162: Ben Courson: Flirting With Darkness: Hope For Depression, Pursuing Your Purpose, And Being Unabashedly Yourself
We are no better than anyone else, but we have an individual calling and gifting, which makes us unique and different than everyone else. For Ben Courson, that calling is to ignite God’s hope in the hearts of his listeners. Hope is essential. It is a spark that ignites our world, fuels our progress, and spurs us upward and onward, helping us stay the course. On today’s podcast, Ben http://hkbookkeeping.com/client-types/clients joins Thane Marcus Ringler to share how, stemming from his own bout with suicide and depression, he is pursuing his purpose of helping people rise out of despair. Ben is a bestselling author, a TV and radio personality, an international speaker, the Founder of Hope Generation, and the senior pastor at Applegate Christian Fellowship.
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162: Ben Courson: Flirting With Darkness: Hope For Depression, Pursuing Your Purpose, And Being Unabashedly Yourself
purchase disulfiram online This is a show about learning how to live a good life. We believe that takes living with intention in the tension. A catchy mantra that means we live with intentionality infusing a reason why into all that we’re doing that is this show and that is what we are about. Thank you for being a fellow Up and Comers on this journey because we’re all in the process of becoming. We’re excited to share with you a new interview. Before I get there, I want to remind you that you have a few ways to help us out and keep this show going. If you’ve enjoyed this show, if you’ve benefited from it, if you’ve gained insight or wisdom or it’s been an encouragement in some way, we would love to have you give back and support us. There are three easy ways to do that.
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Go over to Patreon.com and type in The Up & Comers Show or you can go to Patreon.com/theupandcomersshow. Lastly, if you have a business and you’d like to partner, definitely reach out to us by email at TheUpAndComersShow@Gmail.com. We’re always looking for partners that align with our message. Reach out now. After the lengthy housekeeping, it is time to talk about this episode. This episode is featuring Ben Courson. Who is Ben? He is a bestselling author, a TV and radio personality, an international speaker, Founder of Hope Generation, and the senior pastor at Applegate Christian Fellowship. He has been featured on Fox, Hallmark Channel, TBN, ABC Family, and other mainstream media outlets. His TV show is broadcasted in 180 countries and his national radio show airs on over 400 stations.
He travels the globe, speaking of God’s hope and igniting revival in the hearts of his audiences. Stemming from his own bout with suicide and depression, Ben created Hope Generation aiming to help those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts to those who’ve lost hope and meaning amid their success. The ministry is shouting about the God of hope from the mountaintops to help people rise out of despair. Hope Generation is a play word that’s both a personal and collective appeal generating hope in God and building a generation of hope. That is a mission of Hope Generation. This was such a fun interview and such a fun time with Ben. I feel akin to him. He is an incredible speaker. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the skill he’s developed over the hours and hours of time he spent. I think of him as a King of the one-liners.
If there’s a catchy one-liner phrase, it will come from him. If you listen to him at any interview he does or sermon he gives, he has a million one-liners, and they’re catchy and memorable which makes it easier to learn as you listen. In this conversation, we covered a lot of things especially facing suicidal depression for ten years and his journey with that. We talk about mental health in our current society, ways to overcome depression, throwing yourself into your craft and purpose, the 10,000-hour rule, social media, and the challenge that brings, suffering well, filling the world with hope and so much more. He’s an inspiration and a guy that will get you pumped up a height man in many ways, but a deep intellect. You’re going to glean a lot from this conversation and interview. Please enjoy this conversation this interview with Ben Courson.
Up and Comers, have you been feeling a lack of hope lately or am I the only one? We all could use a little more hope. Hope is a spark that ignites our world fuels our progress and spurs us upward and onward helping us stay the course. Hope is essential. Why does it feel like there is no hope? Why do we feel hopeless? What can we do about it? I believe hope is readily available to any and all who look for it, who strive to find it, and who work towards embracing it. Hope is there if only we would search for it. If there was ever a time in my life that we needed hope, that time is now. This is why I wrote Catalysts For Hope. My hope for this book is that it can reignite your passion for life through renewed energy, optimism, and empowered perspectives. We each have the ability to choose hope. It’s time we start doing it. You can get your own copy by going to ThaneMarcus.com/hope and signing up there. Here’s to hope.
Ben Courson, welcome to the show.
Thane, you’re a legend. I’m glad we’re finally hanging out through shows, but hanging out nonetheless.
For context for people, when I was preparing for this, I knew the level of energy that you were going to be bringing. I went across the street to the local cafe steam and picked up another cup of coffee because I’m like, “I need a level up to match Ben.”
I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never had alcohol. A lot of my friends drink and there’s a debate among my friends like, “Would you go insane and have a ridiculous amount of energy, or would it have the opposite effect whether it’s not or coffee?” It would calm me down. I’ve only had coffee a few times in my life.
What was that experience like?
I hated the taste. I can drink it, but there’s no point. I know you get the acquired taste for a lot of people. I can’t get into it. This is the drink of choice, DASANI purified water, a gallon a day.
That’s such a great life choice right there. My wife has been on a big kick of a hundred ounces a day and that is a great goal. We do not drink enough water myself included. Kudos to you for that discipline. I want to hear before we dive into some more serious things. One of the things that a lot of people may not know is this addition to your life that’s named Fridge. How in the world did you land on the Fridge and tell people about it?
I can’t believe you’re bringing this up because Fridge got sick and he is leaving messes everywhere. He is going to the bathroom on everything. For somebody as obsessive-compulsive as I am, it’s gnarly. He’s an amazing cat. He’s a Persian cat. An abominable, alien-looking white fluff ball. He’s at the vet. I hope he gets better because I want him to feel healthy and I don’t want him leaving little Fridge packages everywhere. Like his name, he’s white, chill and eats all the time.
He is a container for food. He’s a fridge. I named him Fridge and I hope this isn’t offensive to any audience but I went on Google and I Googled fat kid names and I saw a Fridge on there and I knew. It wasn’t even like second-guessing. Do you remember the Fridge Perry from the Chicago Bears? He was 300 pounds running back. They put a lineman guy out running back and he plowed over everyone and scored touchdowns. That’s what Fridge is. He’s going to be one behemoth, mammoth creature, as he keeps eating, he eats nonstop. He’s going to be one fat little creature.
In talking to some people in context for this conversation, to give people a little flavor of Ben, I often asked people how they describe the guest in two words, and here are some of the words they used: adventurously funny, ambitious, reckless, crazy, sandy and inspiring. The sandy has a sense of wise. That sounds like a good time and someone you want to hang out with, but if you had to highlight a few or one in particular, what is one of the wildest adventures or memories that were descriptive of yourself in these adventures?
One of them I’m doing is Navy SEAL training. I’m reading a book called Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. I’m also getting trained by Chad Williams. He was in SEAL Team One and SEAL Team Seven. He wrote a book called SEAL of God. I go to California almost every week and COVID brought me there because I live in Oregon. When I’m in California, we’re going to do another round of Navy SEAL training like 800 reps. You put a chain around your body while you’re doing pull-ups and weighted vest and Atlas tosses and like 3.5-hour crazy SEAL sessions. That has brought me joy. The opioid receptors are activated in your brain because of the endorphin release.
I would say one of the crazier things we’ve done is we explored the Matterhorn and did jump kicks at the Matterhorn in Switzerland. We did these flips off this dilapidated building into an ocean in the Mediterranean Sea in France. My friend stung by jellyfish. I was at a waterfall and the scorpion jumped on me. Me, my friends, Michael, and Cody who is a professional scooter rider and Gracie and another friend went up to these triple waterfalls in New Zealand. We’re surrounded by a forest of glow-worms. We’ve had some fun adventures. We’re about that.
What would you say is on the top of your hit list in adventures to come?
If you want to come, Thane, you are invited. I want to go to North Korea.
That is lofty to see.
I already have been talking with Chad the SEAL about going to North Korea. I don’t know if I can get in but I’m trying. I know somebody in DC who can hopefully validate and activate our passport to get in, but it’s the most dangerous country on earth. I want to skate North Korea and make a short film there.
When did this idea first pop up?
A couple of years ago I had a dream at night that I was running through the jungles of North Korea and I loved it in my dream. It’s like inception planted in my subconscious. Years past, I read my cousin’s book about him being the first guy to surf the waves of Yemen during the war-torn Iraqi War. The most dangerous place in the Middle East that you could go to. He was surfing in Yemen. I texted him about this and I’m like, “Do you want to go to North Korea?” He’s like, “Yes.” The question is if we can get in. I got serious about that after I read my cousin’s book about him doing something gnarly and I thought, “What’s the gnarliest thing you can do now? Where’s the most dangerous country on earth?” North Korea is the next goal. I don’t want to talk about the game about it. I love the doing, not the talking about it. I am trying to get in.
Hearing a little bit of the backstory here, even when you shared with the SEAL training I relate much with that. One of the things I love more than anything in life is fitness because of how it makes you feel and the energy it brings to life. Funny enough, I woke up and my left bicep for some reason was strained. I went to yoga with my wife which core power yoga can be intense on the sculpts. I got wrecked by it and I was sore. I was depressed because I’m like, “This means that I’m going to have a week where I can’t move. I can’t exercise. I can’t practice golf and I’ve got this tournamentI’m going to play.” I was reminded of how much life exercise brings. It’s awesome hearing you speak to that.
One of the things that a lot of people will hear one side of you and not necessarily recognize the other and one of the background interviews said is that most people don’t know how much of a lighthearted goofball you are. The opposite is true. A lot of people may know how lighthearted you are, but he was highlighting the pastoral side of you and how much you care and minister to people. On the other end, you have this lighthearted goofball side. You have these two roles that you facilitate through your life. How would you describe your personality within those roles and how it interplays in your daily life?
I don’t believe the universe is comprised of duality as much as infinite complexity, both metaphysically, astrophysics, and universally when you’re talking about whether it’s astrophysics or quantum mechanics. I believe things are complex. That’s why I studied the Enneagram. I’m a 3 and a 7 if you can do that which is driven in. I don’t necessarily always prescribe to the C. G. Jung, Myers-Briggs colors and numbers strain, because it’s a little reductionist. We’re complex beings and I’m intensely serious but I’m also crazy. I don’t think those two are antithetical antonyms. They can live in a symbiotic relationship. I’m serious about my mission, which is simply to give hope to the world that sometimes I get caught up in the intensity of that. I need to unwind and have nonsensical conversations with my friends.
I always love reading dead people and that’s intense whether it’s like a manual contour, John Walker, Thomas Aquinas, and books I’ve been tackling during quarantine, these heavy metaphysical books. When I’m with my friends, I don’t always want to get in deep existential navel-gazing conversations. It’s like a muscle I’m working it that then I want to have entirely nonsensical conversations about the stupidest, silliest, we’ll make up words. We’ll talk about the dumbest things because that empowers me to then go back and do the heavy lifting. That’s how I would identify as an ambivert mixture of introvert and extrovert. I get charged by both. I go back and forth like my cat, Fridge. That’s why I love him among other reasons. He likes to be with me, but then he likes to go off on his own.
The description that you gave I connect with that deeply because that is almost identical to how I operate as a human as well, which is fascinating. I am a 3 wing 4 but also relate highly with sevens. I also gain life from an extrovert and introvert. It’s fascinating to hear you give that breakdown. I resonate deeply. I think you do highlight the complexity of the world we live in and that’s what this show is all about. You are one of the most outspoken on is hope. If we go back to the earlier years of Ben, would you say that you’ve always had this multidimensional personality? Where do these character traits, this energy, and this drive or this desire come from for you?
We inherit 50% of our spiral DNA ladder from our dad and 50% of our mom. My dad is a serious student of the Bible. He has a little bit more of those puritanical predispositions. He’s an incredible Bible scholar. I inherited a lot of the serious mind-stuff from my dad. My mom is the most joyful, hopeful person I’ve ever met. I inherit a lot of the sacred optimism for my mom. That combination has a biological component to it. I also believe in neuroplasticity that through route and repetition, we can reframe our pain and retrain our brain to run its grooves in certain directions.
Over the years, I’ve been close to the statistic of struggling with suicidal depression for ten years. When I got healed from that, it became my passion and my zeal to then spread hope to the world. When you’re talking about Sputnik 5 with Russia and the Coronavirus, the COVID-19 vaccine, think if we didn’t find a vaccine for COVID-19, but we found this rare vegetable that if you eat it, you’ll never inherit it. You would shout the thing from the rooftops. You’d be like, “We found the panacea, and the cure-all. I’ve got to tell everybody about this.”
I know more people have died from the Coronavirus than all the Americans combined that died during the Vietnam War, so that’s a lot of people. What people don’t always realize is that a study shows nearly half of Americans are reporting that the Coronavirus has impacted their mental health. Mental health is such an issue right now that once every 40 seconds, someone around the world will kill himself or herself. This is a disease. This is a pandemic. This is an epidemic. Suicide in 2017 was the second leading cause of death in my age group and I found this cure, this God of Hope that I then want to shout from the rooftops. That’s what curated my passion to spread hope to the world.
That’s powerful and such an internal motivator. When you talk about the suicidal depression that you had, when did this first start for you? What was this early experience of it like?
I was happy-go-lucky in high school, but I started teaching and preaching at a young age. In third grade, I gave my first sermon and at sixteen years old, I began traveling and speaking.
In third grade, your first sermon. What was this first sermon like?
Everybody was asking me. It was about Ezekiel Dry Bones. All I did was read this story. My uncle who’s a youth pastor asked me to teach that day to share a message and I shared the story of the Dry Bones. I read it and sat down. Maybe it’s the best Bible study I ever gave because I didn’t muddy it up with my commentary. It’s literate accuracy. I read the story. When I was sixteen years old, that’s when it became a regular habit for me to teach. I started a Bible study with my friends and started traveling outside of my home church to speak. At eighteen years old, I became a pastor at a megachurch. I was teaching people three times older than me and I was a senior in high school at the time. It was my senior year of high school when I left the happy-go-lucky life behind and started training to be a pastor and becoming a pastor that I started to get depressed because it felt like working at a funeral home for me.
I thought that in reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and some of the elder writings of Halcyon days of yore and religiosity that I had to be the super somber, serious sober, sane. I wanted to do handstands, play basketball and stuff. I thought I had to create this image and projected to the world that wasn’t true to who I was created cognitive dissonance was super unhappy. I started to stand in solidarity with Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American Supreme Court Justice, who said, “I might’ve entered the ministry of certain clergymen. I knew how it looked and acted like undertakers.” Robert Louis Stevenson is an author of Treasure Island. He went to church and wrote in his journal, “I went to church now and I’m not depressed.” He wrote it as if it was a miracle that you can go to church and not be depressed. Even Swinburne wrote, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean, the world has grown grey from thy breath.” Talking about Jesus like turning the world gray.
That’s what I felt ministry had become for me. I needed to be more serious or less energetic or be who the generation before me was because the church has been around for so long. That caused a lot of depression. I had big dreams and I had no way of seeing those come to fruition and the identity crisis of discovering who I was. All of those things manifested existential ontological despair and not knowing who I was.
I feel like that is universal in many ways. This idea that when we enter into space for the first time as a profession or some type of activity that we’re doing and for me, it was golf. You try to be something you’re not in order to fit what you think the mold should be or the expectations of the people around you or what the image you want to portray when we just need to be ourselves. That’s a hard dance especially when you’re new to any field, whether it be golf or pastoral or preaching ministry. Do you think that’s a common thing that people face?
Ken Kesey wrote this book called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the book, the character rebels against the system, and in that case, it’s a mental hospital. He’s rebellious that they do a frontal lobotomy on him. They take away his ability to function and think because he had whipped the system over and over again by brazenly refusing to be what the establishment ordered. What happened is at the end of the book, the real climax of this classic anti-establishment novel is Ken Kesey writes, “The courage to be oneself is the bravest thing a person can do.” It’s also one of the rarest things. It’s nice when you hear on the Disney Channel, “Be yourself.” It sounds fluffy, but if you do that, there is no greater courage than the absolute bravery to be exactly who you are. That takes courage and bravery. It’s no longer a greeting card. It’s now your life’s bloody battle.
The reason why it takes much courage and we often don’t realize it is because you are risking the real you being rejected, not the fake you. If the fake you get rejected, then it’s like, “I’m more like this anyways. They don’t know me.” When you’re you, that’s when it gets risky and that’s where it takes more courage. It’s fascinating how this works.
Jim Carrey struggled with manic depression and people were shocked when he talked about being on Prozac. He talked about how he was trying to put forward this avatar to the world he called it where he was trying to project an image to the world that wasn’t who he was and that was his body telling him, “You’re not happy. You’re depressed. You’d have to stop playing this role.” That’s one of the chief causes of depression is trying to be somebody else. When Saul put his armor on David and David found it cumbersome and unwieldy, he said, “I’m going to go with my sling and my stone.” That’s when he slayed Goliath. When the King is putting his armor on you, you better wear it. If you want to win the battle, you better cast it off and take your sling and stone.
As you think about the journey of those ten plus years, what were the different phases of seasons or cycles of that depression like for you?
I would take my friend’s motorcycle and I didn’t have a license. I didn’t even know how to ride the full thing. I dirt bike to middle school and stuff, but I would ride it without a helmet super-fast, like flirting with death. I’d go up to one of the tallest buildings where I live and I would walk on the railing. It was like a makeshift lethal tight rope. I took up a knife one time to kill myself and fortunately God stayed my hand and during that season of time, I think what was oppressive about it is the future seems swallowed by an infinite gray.
I couldn’t see anything akin to a bolder tomorrow or a brighter horizon or a better future. All I saw was nothing but despair and the nihilistic, entropic, second law of thermodynamics. Everything is going from order to disorder and greater chaos. What helped me through that season and you’re going to relate to this how your personality is from what I’ve been able to tell is one of the saving things for me was something called the 10,000-hour rule.
In the 10,000-hour rule, Malcolm Gladwell lays this out in his book, Outliers: Chapter 2, but found that anybody who becomes world-class at a craft has to practice four hours a day, five days a week for ten years or eight hours a day, five days a week for five years. Practice it for 10,000 hours, whether you’re talking about hockey players, pianists, cellists, master criminals, fiction writers or whomever you’re talking about. You have to practice for 10,000 hours.
When the Beatles came to America on The Ed Sullivan Show with the British Invasion, everyone thought they were these mop-top boys from Liverpool at the X-Factor, when they had played more live shows than most bands do in their entire career before they ever came to the US. They were playing at a club that was run down in Hamburg, Germany, eight hours a night, and seven days a week. It was a brutal practice. They were terrible before that club but they were amazing by the time they left.[bctt tweet=”Science is meant to be complementary and not contradictory to the Divine design. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]
That’s what one biographer says. When they come to America and they take the US by storm, and it’s called the British Invasion, it’s because they had already played more live shows the most minutes doing their whole career before they ever came to the US. I knew I had a calling. I knew I had a mission to write and to speak. Instead of crying, I found myself sweating and that was the cure. A lot of the cure to crying is to start sweating.
Instead of waiting for opportunities to roll up, I decided I’m going to roll up my sleeve. The classic phrase, “Faith can move mountains, but God sometimes wants to hand you a shovel.” That was it for me. Sweat is fat crying. I started to feel like, “This is hard. This is hell. This is Navy SEAL time. Let’s Navy SEAL Team Six, MI5 DEFCON won this thing.” I started practicing. I bought these three timers. I collected 11,073 hours in five years into the craft of communication, speaking, writing, studying and that was huge.
It gave me a purpose in the midst of the pain. I would say as a byproduct side note, by the way, for people who are reading this, if they’re struggling with depression, one of the best things you can do is throw yourself into a craft. Throw yourself into your purpose. Thane, I’m sure you have a lot of thoughts on this because you don’t just become a professional golfer and get the level of excellence that you achieve by crying that you’re not the level you want to be at.
That’s the way I phrase it is taking ownership and never settling. That’s the big rally cry that I’m all about. It’s the same principles at play but I’m curious is with that, there’s a lot of people reading that this is a real battle. I haven’t experienced it. I haven’t faced it personally. I can’t relate as well but for someone like you who has gone through a decade-plus of this experience, what are other practical things that you’ve found that are helpful for others, finding your purpose, throwing yourself into a craft that’s huge? Are there any others that you would give to people as tools to fight this?
There are times when it’s bad and you should not be ashamed to seek professional help. I have a therapist who was huge in getting me through this. I was the most skeptical person of psychology and psychiatry. I liked studying it by way of books, but as far as trusting it, I’m like Jean-Paul Sartre, an existentialist question, whether the subconscious even exists. We’re talking about this subconscious world that might be a figment of creative thinking and imagination.
At the bidding of my sister and her husband see this wonderful person and they’re healthy people are like, “You need to do this, Ben.” I got to the point where it felt like a demon from hell lit my brain from another world on fire with a lighter from the ’80s. The things of consciousness were my daily bread to the point where he was getting worse. A counselor who used talk therapy helped me through this. For some people that might look like SSRI. I know that’s a controversial thing, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. It might be antidepressants for some people.
Before I get into more practical stuff, in some cases, seeking professional help can be integral to healing. Paul didn’t heal people with his sweatbands and aprons in the book of Acts. He brought a doctor with him. We can amalgamate the homeopathy of the East with the pharmacology of the West. As far as some other practical things to do is bear walks. I would say that’s the biggest thing for me. I would go on these long walks and I didn’t know at the time why I knew that they were healing me. I’d go on these walks at night and talk to God. Later on, I found out that scientific research revealed that when you talk to God about your hopes, fears, and dreams, it has the same effect on your brain as therapy.
In fact, like neuro biologically what’s happening is when you pray to a loving God, your amygdala loses its power. You don’t have as much fear, anger, and stress. You develop richer, thicker, gray matter in your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for creative thinking. You get more blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex, which gives you empathy and compassionate and warm and fuzzy feelings. You’re not going to put someone on your hit list. You put on your prayer list. You start to predict people and free yourself from the dungeon of bitterness. I love how God told Abraham to walk before me.
What happens is you enlarge your hippocampus, which is your seat of memory. There’s stuff going on in your brain when you go on prayer walks and that was one of the biggest things like talking out loud about my hopes, fears, and dreams. Some people say, “What if I look crazy if I’m talking out loud while walking down the street?” My thing is, I go at night. I look like the schizophrenic person walking the streets and blend in or put a Bluetooth in your ear and it looks like you’re talking on the phone.
What I love about this is how much God’s design stacks up to man’s discoveries of God’s design, a.k.a. science. They’re not in competition there and it’s a complementation type of thing. It helps us understand the way that God’s designed us. It’s powerful when we start combining these perspectives and show that they meet in the middle.
Science is God’s footnotes for creation. The Bible tells us why and science tells us how. In fact, William of Ockham and Roger Bacon about 700 years ago invented science and they were Franciscan monks. They were friars. Christians invented the scientific method. The idea that we’re supposed to be at war with science is absurd. A lot of my work is devoted to science. I want to give a lot of messages about how science is meant to be complementary and not contradictory to divine design.
Before we move past this, I want to come back to what you mentioned with therapy. That’s something I think in the Christian world that’s often blacklisted which is completely hilarious and somewhat ironic. If you’re playing a sport, if I’m playing golf and I don’t try to go get help on my swing from a swing coach, is that wise, or is that foolish? There’s a little bit of both, but mainly it’s foolish because there’s a resource at my disposal that I’m not taking advantage of especially if I need help in that. We all need help. My wife and I talk about this are that we are pro premarital counseling, but after you get married, then you’re like, “You’re good.” It shouldn’t be, it should be the other way around. What is this with this stigma around therapy and counseling within the Christian world?
We have to debunk this myth that for some reason it’s evil to go to a counselor. I have no clue how people even biblically justify this. You could pull verses like empty philosophy from Colossian or something, but it is a stretch. What the Bible says, “It’s in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.” The more counselors I can have, the better and the safer I’ll be. This idea that there are some stigma or taboo effects in an accident attached to seeking therapy and counsel is utterly absurd. People do not realize how many of our credenda, creeds and mantras are built on the traditions of men, but not the laws of God.
Jesus had to confront the religious order of its day for doing that exact same thing. The reality is, counseling can be a good thing. I went to a psychiatrist before my present counselor and it did not help at all. When they’re quoting a book at you, it’s like Freud in Oedipus complex, Adlerian power grabs or Frankel’s logotherapy or Jungian dream analysis. I feel like a target. You’re quoting the book at me and he called me little Ben to do a Freudian Oedipus analysis in my situation, which I understand what he was doing. The problem is I’d read up on all this stuff and I’m like, “I could read this at a book.”
That’s why I’m a big fan of the talk cure because this is what the Bible says in Galatians, “Bury each other’s burdens and bear one another burdens.” My counselor currently loves God but what I didn’t need was more Band-Aid Bible verses. I studied the Bible since I was in my mother’s womb. I’m sure my dad was like preaching it. I was attending church in my mother’s womb. That talk cure is important and talking through things. It’s big and healing. I haven’t had to go to counsel or therapy in quite a while, relatively, but I’m not afraid to go back to it when it’s needed.
We all need to hear that more. I want to come back to what you brought up with Jesus’s ways versus religion and the church. I’m curious to hear more from you on that. Before we get there, you mentioned the 10,000-hour rule and your deep dive into your calling, which was to write and to speak, to become a communicator. I want to hear a little bit more about your process as you approach this. You had this goal of 10,000 hours. What was your process in pursuing that over those years?[bctt tweet=”Pain either has the power to break you or make you unbreakable.” username=”upandcomersshow”]
Before Billy Graham was preaching in stadiums, preach to alligators. That’s a true story. He was in Florida at Bob Jones College somewhere around eighteen years old. He didn’t have Crusade side stadiums to speak to so he started out preaching to alligators. Instead of waiting for an opportunity, I decided to focus on my ability. That’s where a lot of people get confused and depressed is, they’re waiting for an opportunity when instead you have a rare opportunity to hone your ability. That’s what you need to focus on. Not one or the door’s going to open up. No, if you do your work, you’ll never ultimately be out of it. If you’re faithful with the few things God puts before you, you’ll be entrusted with rulership over many cities.
I know Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven and the idea of justice and judgment, but the same is true even in this life. What it looked like for me is I’d take my timer and I’d walk and rehearse sermons. I memorize over and over again scriptures. Our most effective video on YouTube is me quoting scripture for almost seven minutes and going on a one-take walk, quoting scripture. That didn’t happen. People are like, “How do you memorize?” Everybody can do that. The Talmidim by 10 to 14 years old, these Jewish students in Jesus’s time would learn the entire Old Testament. How did they do that? It’s like when I was in middle school, all of my junior high friends knew all the lines, the Dumb and Dumber. You ask any twelve-year-old girl and they know all the lyrics.
Think about how many words we’re using to have this conversation. We are capable of profound memorization. We memorize different stuff. A lot of times, it’s who the social media influencers are. I didn’t have social media for you. I was the last one to the game. I got social media after the 10,000-hour rule, didn’t have any of that stuff. What I focused on is honing this craft and this ability. What that looked like is in the morning I would write. I would get up in the morning and start timing my writing. A lot of times, 2 to 3 hours of writing in the morning, I timed that, and then I would read. I’d make sure to read a minimum of 4 to 6 hours reading and writing every day. On top of that, I would give ten sermons a week to actual audiences are on the radio or whatever.
It’s sick that now we have a TV show and all this stuff, but it didn’t start that way. I cannot emphasize this enough for whoever’s reading, whatever your craft is, you say yes to the opportunities that everyone else is turning down. If you’re too big for the small things, you will be too small for the big thing. What I did is I remember speaking at a homeless shelter. To this day, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to speak out. I’m a twenty-something at the time with no experience and these homeless people are reading to me speak and they would criticize me while I was speaking. They would shout something while I was speaking. I can’t tell you how huge that was for me. Another hard thing was high school classes because high schoolers are not going to give you any fluff.
They’re not interested. They’ll put their head down while you’re talking in class because I don’t like teaching classes. I like high energy crowd situations, not like classrooms. I was doing the classroom. I remember I would speak sometimes at old folk’s place where I talk fast and you can imagine how hard that is for them to keep up with what I’m trying to do. I would go when the opportunity arose to go to another country and speak with a translator. That hones another part of your craft. Every time you say a sentence, you have to pause for a second and that changes your brain flow. You’re working different muscles in your craft. All of that was big.
You would be shocked by how much opportunity is at your fingertips. Whoever is reading, if you open your eyes, if you have eyes to see it and that’s what the process looked for me is I was accepting everything that everyone else didn’t want to do, that they turned down. Like little kids classes, I’ll do it. I want to hone every part of my craft. That was big. Not only for honing the craft, but there’s something beautiful about having control over something in your life. My craft was the one thing I could control. I couldn’t control a lot of other things, but you can control how hard you practice and that gave me a lot of joy.
To speak to the seven-minute video, I ended up watching that in some research. I was blown away by seven-plus minutes on a walk nonstop. That was the feat for anyone, even though it has come with a lot of work. I love how you highlighted that it doesn’t happen by chance and overnight, and then it takes a ton of dedication and hard work. I love saying yes to the opportunities as they come massively important. One of the things I want to hear a little bit more about before we leave this, because what’s coming out Flirting with Darkness, your newest book. I got to read through it and was encouraged by and I think it will encourage and speak to a lot of people, especially on this topic of depression. When you look at our current society and what we’re facing in our world, what do you see as external influences that are fueling this mental health epidemic?
Social media. That’s not my opinion. That’s what the research is telling us. It comes down to social media as being one of the chief factors. I could implement other things like we become as luxurious as a culture. I was skateboarding with some friends near Santa Barbara and we skated it into a homeless camp and they were watching Netflix in their tents. I’m like, “Only in America do homeless people have Netflix subscriptions.”
Even if you’re suffering downward mobility in this free enterprise economic system, what’s happening is we live in such a luxuriant, affluent, opulent culture that we don’t have to fight to survive like previous generations. We don’t have a Vietnam, World War II, World War I and breadlines. I know our GDP fell by 32.9% economically, but those aren’t breadlines. We’re not there yet. Some of that luxurious quality has caused us to move out when we’re 45 playing World of Warcraft at our mom’s basement, eating Sour Patch Kid’s and Doritos.
Tying this into the 10,000-hour rule by the age of 21, the average American has 10,000 hours of practice into video games. We don’t know what to fight for because we’ve already seemingly won as a culture. The biggest thing is social media. It’s not that we compare ourselves with other people and it’s not that we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reels. I can’t emphasize how important this is. It’s when we do it. It’s not that we compare, it’s that we compare at unfair intervals.
When am I watching somebody’s Instagram story? It’s when I’m stuck at a red light when I’m bored. When I feel a little lull due to homework and I’m watching your party and you’re doing the same to me. It’s when we’re watching the Instagram story. It’s changing our brain. We have an attention span that’s less than that of a goldfish. We plot our phone once every six minutes, 150 times per day. That’s why I can’t emphasize enough how important it is sometimes for your mental health, not to turn your phone on until later.
If you need to use your phone for other stuff, put it on airplane mode or do not disturb, or hopefully, you have an iPad or something where you don’t have to be seeing all these messages or social media alerts. What research has shown us scientifically is that when you hear the buzz of your phone, it has the same effect on your brain as gambling and here’s why. A dopamine loop is triggered in your brain. When you’re gambling, if you go to a casino and when you pull the machine levers, when you put a coin in, you don’t know if you’re going to win or if you’re going to lose. It’s the thrill, it’s the rush.
Like, “Is this a win? Is this a loss?” It’s addicting. The same thing happens when you hear the buzz of your phone. It’s the gambling mechanism because you don’t know if it’s a good text or a bad text, the nice comment or mean comment, a thumbs up or thumbs down on your video. It’s addictive and because of this, it’s causing our generation to become walking zombies. It’s zapping us of our joy because we compare. It’s zapping our focus and our concentration to bigger goals. It’s making us suck. We’re becoming softer so we don’t know how to handle life’s trials and tribulations when they come our way. Social media for me is a tool. It’s not something that I want to control. Social media has inaugurated a new advent that has never before been seen in human history and that is for the first time in the history of humanity, we gather as a mass crowd of people with no purpose.
It used to be when you would gather in a marketplace you would go to hear a speech, or you would go to see a play. This is the first time in human history where a mass group of people gathered together in a forum and we’re like, “We don’t have any purpose. We don’t have an objective.” We’re like, “What’s everybody else doing?” It’s aimless and it gives us a lack of a sense of direction or purpose in our lives. That is why sociologists tell us that social media is harming our mental health. I want to use it as a tool. It’s wonderful as a platform if you have a message, but it’s not something that you want to dictate your life.
One of the things that I’ve been framing for 1 to 2 years for myself is this idea of being a producer versus a consumer. Meaning like using it as a tool, you want to be a producer and use the platform for good, but I don’t want to be a consumer. I don’t want to spend my time consuming a bunch of things on social media that’s going to be detrimental to my life versus fueling my life. That’s a discipline because like you, me, or anyone else, we can all become addicted to this easily. They’re good at making it addictive. We have to have the discipline in place for that. We don’t want walking zombies and how do we do that? Its intentionality around social media is a massive factor like you said.
The knuckle-dragging nature of music, social media kids. I’m a Millennial and I’m saying that intentionality is key if you want more joy if you want to augment your hope levels.[bctt tweet=”You are better off on your worst day with God than on your best day without God.” username=”upandcomersshow”]
Speaking of hope, when I ask people about your superpowers, it’s not surprising that the two they bring up is confidence and hope. We heard the confidence side and that’s something that doesn’t happen by chance. There’s this drive that you’ve had, there’s this dedication and there are tons of hours put in that produces this inner confidence. It’s not ill-founded. Go watch that video and or hear you speak and everyone can tell that there are a refined skill and strength there. This hope side of it is a little bit more nuanced.
To highlight that when people hear you, it’s easy for others to assume, “This guy’s the teary joyful guy, the pump-up guy, the hype guy.” It seems like there’s fluff there, but behind the curtain behind the scenes, there has been immense pain and suffering that has formed that joy and that hope to where it’s not this voidless hope. It’s this deep hope. What role has suffering played in your life in producing this voice and drive of hope?
I got diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which isn’t normal PTSD. That’s the complex variety means you have multiple tragedies that hit your life in succession quickly that you didn’t process them. It starts building up and you’re lost. My sister died in a car accident. My brother died of cancer. My dad’s first wife died. I went through a romantic heartbreak after an eight-year relationship. I went through ten years of chronic depression and suicide ideation. I have a guy following me around in my speaking engagements and he will pick at me. He’s done it to my dad since I was a kid too and trying to destroy my family’s ministry.
My good friend, Jared killed himself. He’s a pastor in Riverside. I’m going to say something from a novel that I read that is going to sum it up, “Pain either has the power to break you or it is the power that makes you unbreakable. What it is, depends on who you are.” I know that’s a simple quote and I haven’t emphasized that on the media or anything yet. I know I’m long-winded in many subjects, but these few words are bought with the precious price. That’s the reality.
That’s why the SEAL training is important to me because you can either be a victim or you can callous over your victim mentality and you get hard as steel. Your soul is iron and that’s your option. It’s like either you’re going to be a victim or you’re going to become iron. That’s what I’ve chosen to be. Anybody can be cynical, skeptical, depressed and grumpy. It’s hard to continue to be a joyful leader, a heroic, stoic, a happy warrior. I want to be a happy warrior. That’s my calling in life.
It’s true and hard to earn. You have to fight to earn that. You’ve been through immense suffering and life is still the suffering for all of us at different times. When you look ahead like a future suffering hasn’t happened, how do you approach that now based on where you’ve been and what God’s brought you through? How do you walk through suffering well?
It’s always remembering that on my worst day with God, I’m better off than on my best day without God. I have weapons. I have a whole arsenal and I write about this in Flirting With Darkness. It is the whole middle section of the book. I call it 11 Weapons to Defeat the Dark Lord and Depression and I lay those out. One is endorphins. Another is prayer walks. One I call scripture scholar scuba gear and that’s delving deep into the scriptures. Another is own your oddness to know that having the courage to be who God made you be.
One is rewriting your story, realizing that God is the author of our faith and all of our days are written as Psalm 1:39. There are a lot of these weapons that I’ve laid out for myself and I use whatever weapon is necessary for this specific battle. I want to do reconnaissance to know my enemy. I don’t want to be ignorant of the devil’s devices. What is the dark Lord of depression? What weapon is he using on me so I can know what weapon to pick up to counteract that? That’s where I lay out those eleven weapons so I’m armed to the teeth prepared and ready to fight.
I recommend people taking that up and reading that. It’s going to be helpful. That’s the bottom line. A substantial new position, which is becoming a senior pastor. This is something that I’ve heard you’ve talked about in your sermons. What you’ve shared is something that you never planned on and something you initially didn’t want. As God has arranged, aligned, directed, you have taken the role and here you are leading a church alongside being the leader and director of Hope Generation, traveling, speaking, writing and doing a lot. How do you approach this new season, this addition to an already full plate and what do you think God’s doing through you in that role?
As you get more successful in life, get more responsibility and you are overseeing more people, I never thought about this. You might tend to be micro managerial in your leadership style because you’re OCD. A lot of OCD people are successful. You’re obsessive about stuff. The more responsibility you get, the more you have to let go of your OCD side, or you will drive yourself and everyone else crazy. I love the Navy SEAL perfectionist side for myself where I have erred even in this transition of learning slowly, but surely is sometimes I’m too hard on my team and I project that onto other people.
What I have to remember is instead of getting mad at them, I need to walk through it patiently with them and help them move forward. The biggest thing for me is the delegation of teams. I cannot do everything on my own. If I’m going to be a healthy, strong, good leader, I cannot try to take on all this responsibility. I need to have trusted people in the right places and strategically delegate authority to different team members. For PR for my book, I trust the PR team. We’ve armed them with everything they need.
With the book cover, I know that they hired and I trusted them to do a good job with the book cover and then I would greenlight it if I liked it and I did. With Harvest House, the publishing company, that’s another team I work with. I talked to its vice president on a regular basis to make sure that all the books stuff’s going where it should. Then Applegate, we have different departments at Applegate. I work closely with my sister Christy. I run a lot of things through her and we do a JFK Bobby Kennedy thing where we as siblings run the church together in a lot of ways. We have this amazing administrator named Joe Strobel who makes the grounds look beautiful. There’s a staff of 40 people at Applegate. I can’t micromanage all of them. We have teams.
It then goes to Hope Generation. We have a TV producer, TV director, TV editor. This is the team I work with the closest, our Hope Gen administrator. I don’t always interact with everybody on every team. What I do is the opposite. I have one person from each team that will hone in on and focus on. We have our radio team and now I’m doing a show with TBN. I have my TBN team people that I work with, a YouTube team, and social media. All of this stuff is important and I’m learning this thing. I’m talking as I’m learning is that you can’t be micromanaging because, on top of all that, I’m still doing my hours. I’m still studying. I stopped to get a certain amount of time studying every day. I’d stop writing books. I travel. I live on the road. It’s important to let go of the micromanaging OCD on other people. Hold yourself to these high standards, but don’t be afraid to trust and delegate to team members who have proven themselves.
I love that piece of advice and that’s hard to do. In that process of learning how to do that well, what resources, whether books or people have you looked to gain maybe some of the toolkits or the know-how to help yourself in that process?
The Navy SEALs. They hold the secrets of wisdom. That’s where Paul used all these metaphorical warfare analogies, where he would say, “Endure hardship as a good soldier.” He says, “Those who are enlisted into the Army, they do not get entangled and this life to please their commanding officer.” Paul said Exodus 15:3, “Our God is a man of war.” Paul said, “The weapons of our warfare are mighty in God to the pulling down of strongholds and never softening culture to be a leader.” You have to have a catalyst mind. You have to have an iron soul. That disciplined leadership in a generation that lacks discipline is influential.
Have you ever heard of Kokoro?[bctt tweet=”Don’t be afraid to trust and delegate to team members who have proven themselves. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]
No, I haven’t.
Speaking of bucket list items, this has been on my loose sleeve for years. I’m terrified of it. It’s Navy SEAL’s hell week for civilians. It’s a weekend. You need to pay about $1,600 to do it. You’re almost killing yourself for $1,600.
After North Korea, it wouldn’t get me fired.
I want to hear a few of your thoughts on the Church of Today and this is something that one of the background references thought would be fun to hear your perspective on. As we touched on briefly, often we assume that modern religion or modern Christianity is equivalent to the ways of Jesus. There are a lot of discrepancies that once we begin to understand this more, we start seeing. Being the head pastor or leading a church, what do you see as some of the discrepancies between modern Christianity and the ways of Jesus?
I think the biggest thing is putting on people and projecting on others a legalism that is birthed from the traditions of men. One of them is the phrase Christianity itself. The word Christian is used three times in the New Testament and they’re all in a negative context. Christians were initially labeled. They were called The Way or The Sect of the Nazarenes in the book of Acts. They were called Christians first at Antioch. It’s only three times in the Bible. It was a negative thing. They put a positive spin on it and made it into something beautiful. I’ll say something controversial and everyone can disagree with me. I gave a sermon on this, but I gave a message called Is Surrender Biblical. Let’s take the word surrender. That’s something that’s constantly used in the parlance of the church.
In the Bible, that’s not used as a positive thing it’s on the opposite, it does not surrender. It’s a fight, like keep fighting. This idea of even like, “I’m going to surrender to the Lord because that’s what the songs are always singing and that means it must be something Jesus taught.” I understand. We need to be noble Bereans from the book of Acts who are no better than the Athenians because when Paul preached, they sought the scriptures to see if these things that Paul was saying were untrue.
One of the things that I’m constantly trying to do is not live under the code or the creed that Orthodox Churchianity has painted into the 21st century because it’s in popular songs. These are the like, “Don’t drink, don’t shoot, don’t go with girls who do and that are Christianity.” That’s not what I see Jesus doing. The more we can get back to the radical nature of Jesus and the word radical comes from the Latin word radix, which means a root plant. Radical means returning to your roots. Remember that Jesus was crucified by the state as a rebel and a rebel of love, but a rebel than the less.
The inherent anti-establishment and bread in the nature of the Christ movement at the beginning is something that we’ve lost now where it’s become a lot more homogenized and a lot more palatable. The radical nature of the love of the New Testament, if we implemented that, all of our race problems would be solved. All of our cultural difficulties living with one another would be solved. Our ability to work with difficult people would be augmented and increased. Thinking for yourself and searching the scriptures. It’s not to judge people who use certain rhetoric or syntax or Christianese, not to judge anybody else, but to see how you’re going to live your life. Going more and more back to the original movement of Jesus will lead you to some interesting places.
That’s a good recommendation. How do we return to the original movement of Jesus and the heart of what he was about? That does solve many of these “problems.” These things serve as big obstacles a lot of times for others to even want to pursue the way of Jesus. If it’s something that’s being a hindrance or an obstacle, then there’s a good chance that’s not the way of Jesus, because his way is attractive. It’s the best way.
Easy and light. I always tell people what Jesus said, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” If your walk with God is difficult and hard, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re trying to placate the vengeance of an angry tribal deity, you are doing it wrong. That’s what my dad always taught me in high school and my mom also modeled flawlessly is enjoy your walk with God. If I could say the biggest thing that religion and the message of Jesus where they contradict this day’s Churchianity and Jesus’ early movement is that walking with God isn’t enjoyable?
For Jesus, he promised his disciples three things that they would be constantly joyful, absurdly fearless, and perpetually in trouble. If you read the message of Jesus, it seems like this sums a lot of it up. You’re going to have joy and peace that no one can take from you. You’re going to be fearless. “Fear not,” he said but you’re going to be in perpetual trouble. That prepares you for it, but it’s fun. It’s enjoyable. If we can get back to that message, it will be a lot more adventurous.
Before we end, we got a few one-offs here that I always like to end with. The first is, what can you not imagine living without?
Speaking of books, what book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
It’s Traitor. It is a novel by Matthew Stover. It’s a Star Wars novel. It’s about a Jedi who gets thrown into a torture chamber and learns how to embrace the pain. My quote about pain was from that book.
If you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why?[bctt tweet=”Disciplined leadership in a generation that lacks discipline is influential. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]
Alexander the Great because he understood what it’s like to need to conquer the world.
Which of your current views or beliefs are most likely to be wrong?
This is where the confidence or cockiness comes in. My goal is in my life is I want to be open to being wrong, but at the same time, I hope we’re living true that we don’t feel that way.
What are you most proud of in your work or life thus far?
I would say the behind the scenes thing is the 10,000-hour rule. I would be throwing up and sick like right before I go up to speak because I was working my immune system do exhaustion on these airplanes and stuff. That’s one of those things that you’re by yourself and people don’t see it, but that was what the behind the scenes thing to get that amount of 11,073 hours and five years into one craft. That was the thing I’m most thankful that God helped me accomplish behind the scenes.
What question do you ask yourself the most?
Who are you and what are you doing here? 2,000 years ago, Rabbi Akiva, a renowned scholar took a wrong turn on the road on a foggy night and he ended up at a Roman military outpost and the guard called down to him, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Rabbi said, “Say that again.” The guard said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He said, “How much are they paying you?” He said something like 30 to 90 denarius a week and he said, “I’ll pay you twice that amount of you come to my house every morning and ask me those two questions, “Who are you and What are you doing here?” Who are you? I’m a child of God. What are you doing here? You’re here to give the world hope and that’s what I work toward every day. Knowing that’s who I am and knowing that’s my mission.
To underscore that because it shows that you’re part of the collective, meaning you’re no better than anyone else, but you have an individual calling and gifting means you’re unique different than everyone else. Both of those things are exactly what God wants us to know every single day. The last question that we ask every guest is if you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, what would you say and why?
Every morning I would say, “You will have nightmares. You will have dreams. You conquer your nightmares because of your dreams.”
Ben, thank you for coming on. This has been a blast. I appreciate your insights, your words, and your message. Where can people find out more from you and your book and all the things that are happening?
You can order Flirting With Darkness, type it into Amazon. Scroll down, you’ll see it there. All my stuff is at www.BenCourson.com. You can type in Hope Generation to anything like any social media, Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube. We have over 500 videos on YouTube. That’s another place.
Until next time, Ben. Thanks for coming on and for being such a dealer of hope in the world.
I love you, Thane. You’re a boss, you’re a legend. You’re living it. You’re the real deal. Let’s keep giving hope to the world.
For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to ThaneMarcus.com/inthane to sign up and you will be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
- Apple Podcast
- Ben Courson
- Treasure Island
- @UpAndComersShow – Instagram
- Catalysts For Hope
- Can’t Hurt Me
- Chad Williams
- The Pilgrim’s Progress
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Outliers: Chapter 2
- Flirting with Darkness
- Harvest House
- Instagram – Ben Courson
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- YouTube – Ben Courson
- Flirting With Darkness – Amazon
About Ben Courson
Ben Courson is a bestselling author, a TV and radio personality, an international speaker, founder of Hope Generation, and the senior pastor at Applegate Christian Fellowship. He has been featured on Fox, Hallmark Channel, TBN, ABC Family, and other mainstream media outlets. His TV show is broadcast in 180 countries, and his national radio show airs on over 400 stations. He travels the globe speaking of God’s hope and igniting revival in the hearts of his listeners.
Stemming from his own bout with suicide and depression, Ben created Hope generation, aiming to help those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts to those who’ve lost hope and meaning amid their success. The ministry is shouting about the God of Hope from the mountaintops to help people rise out of despair.
Ben’s high energy, humor, and deep Biblical understanding has impacted people from all walks of life. He sincerely shares his own struggles, heartbreak, being diagnosed with complex PTSD, and the devastating losses of his brother and sister. As a social media influencer, millions of YouTube subscribers have tuned in to watch and listen to Hope Generation. Ben is infiltrating old and new media alike and spreading God’s message of hope like fire.
Hope Generation is a play on words that suggests both a personal and collective appeal: Generating hope in God and building a generation of hope. That is the mission of Hope Generation.
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Send us an email – firstname.lastname@example.org