the red horse

The breaking of the second seal revealed the red horse. The second creature, with a loud voice, echoed the first saying, “Come.” The horse was frothy red like blood spilled upon the ground. I allowed the rider to steal peace from the earth as he wielded a great sword. The red horse, beloved, is violence and war, which stands in opposition to my kingdom.

People are often enamored by the vibrancy and power of the red horse. They come to believe that violence must be an appropriate way to establish justice. Look around you. Violence fills the world; the hoof prints of the red horse are everywhere. There are wars in every corner of the globe as nations go to battle. Violence fills your homes, your streets, and your very hearts. People use power and control to oppress, yet the people who hold power call their oppression “just.” Just war is a misnomer. There is no justice in committing violence against others.

Eugene Peterson wrote, “The perennial ruse is to glorify war so that we accept it as a proper means of achieving goals. But it is evil, and Christ opposes it. Christ does not sit on the red horse, ever.” Beloved, beware of becoming enamored by the red horse. Violence is not the way of my kingdom.

Revelation 6:3-4, Letters to the Beloved

not violence, but peace

With a surge of adrenaline waking them up, the eleven were ready for action. They said, “Lord, is now the time to strike with the sword?” Peter cut off the servant’s right ear. Jesus stopped the retaliation. Following Jesus is not the way of violence, but peace. He said, “That’s enough.” He approached the bleeding man and, touching his ear, restored him. He did not leave the servant to suffer, even though the man was part of the mob who had come to arrest him. My kingdom is always about restoring wholeness.

Luke 22:49-51
Letters to the Beloved

take risks and love big

Beloved, be committed to my kingdom, knowing that I am committed to you. Take risks, and love big. Yes, you may fail, but I am delighted when you are acting out of love for my Son. Here is the thing, I know you will not be perfect. No one is. Too many people are afraid to risk vulnerability or try new things because they are worried about my disapproval. I have given you a vibrant life. You are uniquely you, but you are not investing in love when you hide from me, others, or even from yourself. I always welcome your true self, warts and all. I want you to come and dance, even if you step on a few toes. The blessing is in the journey, not the accomplishment. I want you to show up and live.

Luke 19:24-27
Letters to the Beloved

be an ambassador

Regardless of what is going on in your life, be my ambassador. Act in love no matter what is happening around you. Be a beacon of hope in pain, suffering, hardship, affliction, and unrest. Let people see your pure heart, knowledge, patience, kindness, and genuine love, which come only by my Spirit. Speak truthfully and without qualification. Guard yourself with holiness and wholeness on every side. Seek to live an integrated life whether you are honored or dishonored, slandered or praised, rejected as a liar or accepted as a truth-bringer, living or dying, in punishment, sorrow, or loss. Keep hoping even when everything seems bleak.

2 Corinthians 6:4-10
Letters to the Beloved

clay pots

You have an infinite treasure–the light of my love–stored up in clay pots; heavenly beauty held within the stuff of earth, imperfections and all. Transformation comes because of my life in you. Daily stresses may leave you feeling battered and bruised, but my Son’s life in you means nothing can destroy you. In your suffering, be reminded of his death, but never lose sight of his indwelling Spirit, which is real life. Let every bit of pain, fatigue, and brokenness serve as a reminder of the life I have given you. Death and disintegration may be present in your day-to-day life, but your core identity is secure in my Son.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Letters to the Beloved

be careful little eyes what you see

As a neuropsychologist, my day-to-day work involves assessing how people think and process information. Forgetfulness is people’s primary complaint when they see me; however, I evaluate more than memory. A thorough neuropsychological evaluation examines cognitive skills like memory, attention, and word-finding; emotions like depression, anxiety, or anger; sensory changes; and relational difficulties. Just as our thinking is complex, so are the variables associated with understanding and processing information. Although I use various psychological tests to assist in my evaluations, spending time with well over 10,000 patients over the years, I also notice behavioral trends that provide me with additional insight.

Increased anger and paranoia are patterns I have noticed more over the past few years, especially among my elderly patients. Although their doctors routinely refer them for evaluation of dementia, once they are in my office, their family members will tell me that dad has become much more irritable, judgmental, and paranoid. In my experience, it’s usually men who display this pattern. As a diagnostician, I am asked to determine what is wrong and what factors contribute to cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal changes. In the case of dementia, changes in the structure and function of the brain are generally evident.

However, I have observed increased paranoia and anger often accompanied by constant exposure to cable news. More than once, as family members have lamented these behavioral changes, they have shared their exasperation, saying, “He watches Fox News 24/7” (n.b. I have only heard people say this about right-wing media. It does not, therefore, mean that the same thing does not happen with left-wing media).

Disease or injury can change our brains in drastic ways, but it is also true that experience changes our brains by strengthening or weakening synaptic connections. When we continually expose ourselves to toxic or divisive things, we unwittingly become more toxic and divisive. In truth, it is not only my dementia patients who are becoming this way; it is happening to many of us.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Many of the things we consume, both as edible food and as sensory impressions, have toxins in them. Just as we might feel worse after eating a whole bag of chips, we often feel worse after we spend many hours on social media sites or playing video games. After we consume like that in an effort to block out or cover up unpleasant feelings, somehow we only end up feeling even more loneliness, anger, and despair” (Silence: the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, 2015).

So what can you do? First, understand that regardless of how intelligent, wise, or objective you believe you might be, what you expose yourself to shapes you gradually at first, but the effect can be drastic over time. Second, regardless of what you are taking in, be willing to ask, “what is the message behind the message?” Is this meme/newscast/article encouraging love and understanding or hatred and division? What emotional response are they seeking to generate? Third, set boundaries with people who seem to be driven by divisiveness and hatred; your heart will thank you. Unfollowing people on Facebook or Twitter can be a holy act. Fourth, intentionally turn off the television and do something else. Go for a walk and say hello to your neighbors.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.-Philippians 4:8

*There is a fascinating 2015 documentary titled “The Brainwashing of my Dad,” that provides additional insight into this phenomenon. I watched it on Amazon Prime, though it can be found through multiple sources.

real shalom

“Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I came to divide fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters.” Ultimately, beloved, my Son is the embodiment of true peace and love, not mere tolerance. Real shalom is active and results from hard work and adversity as you work to reintegrate your divided self and your fractured homes by the power of my Spirit. Continue working and wrestling through your pain rather than pretending it does not exist.

Luke 12:51-53
Letters to the Beloved

be who you are

Instead of fumbling around in the dark, pretending to be something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light where you will always find me. This honest, vulnerable place is where you can have real friendships with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you thoroughly, you will not need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend that you are better than you are or have no sin in your life, you may deceive others, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.

1 John 1:7-8
Letters to the Beloved