Point of View
The following was transcribed from a talk given by Dr. Michael Blunk to a group of visiting young people from a local church.
I am happy to be here. It is always a pleasure addressing a group of young people. I told my daughter that, in spite of my years, there is a restless, energetic, imaginative seventeen year old boy living inside me. Of course, Hannah answered, “You better cut him loose, Dad, for you’re making him bald and wrinkled!” That’s my girl!
Besides my work with drug addicts and alcoholics at the prison and the mission, I serve as a volunteer staff writer for a large, international Christian apologetics ministry based in Colorado Springs. Got Questions receives Bible-related inquiries sent by believers and non-believers from around the world. The questions are farmed out to volunteer staff writers like me. As I have a history of working with substance abusers, the editors frequently forward inquiries relating to alcoholism and addiction to my attention.
A while back, Got Questions forwarded an inquiry from a young person, right about your age, to me. Rather than asking a question, he wanted to make a statement. His inquiry was along this line: “I am a sixteen year old high school kid. At my school, the popular kids drink alcohol and smoke weed. I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke weed. And I am not one of the popular kids. I go to church and keep out of trouble. No one pays any attention to me.”
What an interesting inquiry. As I mentioned, he seemed to be making a statement rather than asking a question, but I rather sensed an unspoken question hidden in his inquiry--in so many words, he was asking, “Is there any reward for doing the right thing? Is there a payoff for steering clear of drugs and alcohol? Why should I follow the rules, abstain from drugs, and behave like a good little ‘Sunday school boy?’ What’s in this for me?”
I teach critical thinking skills to addicts, alcoholics, prison inmates, and parolees. Perhaps you are not familiar with critical thinking. Simply stated, critical thinkers are people who think about their thinking for the purpose of improving their thinking. Critical thinkers weigh and examine the quality of their thinking. Critical thinkers guard against empty rhetoric, logical fallacies, half-truths, lies, unsubstantiated rumors, runaway emotions, thinking traps, and other forms of intellectual nonsense. Why? Better thinking leads to better decision-making. Better decision-making leads to better outcomes. Critical thinkers live happier, fuller, more productive, and more satisfying lives.
I do not teach people what to think. That’s indoctrination. Others call this political correctness. I have no use for such silliness. Rather than teaching women and men what to think, I teach my students how to think for themselves. This is critical thinking.
When seeking an understanding of a situation or in searching for answer or a solution, we should examine the problem at hand from various points of view. Allow me to give you a brief illustration of what I mean by the term point of view. I am rather fascinated by New York. Since childhood, I have been keenly interested in tall buildings. Skyscrapers fascinate me. And so, from time to time, I make my way to Manhattan and play the role of a wide-eyed, starstruck tourist.
Manhattan is a great place sightseeing tourists who enjoy walking. The sidewalks, though generally crowded, are wide and accommodating. There is an energy--a quick-paced, shoulder to shoulder bustle that quickens one’s steps and heightens the senses. Couple this with the sound of bumper to bumper automobiles, buses, and delivery trucks and the big city thrill comes alive.
But from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, nearly one thousand feet above the crowded sidewalks, and there is an almost eerie hush as the grid of Manhattan spreads below. In other words, the view of New York from the Empire State Building is different from the view of the city at ground level.
Same city--two points of view. Now, imagine yourself a first time tourist. Your point of view will be different from the New Yorker who has never lived elsewhere. Imagine you are a tourist who does not speak English. As a non-English speaking person, your view of New York will be somewhat different. Now imagine you are confined to a wheelchair. Once again, a physical handicap will give you a different perspective of the great city. If you grew up in a small town such as, say, Pitchfork, West Virginia, your reaction to the sights and sounds of Manhattan would likely be far different from someone who grew up in another large metropolis such as Chicago, Dallas, or Los Angeles.
So there we have it--a number of perspectives--points of view that are different, yet entirely valid. As critical thinkers, we want to consider all valid, relevant points of view.
Let’s get back to our young man who wrote, “I am a sixteen year old high school kid. At my school, the popular kids drink alcohol and smoke weed. I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke weed. And I am not one of the popular kids. I go to church and keep out of trouble. No one pays any attention to me.” And, deep down, he wonders if there is any benefit to doing that which is right.
In response, I asked the young man to imagine that he was standing at the entrance of a long tunnel while I stood at the tunnel’s exit. Gathered at the entrance of the tunnel were the popular kids in his school--laughing, joking, drinking the hard stuff straight from the bottles, smoking marijuana--loud, bawdy, vulgar, irreverent, mocking, and having a great time of it. Sin is fun--at least, for awhile--and anyone who says that sin is not fun knows nothing about sin or fun! And these kids are having fun.
The guys and the girls entering our imaginary tunnel look like athletes. The fellows are good-looking and the girls are pretty. And my young friend who wrote the letter is standing on the outside feeling isolated and out of touch with his fun-loving peers.
I am standing at the tunnel’s exit. I see them as they leave the tunnel. And this is what I see: No one looks like an athlete. Years of drinking and drugging have taken an exacting physica toll. The fellows, who once looked like football players, are broken down and pathetic. The girls, who once turned heads, are wrinkled and shopworn beyond their actual years. No one is laughing. No one is having fun. Many of their friends are already dead from the ravages of addiction and substance abuse. No one envies them. Most have no home, no money, no family, and no hope. They have alienated their friends. Many have lost touch with the children they brought into the world.
Make no mistake about it--those shuffling out of the tunnel are broken, sick, rundown, tired, weak, lonely, and miserable.
Because of my work, I have met legions of women and men staggering under the burden of addiction. I know their stories. They are people who have lost everything. They have nothing to show for their years other than health woes, a history of hurt, broken homes, shattered dreams, and enough pain and guilt for two lifetimes. Left unabated, addiction leads to a hospital bed, a prison cell, or an early grave. And so, I reminded my young friend who could only see the seemingly good times of his drinking and drugging school mates to take a long hard look at the ravages of addiction from my point of view.
In my years, I have never heard anyone say, “Chaplain Mike, you are such a bloody fool! Why do you frighten people with these ridiculous and totally false stories about addiction and substance abuse? Let me tell you what heroin has done for me. I was once a dull, uninteresting person, but now that I have discovered the joys and benefits of heroin, my wife says that I am a better husband. And my kids think I am a hero now that I shoot up a couple of times a day. You should hear my family say, ‘Heroin has made you an amazing husband and father! We love you more than ever!’ And did you hear about my raise and promotion? My boss said, ‘Now that you are addicted to heroin, you are a model employee! Heroin has greatly improved your job performance! By the way, congratulations on the promotion and pay raise. Keep up the good work and the day will come when you own this company!’ And let me tell you about the health benefits of heroin addiction. According to my doctor, the daily doses of heroin are like the proverbial fountain of youth! I have never felt better in my life! And so, on behalf of the millions and millions of happy heroin addicts everywhere, end your senseless campaign against this wonder drug that has brought so much good to so many!”
In all the years I have worked with substance abusers, never once has an addict said the drug made him or her a better person, improved his or her financial well-being, advanced his or her career ambitions, improved his or her school grades, bolstered his or her physical and mental health, enhanced his or her personal relationships, or brought about any measure of peace, happiness, joy, satisfaction, or contentment.
I recall, not too long ago, walking into a hotel room in which a young woman lay dead while the needle remained plunged into her arm. Death had come upon her suddenly; the TV was on and a half-eaten sandwich and a soda sat next to a Bible and a piece of Narcotics Anonymous literature. By all rights, she should have lived another forty or fifty years or more. Perhaps a family member would claim her remains from the city morgue. Perhaps not.
And older woman nearer my age came into the office to inquire about joining the women’s recovery program. Years of substance abuse had taken its toll. Our interview was interrupted when she began throwing up into my waste paper basket. I asked, “Did the dope man ever warn you about days like today?” She shook her head. Those who peddle drugs are merchants of misery and death. Unless they repent, God will deal harshly with them.
Let me tell you about my friend Stacy. Stacy was a tall, thin woman with an offbeat, quirky sense of humor. I am drawn to people who like to laugh and Stacy was such a person--quick-witted and full of life. Working with the public defender’s office, I had approved Stacy’s entry into our drug and alcohol recovery program. The program was highly structured and there were rules to follow; unfortunately, Stacy was the kind of person who really did not give rules and regulations a lot of thought. From time to time, Stacy would pop into my office and tell me about a recent episode involving rule infractions and the consequences that ultimately followed.
“Stacy,” I would say, “you had better calm down. I do not want to see you booted out of the program, but unless you learn to follow the program rules, you are on your way out the door! And when you leave us, I am afraid you will revert back to your old ways and die from an overdose. I like you, kiddo, and am in no mood to preach your funeral.”
As usual, Stacy would brush off my concerns with her typical nonchalance. I had recently written a piece called Death of an Addict. It is a dark story about a woman who unexpectedly died from a drug overdose. I printed a copy of Death of an Addict for Stacy. “Please read this,” I said. “I wrote this story for someone just like you.”
“You worry too much,” she laughed as she left my office. “I’ll be okay!”
Whether she was asked to leave or left the recovery program by her own volition, I do not know, but what I know is this: Stacy returned to her old lifestyle. One evening, while high on heroin, Stacy slipped into unconsciousness while bathing. She slid beneath the bath water’s surface and drown.
Kids, I have a message for you from Stacy. “I am gone and I am not coming back. All that remains of me is a metal urn filled with ashes and enough regrets to fill the Grand Canyon. There was no reason for my life to end like this. God gave me a good mind and the potential to succeed, but I wasted my life, my health, my money, my relationships, and my dreams on a deadly poison that could never truly satisfy. What do I have to show for the thirty-eight years I spent on earth? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I now see that my life was nothing but a series of wasted opportunities. And to think that I could have accomplished so very, very much.”
In his letter to the believers in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a),” and sin has never missed meeting its payroll since Adam and Eve sought to usurp God’s authority. There is death in the needle. There is death in the bottle. There is death in the pill. There is death in the pipe.
I would like to tell you about Brittney. When Brittney entered the program, she was twenty-two years old--the same age as my daughter Hannah. Bright, gentle-natured, and brimming with life, Brittney planned to marry after completing the mission’s six to nine month recovery program. “My fiance,” she explained, “has a seven year old son. He’s a sweet little boy. Once I leave here, I will be his mother.” It was obvious that she loved her fiance’s son. Something happened. Right before Christmas, Brittney broke curfew and slipped away from the mission. From what I was told, she met a rather seedy character who offered her heroin. The amount of heroin exceeded her tolerance. Brittney quickly slipped into unconsciousness. She died a short time later. The low-life character who supplied Brittney with heroin panicked and fled. Shortly after Brittney’s funeral, her mother and father came to town searching for answers. Why had their daughter left the program? And who was this person who had supplied their daughter with the fatal dose of heroin? Nothing about this made any sense. A bright, engaging, and sweet-natured twenty-two year old who dies from a lethal dose of heroin never makes sense. In the end, Brittney’s death left us with so many perplexing questions and not a single, reasonable answer.
It is not my intention to leave you on a sad note. Not long ago, one of the recovery program’s graduates stopped by my office. Holding an official looking form and with a big, toothy smile spanning ear to ear, she said, “At long last, I am going to college! Here is my acceptance letter! Chaplain Mike, it was always my dream to earn a degree, but heroin stole my dreams. Now that I am free of heroin, I can dream again!”
How many of you are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11? A few of you know this verse. For the rest of you, let me share one of God’s greatest promises with you. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” You can personalize this verse if you wish--and I wish that you would. In my case, I could say, “For I know the plans I have for Michael,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper MIchael and not to harm Michael, plans to give Michael hope and a future.”
God cannot lie. You can lie and I can lie, but God cannot lie. God has a plan for your life. And His plan for your life and my life are far, far better than any plan that you or I might conjure from our own imaginations. Here is the problem: God has a magnificent blueprint for your life and my life and, indeed, for everyone’s life, but most of us will never check in to pick up our marching orders. And, my young friends, you will never enjoy complete satisfaction and lasting, personal fulfillment until you follow God’s master plan for your life.
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant rabbi born of a virgin in Bethlehem was unjustly and unmercifully executed by sneering Roman soldiers and cheered on by an angry, frothing mob of self-righteous religious fanatics. After an agonizing death, His lifeless body was placed in a tomb. But the story does not end here; three days after His burial, Christ Jesus walked out of the tomb and He lives today. Do not think this is some carefully contrived myth; besides His disciples, the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to some five hundred eye-witnesses. Because He overcame death, we who have placed our faith in Christ Jesus as Savior will overcome death, too.
Death comes in a needle. Eternal life comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8, 9). And this Jesus, who conquered death, is still in the business of helping addicts to break free from the chains and fetters of addictive chemicals that destroy health, ambitions, dreams, and relationships.
If you have never placed your faith in our Lord Jesus as Savior, stick around. Your youth leaders or I will be happy to help you settle the matter of your eternal destiny now and forever more.