previous conversations said, “Real Russians support their leader (Putin) in all situations. If you don’t support our leader now, you are not a real Russian.”

I went to bed thinking about this type of blind patriotism.

In 1987 Denise, our two oldest children (then pre-school) were living out of a VW Van as we crisscrossed the country raising financial support to be missionaries to Muslims. We were exhausted and one church that I had high hopes of getting a significant amount of the needed financial support was a very large, conservative Presbyterian church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The church was well-known throughout the south for their TV church service and had plenty of resources. I was nervous because so much was at stake. With their support, we could finish our travelling and finally get to a new home, at that time was going to be in Cyprus.

To be interviewed, it was required that we attend a Sunday evening service and then following that service, meet with the elders of that church in the pastor’s office. Denise and I, with our two-year-old Daniel went up to the office after the service. We entered the plush office flanked by bookcases filled with thick, worn books. Seven white men, most with white hair, sat around in their shirts and ties. It was tense. As soon as we sat down across from these men, Denise had to leave with a crying Daniel. I had my spiel planned and on the tip of my tongue.  After opening in prayer, the first man interrupted me before I had the chance to speak. Here’s the dialog:

“Son, did you serve in Vietnam?”

“Uh … Vietnam?” I asked with a perplexed look.

“Yeah son, did you serve?”

I thought, This was the question they were asking me? Nothing about our ministry in the Muslim world?

“Uh … I’m too young for Vietnam. The war ended before I turned eighteen.”

The balding thin man leaned back in his seat and then said in a booming voice, “Okay … you were too young, but would you have served if the war had continued?”

I had never seriously thought about this question and was very unprepared for the direction this conversation was going.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I would have to study the war and see if its purposed fit with my personal convictions.”

All the men were squirming in their seats and my interrogator seemed upset. The more he seemed upset, the more I sweated. He then asked, “So there is a possibility that you would not have served your country if called to do so?”

 I nodded.

To make a long story short, the elders then concluded that I was not an American patriot, and they didn’t support unpatriotic missionaries. The group of men never asked me one question about our ministry, ourselves, or our financial needs. It was over and it ended on a sense of ill-ease in the air.

Keep in mind, this same evangelical denomination separated from the mainline Presbyterian Church because they sided with the “Rebels” of the confederacy and supported slavery, against the will of the American government.

I said I would try to avoid controversial topics in my written blog so I will not venture into the travesty of the white evangelicals blending their faith with American nationalism. But I will end this with a question. Is true patriotism, blind? So, good Russians follow their leader no matter what he does? Do good Americans do the same?

I think a real patriot is constantly asking the question, “Is my country as good as it can be? If not, how can we make it better?” It also has a truthful evaluation of its history, not with rose-colored glasses pretending their country hasn’t made mistakes. If you fail to admit mistakes, then you are bound to repeat them and you become caught in an endless cycle of underperforming as a nation. A good country learns from their mistakes with a vow never to repeat them.

But of course, the term “Patriotism” has become weaponized as tool to fight anyone who does not agree with your point of view.

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