Fare Thee Well, Dear Friend

I am certain I cannot capture Larry Crabb’s influence upon my life in a blog post. I edited a book about him two years ago that only provided a glimpse into his work; certainly, a brief essay will be incomplete. Still, I will try to honor my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Larry has been writing books nearly as long as I have been alive, though I am relatively late to his work. I have wrestled with what it means to be a Christian psychologist for twenty-five years, following many rabbit trails looking for an identity, though nothing rang true for me. I had heard of Larry Crabb but largely avoided him because his ideas were uniquely his own. In truth, I should have known that his unique way of thinking would resonate deeply within me.

In 2014, I attended Larry’s 52nd School for Spiritual Direction in Ashville, North Carolina. At the beginning of the week-long retreat, I still did not know what to expect, but I was thirsty for something. From his first words, I knew my life was about to change. My world was upended that week as I began to see the relational nature of God in fresh ways.

In the months that followed, I consumed his books, audio recordings, and online courses. Eventually, I read them all, and some of them, I read repeatedly. In fall 2014, I attended his Next Step School for Spiritual Direction, doing everything I could to become a “Crabbian psychologist.” However, one thing about Larry is that he was much less interested in my development as a psychologist than he was in knowing me as a person. From our first spiritual direction hour together, he saw beneath my professional façade to my heart.

Several memories stand out. When I went to North Carolina, I had a one-hour spiritual direction meeting with Larry. At that time in my life, I struggled with how to love my eldest daughter well, and I began to pour my heart out as he listened. He spoke into my strength as a man and, in the end, encouraged me to call home and talk to Grace and tell her how much I loved her and the beauty I saw in her.

When I went to Next Step in Colorado, I was talking in the group, and Larry said to me, “How about dropping the doctor?” One of the regular themes in our conversations has been my tendency to live in my head and speak doctorly. He saw it right away and invited me to be Jason. More than once, he said, “I am not interested in Dr. Crabb talking with Dr. Kanz, but Larry talking to Jason.” He invited me to my true self. Larry and I also have similar senses of humor. Engaging with Larry helped me to realize that even professionally, I could allow my humor to shine. Shortly before Next Step, Larry had fallen upon a stack of books he was carrying and fractured a rib. As he was telling us the story, I said, “Not many people can claim a book-related injury.” Watching him laugh, I realized our similarities grew.

As much laughter as there was at these events, there were also tears. I had always dreamed of writing a book, but I never believed it was something I would accomplish. In passing, I had mentioned my desire to several people but never took it any further. Sometime during that week, I talked with another SSD friend who said, “Jason, you’re a storyteller,” and something broke loose within me. I brought it before the group, and as I did, tears flowed. Larry, together with the others, helped me to press into my desire and my fears. Having now written 4 books, Larry’s influence is evident in each of them. In truth, one of the books, Living in the Larger Story, is about him, and he wrote the foreword to Notes from the Upper Room.

In 2018, I had a nervous breakdown. Clinically, I suppose we would call this an “acute stress reaction,” but I think the old school term fits my experience better. Larry did not hesitate to move toward me in my darkest season of life. He did not try to fix me; instead, he was with me, listening and reflecting.

After working on Living in the Larger Story: The Christian Psychology of Larry Crabb for far too long, it finally came together. It included contributions from many people whom Larry had touched. There was a universal fondness for Larry as a person and not only as a Christian psychologist. Out of that project, the Gideon Institute at HBU hosted a conference in Larry’s honor. We had some phenomenal speakers, but the real highlight for me was the opportunity to visit with my friend on stage for 75 minutes as we talked about his career. Though Larry was a popular speaker and author, what he really loved were conversations that mattered.

To try capturing the fullness of Larry’s influence is an impossible task. The outpouring of affection for him on the Larry Crabb Appreciation Club on Facebook over the last few days has been nothing short of beautiful. Larry’s influence on many people has been profound. I count myself privileged to be one of the grateful witnesses to his life.

Fare thee well,
mentor, teacher, and friend
keep the coffee hot,
until we meet again.

I have questions

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

There are so many things I do not understand.
What was it like when you called the cosmos into being?
Did you speak your creative words matter-of-factly,
or did you sing as you hovered over the waters?

What do you feel when you look at the world you created?
When you look at me?
For so long, I imagined that you were angry, or disappointed,
but what if…what if
suffering stirs your compassion
and sinfulness moves you to love?

What if the great commission
was never about getting people into heaven,
but about bringing heaven to people?

What if you never intended your followers
to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong,
or who’s in and who’s out?
What if instead, you have invited us to love,
regardless of someone’s creed or culture?

What if we believed Jesus’ encouragement
to be whole, as you Father are whole?
What if we believed Paul’s words
that you are truly reconciling all things?

What if…

re-membering ourselves

What if we have misunderstood sin?
What if sin is not so much about behavior, but fragmentation?
What if sinning means that we have forgotten who we are?

What if holiness has little to do
with willing ourselves to comply with a set of external standards
but instead, is about re-membering ourselves?

What if we concerned ourselves
less with avoiding evil
and more with becoming whole?

What if righteousness has little to do
with condemning sin
and much to do with living from our true self?

What if holy living was never about
white-knuckled compliance
but about welcoming ourselves back home?

Love After Love

This poem, Love After Love by Derek Walcott, is one of my favorites.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

strive for peace

Beloved, ponder this: My wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by selfishness and worldliness. Strive for peace in your relationships, even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough around the edges, but I want you to practice gentleness. I have made you rational and capable of reason. I want you to think carefully, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you and sharpens your thought. Listen to others with interest. Rather than beating others down with your arguments, build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be patient and merciful, just as I am with you. Do not just pretend to love, be sincere. Do not merely pretend to be fair; judge with impartiality. You will be amazed how much righteousness and serenity flow from your willingness to treat others with peace and gentleness. 

-James 3:17-18, Letters to the Beloved

dark corners

As darkness presses in
filling the corners of our minds
we long for your light, O God.
Frantically, we cry out,
“Where are you?”

Do not let the Great Sadness overwhelm us.
Remind us of your enduring goodness.
Reveal your tender mercy.

Help us to understand
that there is neither form nor beauty
without both light and shadow.

Open our eyes
to see your presence
even in these dark places.

There is nowhere we can go
that you have not already gone.
There is no darkness
where your light does not shine brighter still.

tempest

I am afraid.
I seek control
though I am powerless.

Waves crash
rip currents carry me
further into a sea of dread.

I do not know
what dangers lurk
in the depths.

I row harder
oars nearly snapping
under the strain.

Breathlessly, I cry out
Lord, don’t you care
that I am drowning?

In the deafening storm
I hear you whisper
Peace, be still.

Are you speaking to me
or the tempest?
I cannot tell.

The same hurricane
feeds the turbulence
within and without.

Close your eyes.
Breathe, beloved.
Breathe.

the boy who cried wolf, reimagined

The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf is one of Aesop’s best known fables. In the parable, a young shepherd was bored, so to make life interesting, he ran into the village crying out that a wolf was attacking the flock. The villagers were rightly concerned and came running only to find the boy laughing at them. He repeated the pattern until one day, a real wolf attacked. This time, when the boy “cried wolf,” the townsfolk did not believe him and the wolf killed many of his sheep.

As I watch the world today, I wonder if this retelling of Aesop might be more accurate.

There once was a farmer who owned many sheep who needed someone to watch over his flock. After interviewing several potential shepherds, he settled on a boy who was well-known in the village. Everyone knew that he was rough around the edges and had a reputation for telling tall tales. Several of the farmer’s friends raised questions about the boy’s character, but the farmer said, “I only want him to watch over my sheep. I care nothing about his character so long as he can manage, and maybe even grow, my flock.”

Time passed and the shepherd boy seemed to be doing a good job. The flock appeared healthy and the boy’s confidence bolstered the farmer’s faith in him. In the village, people often heard the boy boasting that the sheep were the healthiest they had ever been. Nevertheless, some of the villagers were concerned. They had gone out into the hills and the sheep did not appear to be doing as well as he bragged, and they were also concerned about his farming methods. Whenever they raised their concerns, however, the shepherd boy insisted that they were lying and were jealous of his success.

Eventually, the farmer’s flock began to dwindle and the farmer also became concerned. When he confronted the shepherd, the boy blamed the villagers who had previously raised concerns about his character and methods. Though the farmer was uncertain, several of the boy’s acquaintances said, “He’s right. It’s the villagers.”

As time passed, more sheep disappeared. The shepherd continued to proclaim that his accusers were at fault and that he had proof, though he never produced anything to support his accusations. Still, more people began to believe his claims because he stated them with such frequency and confidence.

Finally, the farmer had enough. He went to the shepherd and said, “You are ruining my flock. You keep saying that a group of jealous villagers is at fault, but you have never given any proof. In fact, I even have evidence that refutes your claims. How do you expect me to respond?”

Without missing a beat, the shepherd boy looked at the farmer and said, “Do you want proof? Nearly half of the villagers believe me. Nothing you say will convince them otherwise. You can cry wolf all you want, but they all know the truth.”

And at his words, the pack descended upon the farmer and tore him limb from limb.

delusion

“Delusions are defined as fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality. Despite contrary evidence, a person in a delusional state can’t let go of their convictions.”

Very Well Mind

Delusion is a term that has left its clinical origins and entered the general conversation. The oft-repeated phrase “delusions of grandeur” from the Star Wars movies has undoubtedly influenced its use. I suspect that most people understand from the context that delusions have to do with distorted thinking but fail to appreciate the complexity or pain of delusional thinking.

As a neuropsychologist, delusions are among the most fascinating things I have encountered and some of the most troubling. Some delusions are considered “bizarre” because they cannot happen in real life. My patients with schizophrenia have shared a variety of these. One person believed he was Napoleon’s bodyguard. Another indicated she had been murdered several dozen times. In a condition called Capgras syndrome, people think that an identical replica has replaced a loved one. Sadly, no evidence will convince them otherwise.

People can also have non-bizarre delusions, which could happen in real life, even though there is no evidence to support them. As a psychologist, these are particularly tricky. Over the years, several dementia patients have believed their spouses have been cheating on them, again without proof. I remember consoling an older woman whose husband of six decades was utterly convinced that she was having an affair with a repairman in his twenties.

I also met a middle-aged gentleman following a brain injury who shared tales that seemed plausible but unlikely. He told me how he had built considerable wealth and that his children were now trying to steal it from him. I have seen children taking advantage of parents often enough to know this was possible. However, as he continued talking, his stories felt less and less grounded in reality, but again, they were difficult to prove. Ultimately, he told me that he had developed a close friendship with his attending neurosurgeon. I was able to confirm my suspicion that the gentleman had a delusional disorder.

The malleability of delusions is also incredibly challenging. When presented with objective evidence of their false beliefs, delusions adapt to incorporate the new information. These misconceptions do not arise from willful ignorance but an inability to think otherwise.

I feel powerless and frustrated when I encounter such distorted thinking, especially when it comes to people I know. No matter how much objective proof is provided, the delusional thought system either rejects it or reinterprets it. For the person suffering delusions, they consider those who challenge them to be deluded, misinformed, or even enemies. Why does this happen? Because they cannot think otherwise.

I suspect we are witnessing mass delusion right now. For four years, there has been insurmountable evidence that our president has been routinely deceptive and divisive. Over time, more and more people have come to understand the dangers associated with Trump’s presidency. Yet, the beliefs of many have become more deeply entrenched. In the past four years, their thinking has devolved from “never Trump” to “we will hold our noses and vote for him” to “he is the greatest Christian president in history.” Despite overwhelming evidence that no election fraud occurred, some continue to believe it. As former Trump allies have publicly disagreed with the president, some have taken their dissent as evidence of the “deep state” rather than accepting what is plain to most of us, Trump is wrong. Some public figures have even expressed their willingness to fight and die for him, and to oppose him is Satanic.

I pray that the truth is revealed. I hope that people will be able to honestly ask, “Is it possible I am wrong?” Yet from what I know about delusional thinking, it will take a miracle.

seeking clarity

2020 was supposed to be the year of clarity. Many of us began the year with the hope of “twenty-twenty vision,” right? Yet, 2020 has proven disorienting and depressing for many of us. We have become lost in the dense fog of COVID-19, social distancing, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, MAGA, impeachment, the election, and murder hornets. These events are just the tip of the iceberg.

This morning, I was thinking about clarity. I asked, “Are there things that, despite this year’s sufferings, are clearer than ever? In confusion and uncertainty, what has emerged as essential?”

It is more obvious to me that I relish time alone. For most of my life, I thought of myself as a strong extravert and yet this year, I have rarely found myself longing for large social gatherings. At the same time, I miss the deep relational connections that I have fostered with a few people over the years. I haven’t really gotten together with anyone in the past several months, which has been hard sometimes. I have especially realized that little boys can still miss their moms something terrible, even when they are 48 years old.

It is more clear to me now than ever that I feel politically and theologically homeless. I have considered myself to be a Republican since I could vote. In 2016, I was a never-Trump conservative. In 2016, when the field of GOP primary candidates remained relatively large, most of my conservative friends agreed, though as Trump became the presumptive nominee, it seemed to me that principled conservativism was a myth and I was shocked that I was in the 19% of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump. Watching 2020’s election and post-election antics have made it clear that I am not only never-Trump, but that I cannot imagine voting GOP again unless there is some cataclysmic change.

Unfortunately, partly due to the enmeshment of Trumpism and evangelicalism (81% in 2016 and similar numbers this year), I also no longer describe myself as an evangelical. I have good friends who are not ready to throw out the evangelical baby with the nationalistic bathwater, but I have been unable to disentangle these two things in my own mind. I have doubts about beliefs that once felt immovable.

Furthermore, I have long surmised that there is a link between the outcome of the 2016 election and the increased awareness of religious abuse. I will not take the time to share my reasoning here, but if you are interested, ask me sometime. Over the past five years or so, it seems that hardly a month passes before another high profile Christian leader is credibly accused of abuse. Unfortunately, Christians generally do not wield power well…perhaps because Jesus never encouraged us to pursue power or status.

My doubts have sometimes found their way into my writings and I am certain that many people have wondered about my faith. One beloved friend asked me directly if I still believe in Jesus. However, it is also clear that I am not the only one who is feeling unsettled. Many people have reached out to share their own confusion and I have been grateful for a fellowship of strugglers. Many of us are asking questions important questions about what it means to be a Christian in 2020. Sometimes, I fear they want me to give them satisfactory answers when all I can muster is helping them ask good questions, so we commiserate (from co-misery = suffer together).

Still, in confusion, we find clarity. In darkness, we look for light. In fragmentation, we desire wholeness. This year has taught me that faith and hope matter, but that if St. Paul was correct, it is clear that love matters most of all.