If nothing else, THIS is something that I know…

I worked with youth from the time I was 18 until shortly after I turned 38.  During that time, I was blessed to work with a large number of special population children in a wilderness therapy and outdoor education program.  Special population is the nice, friendly, technical term for kids with some sort of psychological or psychiatric diagnosis.  For the most part, I worked with kids that were Learning Disabled and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (those in the business refer to this population as LD/ADHD for short).  Although there were certainly a lot of challenging times and students, I can honestly say that these were some of the sweetest, smartest, and most tenacious kids who were on their way to being amazing adults.

I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that there were some times that I was genuinely scared of some of my students.  There is this thing called comorbidity, which means that a person has one or more diagnoses or illnesses.  Sometimes we would have kids that were admitted to the program whose parents had not been honest and either neglected to mention or drastically understated the seriousness of their child’s mental illness.  These were kids that weren’t just LD/ADHD; they were diagnosed Bipolar or Oppositional Defiant Disorder or any of a number of serious mental illnesses or behavioral disorders.  I can even remember one student that we had to drive into town once a month to get a Lupron shot.  Lupron can be used as a form of “hormonal castration” to keep kids from being sexually predatory towards other children.  Think about that for a while and see if you don’t lose some sleep tonight.

To provide some context, I am just over six feet tall and during the time that I was working with these kids, I never weighed less than two hundred pounds.  My staff partners ran the gamut in both gender, size, and disposition.  The only times that I felt like I wasn’t the last resort on behavioral outbursts in the field was when I worked with my friend Brendon, who dwarfs me in both size and strength.  If you think it is disturbing to see a kid have a mental illness-related behavioral incident in public or in someone’s home, you should try being in the wilderness, thirteen miles from the nearest trailhead, and an hour and a half drive from the nearest working phone.  Live through that a couple of times and then talk to me about what you know about adolescent mental illness.

Please don’t think I’m down on kids with serious mental issues, either.  I once had a kid in my group that my staff partner had committed to a psych ward because he made her uncomfortable while I was on vacation for two weeks.  When I came back, he returned to the group and finished the semester…she did not.  Sometimes kids just need a caring advocate, but other times kids need serious intervention and their parents need help.  The problem is that for kids with dangerous mental illnesses and their parents, there is no real help.

I read this article that my wife found online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html  I have known parents like this.  I’ve seen them grasp at straws because they knew that if something happened to them that no one would be around to protect/guide/manage their child.  I’ve seen the pain on their faces when they have lost hope.  I weep for these sorts of parents.

I have also seen the other parents: the ones in denial, still trying to “mainstream” a child with serious behavioral and emotional problems.  These parents endanger the other families in their communities because they try to keep their children in a public school system that simply does not have the resources to adequately assess and meet the needs of their children.  These parents often find false hope and encouragement from mental health professionals in a post-deinstitutionalization system.

These mental health workers are constantly trying to keep these sorts of children and eventually adults in an out-patient care scenario because that is what is “humane” and that is what our mental healthcare industry has been doing since the 1970’s.  Since then, and increasingly so in recent years, it has been almost impossible to have people with mental illness committed to a long-term care facility.  We used to call these places asylums, but I’ll give you a $100 if you can find one psychologist or psychiatrist in this nation that will use that term today.  Mentally ill individuals that are in the midst of crisis or having serious behavioral problems are funneled into one of two places: Hospital Emergency Rooms or Police Stations.  If you don’t believe me, ask a police officer or an ER nurse.  In either event, the mentally ill person either ends up in a short-term psych ward until their release or in a jail cell.  Neither of these is an acceptable answer for people with long-term illnesses.

The tragedy in Connecticut has sparked much debate, mostly about gun control.  There are not words that can express how awful this tragedy is for the parents of those kids or anyone else in that community.  Everyone grieves for those lost.  My question is this: What is it going to take for us to finally talk about developing a tiered system of long-term institutionalization for the mentally ill in this country.

We need a system that can provide long-term supervision, accountability, protection and residential care for the mentally ill.  We need a system where those who need help with minor mental illness can check in and out and still have somewhere to sleep at night so they don’t end up homeless because they can’t cope.  We need a place where people with profound mental illness can get appropriate care and 24-hour-a-day supervision.  We need system that keeps both patients and staff safe.  And finally, although no one else seems to want to say it, we need a place where we lock the violently disturbed away in such a way that respects their rights and provides the care they need while protecting the general public.

I want people to wrap their heads around this set of facts and really think about them without any media spin.  The shooter in Connecticut has a brother that hadn’t spoken to him in two years.  He shot and killed his own mother and then gunned down a bunch of small, innocent children.  I’m willing to bet that somebody, somewhere knew that he was unstable.  James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado theater shooter had a history of mental illness.  It seems that lots of people were concerned about him and their own safety but that he was being shuffled around by the system.  We have seen a large number of murder-suicides in our country in the last several years and the trend appears to be increasing.  We simply can not escape the fact that we have mentally ill people that need serious long-term help and who need to be removed from the general populace for their own safety and the safety of others.

It is past time for us to have this conversation as a nation.  Let’s not let another group of innocents die before we take the time to figure out what we should do with our “emotionally disturbed students.” our “serious behavioral problems,” and our “criminally insane.”  Let’s talk about institutionalization.  Clearly, the out patient care isn’t getting the job done.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I have to admit that I like watching “reality programming” on Discovery Channel.  I love shows like Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Fast N’ Loud.  Although there is certainly a lot of “Hollywooding-it-up” for television, I think that at the core, these are shows about people working and what that has a tendency to look like.

As a result of my love for Fast N’ Loud, I ended up watching this year’s bike build-off and last hoorah for American Chopper.  It was a four-way competition between the Teutels, Jesse James, and the guys from Fast N’ Loud (Aaron Kaufman and Richard Rawlings).  The rules were simple:

  1. Build whatever you like.
  2. You have 6 weeks to complete the bike.
  3. The bike must be able to pull itself up a 40 foot ramp.

Personally, I would consider these rules to be these easiest set of parameters for a motorcycle build-off in human history.  For men who are in the business of building custom motorcycles, these should have been a slam dunk.  Well…apparently not…at least not for Jesse James.

Jesse spent the weeks leading up to the build-off trashing his opponent’s bike building ability while lauding his own stellar skills.  Then, when 6 weeks was up, he asked for another 2 weeks.  When that 2 weeks was up, he then stated that he was not constrained by some “bullsh**, made-up television deadline” and that he would have the bike ready in time for the live show, thus giving himself over 10 weeks when everyone else had agreed on almost half of that.

How did this work out for the competition?  Well, Paul Sr. from Orange County Choppers used the extra 2 weeks to do some more finish work, so he benefited from the extension.  Paul Junior’s bike was done, so he just waited for the event.  The guys from Fast N’ Loud?  Well, I guess they worked on other projects, drank a few beers and took it easy.  Their bike had been completed in 4 1/2 weeks…well before the deadline.  In fact, Aaron Kaufman was so confident in his work that he hopped on the bike and drove it over 1,300 miles to Vegas, for the main event.

So, how did the voting go?  How did the build-off end?  I’m sure that for many of you it will be no surprise that Paul Jr. Designs won the event, with the bike from Fast N’ Loud coming in second.  Jesse James’ masterful design?  It didn’t even place.

I say all of that in order to say this:  My dad spent an immense amount of time during my childhood teaching me that it is unacceptable to be “a day late and a dollar short.”  As a kid, I thought that he was being too hard…as an adult, I couldn’t agree more.  Dr. Tom Jones, one of my college professors, used to close and lock the classroom door at 1 minute past the class starting time.  Other professors at my university would take 1 letter grade off of a paper for every day it was late.  Why all of this pressure  to be on time?  Because being late means that you’re unreliable, disrespectful of others, and quite often, just plain lazy.

I know that there are people out there that have no concept of time because I am one of them.  Still, we all develop ways of being on time unless we just don’t care.  All of us will occasionally be late because of circumstances beyond our control, but if we respect people, we will respect their time.

Last night, Jesse James did me a favor.  He reminded me that it doesn’t matter how much skill and talent that someone has unless they can meet a deadline.  He reminded me that we all need to play by the same rules.  Most importantly, he reminded me that people with his attitude are people that I would do well to avoid.


Not Entitled To Hate…Ever.

This morning I awoke to the media barrage surrounding the Ellen DeGeneres Christmas ad for JC Penny.  I watched the ad to see what was so offensive and threatening to the moral fabric of our nation.  Yep, just what I thought.  Nothing.  All the controversy is merely because a company hired a lesbian (who happens to have a huge following with substantial brand recognition) to be in their commercial.

I’m going to keep this short and to the point for all of my Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors AND our enemies.  This means that we are not entitled to hate anyone…ever.  I know that we are all imperfect and sinners and that it takes the work of the Lord in our lives to get there, but it just seems like most of us aren’t even trying anymore.

I’ve got to go now.  I just realized that if I’m going to live by this that I have to find a hipster, buy him an expensive coffee, take a moody photo of him with a retro camera filter on my smartphone, post it to Facebook and then ask him if he would like to come to Christmas dinner.

Jesus’ words are hard.  Being self-righteous and hating people is easy.

Black Coffee and Cigarettes

There are a lot of days when I have a very large amount of regret for the fact that I don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes.  When I was growing up in my Dad’s auto parts business, that was what real, working men did while they productively got their jobs done.  That’s right…actually smoking inside an enclosed building while getting their jobs done.  I especially remember one man, Roger McPeters, who worked for Dad for a long time.  Roger smoked a pipe, which I thought was classier than the cigarettes and made him look way cooler with his awesome mustache and his toboggan (some of you call these knit caps or beanies).  Anyway, I digress.  The main point is that I ought to give my father a medal for raising me around such men and in that atmosphere.

We had a Bunn commercial coffee system with multiple warmers and a hard-plumbed brewing system.  I knew how to make coffee before I could get a work permit and I don’t even like it.  Dad bought coffee by the case and we provided it free to the public and our employees.  Did you hear that coffee snobs?  Free coffee to the public!  In fact if you are a contractor or someone who has a real job, where you actually break a sweat or get dirty for a living, you will still find parts and supply houses that provide the same courtesy.

I wanted to share that memory so that I can say this:  Today, as with many other days, I have been reminded that something is terribly, horribly wrong with our country.  I won’t blame it all on Keurigs and flavored coffee (although I think that is a good start), but that is at least one of the indicators that something is not right…at all.  If commercial coffee in a disposable cup or a heavily used and stained mug was good enough for our fathers, why are we paying over four dollars for something that those guys would have put in a sippy cup for kids to drink?

Something is wrong with us.  Few of us work as hard as our parents and we certainly don’t work as hard as our grandparents.  How’s this for a memory?  I can remember Dad hooking up the plow to our horse and plowing in our garden because he didn’t feeling like going to the hassle of changing the attachment on the tractor to plow eight rows of corn.  Oh, I’m sorry, you were saying something about what a hassle it is that something isn’t working right on your smartphone?

My father retired last year…at eighty years old.  He can barely hear and can’t see so well, either.  His kidneys are failing and they have been for 10 years…and yet he works.  He still works at home with yard work and since we measure their yard in acres, I would say that still qualifies as work.  I’m not saying he that he is as steady or productive as he used to be, but I would be willing to bet that even at his decreased pace that he gets more done than most of us…you know, because we are too busy checking our cellphones or Facebook.

So…just for the record; today, I am angry…and disappointed…and ashamed because of what we have become.  We are lazy and unproductive.  We are late, we don’t deliver, and we are full of excuses.  We are pompous and entitled and we suck.  Oh, and guess what?  If we are one of the few that has a work ethic, we are likely surrounded by a bunch of clowns who we are to afraid to confront and tell them to get off their asses because we are politically correct or worried about their feelings or being sued or fired.  Yep, that is what Hell looks like to me.

Today, I started my day with the memory of my father’s business at 7:55 am on a typical day and the smell of black coffee and cigarettes and it made me cry a little.  I’m not sure if the crying is for the loss of the business and what it did to my Dad or because that entity doesn’t exist anymore or because of who we, as a nation, have become.  Whichever it is, I’m at a loss.

You don’t own these things…these things own you.

Lottery Ticket

This past week, there have been people all over the country who have been fantasizing about how $550 million would change their lives and the lives of those around them.  To be honest, I even gave the idea quite a bit of consideration in the last 72 hours.  Then, thankfully, I was reminded of something that I heard about 15 years ago.

I had a teacher in undergrad who was brilliant.  His name is R. Wayne Stacy and he is simply one of the best New Testament scholars that I’ve ever seen.  He had this interesting take on Luke 12:13-21 because his grasp of Koine Greek was, quite frankly, much better than most of the authors of the majority of New Testament commentary.  Dr. Stacy was going over this text that we’ve all heard from the pulpit at one point or another about the foolishness of how this man laid up treasures for himself only to die and leave them behind.  Oh, the tragedy, right?  Well, maybe not so much.

You see, there exists another and perhaps better translation from the Greek in which the story ends with the statement that “that night, these things demanded his life of him.”  So here we are, left with the story of a man who lays up wealth for himself, only to find that the things which he thought that he owned…well, they actually owned him.  Truthfully, isn’t that what most of us have come to experience in America?

My friends in Five Iron Frenzy wrote a song about this very thing about 10 years ago.  It is called American Kryptonite and it addresses what I think is one of the greatest tragedies of the American experience.  Oddly, this seems to be even more true among Christians.  As citizens of one of the most broadly affluent nations in the world (even those we consider “low income” are wealthy by the rest of the world’s standards), we have grown to accept the accumulation of wealth or “stuff” as a normal part of life.

We’ve got more family dysfunction, more people on medicine for depression or hypertension.  We’ve got tons of suicide and truckloads of obesity.  In fact, we have societal ills by the truckload.  With all of these problems, many are seeking the source of the problem.  They blame the banks or Wall Street or the government or “those” people.

I’ve got a sense that I know what we should be blaming.  It lives in our bank accounts or our closets or our driveways and garages or in our living rooms.  On one hand, winning the lottery might initially provide financial freedom, but on the other, it would most likely lead to being enslaved to even more stuff.

If it’s free…YOU are the product.

I’ve been trying to get people to understand for a while that they need to be almost conspiracy-theory-level paranoid about what they put online, particularly on Facebook.  I used to tell all my students to make sure that there were never any cameras around if they were about to do something stupid.  In the age of camera phones, that rule seems almost impossible.

Still, I seem to get some funny looks when I try to explain to people that their personal information is the real commodity that is being sold on Facebook.  I use a note program that allows me to scan in images and text for business cards, internet clippings, old hand-written notes, etc.  That same image recognition technology is being used by Facebook and other sites to catalog ALL of your data.  It is called data mining.  Why would they do that?  So they can sell you something.

As creepy as that is, there is perhaps a more sinister question.  Who else will have access to that data?  Insurance companies who will set your premiums based on your activities?  Future or current employers who will hire based on your personal choices?  Governmental agencies who won’t need a warrant to see everything about you?

Think that I’m crazy?  Look at the picture.  One targeted ad is based on the dirty boots my daughter is wearing in the photo.  Another ad is based on my friend’s comment and the content of the picture.

Have fun trying to scrub your Facebook content.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

When I was a kid, I read a lot. In fact, I should clarify that by “a lot”…I mean that I used to spend time leafing through encyclopedias when I didn’t have other stuff to read. My mother liked to support my reading from an early age, so she enrolled my in a Disney book club that existed at the time and I ended up reading a Disney adaptation of the classic story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I must have read that book a bunch because I can still see some of the illustrations in my head and I just hit 40. (If you are someone that has never read some version of this story, I suggest that you pause and at least do a Google search to read the story before I drop the big spoilers in the next sentence.) I think that I was always fascinated with the story because I found it absurd that it would take a small child to point out that the Emperor was wearing no clothes. I mean really…who is stupid enough to pretend that that someone or something is not actually as it is presented to be? Apparently, most of us are that stupid.

Now, please understand, we are all going to be deceived at some point. I can look back over the course of my life and point out some real humdingers where I was totally snowed by the hype surrounding a prominent figure. Anyone remember Mike Warnke? Like a lot of people, I bought that dude’s load of bullcrap until Cornerstone magazine did a definitive investigation that exposed his con. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first nor the last time that I was fooled by someone like that. Heck, I even recently believed that a politician could introduce change and transparency in Washington.

Before I digress further, I would like to get to my point. There are many, many, many people and/or causes out there that are not what they appear to be. From preachers and leaders to non-profits and politicians; there are a lot of people that either believe their own hype or worse, have orchestrated it to fool others and thereby profit from their naïveté, either through financial gain or the acquisition of power. I could start listing folks that have done this, but that always devolves into a he said/she said argument because honestly…some people never learn to recognize a person’s bullcrap…especially when it is clothed in god or country or cause. This has played itself out through history with often tragic results. People say that a movement or a church with an explosion of growth and success is definitive evidence of God’s blessing or political mandate or God’s will or even some sort of moral altruism. For those people, I would urge that you investigate the Nuremberg Rallies, Revered Jim Jones, the Communist Revolution, and any number of fallen televangelists. Additionally, for anyone who feels that such critical statements come from a lack of faith or perhaps general negativity, I would suggest that you read Jesus’ interactions with money changers and religious leaders in Matthew 21 and 23, respectively.

It has been said that you learn everything that you need for life in kindergarten. That may be true because that was about the time that I was introduced to the ever-present truth that quite often the Emperor has no clothes! Isn’t it about time that you woke up and starting asking some questions?