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Dan Oblinger is a husband and father of three adopted children. He is a former seminarian for the Diocese of Wichita and attends Blessed Sacrament in Wichita. His background is in law enforcement. He is the sole proprietor of Centurions Unlimited, a corporate training and public education company that specializes in Drug Abuse Awareness and Recognition. He does not own a television. He took the time to sit down with Tony and Chris and address some common concerns regarding drug and alcohol abuse and evangelization:
Q. How did you get involved in this ministry- education and drugs?
A. It began with my work as a police officer. Sometimes it is easier to ignore the portions of our society that are different or dangerous. As a cop I didn't have that luxury. Quite the opposite, I think I thoroughly enjoy the variety of cultures that I get to travel through during my work week. Early in my career, I began to become very skilled as a DUI enforcement officer, and then further specialized in drugged driving. It wasn't long before I had a lot of face-to-face conversations with all sorts of folks with all sorts of chemical problems.
Q. Why do you like drugs so much?
A. As a child drugs really scared me. The idea of people using drugs was frightening. As I learned more and more about drugs, and began to meet and work closely with those who are addicted to drugs, the fear of drugs was replaced by a fascination with the implications that serious drug abuse has for salvation. It was only natural for me to view drug abuse through the lens of my own experience as a seminarian and a background in good Catholic thought. Drugs and their abuse offer some insight into the state of our culture, and to the power that sin can have in the lives of those who do not choose wisely. As I tell the audiences I meet, sobriety is not sufficient, but it is necessary. It is the foundation for salvation.
Q. What sources from Catholic Doctrine do you look to in your courses or speeches?
A. Many stories in the bible are instructive. I particularly like the story of Noah in Gen. 9:21. where he gets drunk, and lays naked, and Ham pays the price. It is an instructive tale about the destructive power of drug abuse. I think also, the sheer volume of reference to the curse of drunkenness in most of the prophetic books and Psalms, and the role that intemperance plays in the story of David and Uriah, in Lot and the sin of his daughters, and a whole host of Biblical stories is a great education. Most importantly for me, is the clarity of the Catechism. Paragraphs 1733 and 1740 deal with "freedom". To me, that is the whole root of any understanding of drug abuse and addiction. Freedom means choosing good over evil. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. We should repeat that every morning when we get up about 20 times til it sinks in! That is really the essence of being a Christian in the World. More starkly, the Catechism in 2291 refers to the abuse of drugs as a grave concern, and limits the proper use of drugs to "therapeutic" reasons.
Q. People that go to your trainings or speeches come away with the sense that you are really interested in culture. Why?
A. Culture is so formative for human beings, and it is always changing. A Culture can be incredibly destructive or beautiful. Culture is the key to unlocking drug abuse and a whole host of problems. Our efforts to curtail drug abuse have really been about making it a legal issue and trying to control the drugs. But this is a people problem, just like every other problem in society. So we have people with medical, psychological, and certainly spiritual problems, and we believe somehow we can arrest our way out of it. And then the REALLY smart guy says yeah, that's crazy, and then advocates legalization of powerfully addictive and dangerous substances. I think the answer is focusing all those energies on building up a culture of beauty, great art, and solid science, where families are strong, healthy, and defended. Then see what the rate of drug abuse is. In effect, wed be fighting culture with culture, which the Church has a long history of doing. Culture is how we learn nearly everthing important, including both how to be a faithful Catholic, and how to a drug user. This speaks to the danger of legalism, particularly in regards to the debate about prohibition vs. legalization. The answer is that we as a society, not the government, need to start asking "What is Best?", not what is legal, or what can I get away with.
Q. What kind of drugs are out there? Marijuana right, and meth, but what else?
A. Answering that question means understanding what a "drug" is. People define it either too broadly or too narrowly. And I have to to think that our listeners out there are mostly concerned parents, grandparents, educators, family members, pastors, and they are approaching the question of what a drug is from the perspective of "how do I protect my loved one's form a life of abuse?" In that regard, my definition of drug is any substance that when introduced in to the human body can prevent them from reflecting God's image and likeness. This is the one I use because it encompasses all those substances that I've seen people abuse, and it gets to the heart of the matter with this kind of abuse: that it makes us turn away form God. It essentially makes us function at a level less than human. So, to take the long way home, the drugs I see most in our community are the old stand-bys: Alcohol and Tobacco, Marijuana, Meth and Cocaine, and then a whole host of prescribed medications. The most common here are oxycodone, hydrocodone and xanax/valium.
Q. Are there some drugs out there that someone listening in today might discount, or just not know about?
A. My top three that parents might not know about are (1) dextromethorphan, (2) inhalants or huffing (3) salvia divinorum. Dextromethorphan is commonly called "DM", "DXM", or "robo-tripping" and "skittles". It is heavily abused by kids. It is really just cough syrup, but taken in large quantities it is a powerful drug of abuse.
Q. What should parents know? Or do?
A. I always like to quote Mother Teresa, because you can't go wrong. “I have often seen, especially in the rich countries, how children turn to drugs or other things to escape feeling unloved and rejected…”
But when families are strong and united, children can see God's special love in the love of their father and mother and can grow to make their country a loving and prayerful place.” I think there's still a tendency to think, "Not my kid!" The problem is that too many kids are SOMEONE'S kids that do end up having problems with drugs and alcohol. You can call this the Ostrich Effect. Ignoring drugs, assuming everything you knew in the 70's is everything you need to know in the 21st Century, or just trusting that everything's gonna be OK is reckless in my opinion. We have to know more about these evils than our kids if we are going to be Moral Guides, and this is hard because with the internet they know so much. That being said, the people that host or come to my meetings are generally very eager to learn, and come with the attitude that they will get this information out to their loved one's, co-workers, neighbors, whomever needs it. Parent's should have an ongoing dialogue with their kids, and should be good listeners, not just good lecturers. Your kids will tell you if they are in trouble, but only if you haven't scared them silent.
Q. It is clear for Catholics that drugs aren't intrinsically evil. What differentiates between their use and abuse?
A. Excellent point, but worth repeating: DRUGS ARE NOT EVIL! Otherwise, we would have had to shut down all the monastic brewmeisters along time ago, and Lent would not have made beer so popular. Drugs are really a tool for humans. Their moral quality is intimately tied to how human beings use them. ALmost every drug in existence was originally formulated for a good medical end. Even cocaine. There are some things I look for when asked to say someone's use constitutes abuse. Dosage, Frequency of Use, Poly-drug (Mixing drugs), and Method of Ingestion. Fancy terms that are really designed to smoke out our intent when we use: this really determines the moral quality. Using to get thigh is always abusive.
Q. What is Centurions Unlimited and what's in the name?
A. I started CU to share what I had learned about drugs, and a whole set of other cultural problems with teachers, pastors, parents, and employers. People with a stake in how our society fares. My slogan is "Mind of a cop, heart of a teacher." I approach it like a ministry. More like being a prophet than a King, to be sure! The name I took because Centurions are iconic for being defenders of ancient culture, and we desperately need defenders of good modern culture too. I don't think the government can fill that role, I think it has to be grassroots from the real leaders of our society, and at the most basic building blocks: families, parishes, neighborhoods. My theory is that if I can touch a few peoples' lives and get them to aggressively approach this business of culture change and rejecting the false promise of drug abuse, and in turn they teach a few loved ones who teach a few loved ones, then thats the Unlimited in Centurions Unlimited. Its Sisyphusian I'll grant you, but I had some free time, and why not. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE.
Q. Why employers?
A. Because drug abuse can cost employers substantially, both in lost productivity and in liability from impaired workers injuring or being injured on the job. I offer trainings that are customized for each workforce and business, and at a very reasonable rate. And secretly, they are underwriting the even lower cost to schools and churches! The great thing about employers mandating employee/supervisor training is that the message reaches those who normally would never come to an after-school/church parents' meeting. I take the captive audience but present the material in a way that proposes the truth, not imposes policies.
Q. How can churches, schools, or businesses contact you?
I was 16 years old when I had my conversion and made the decision to fully follow Christ and embrace the Catholic Faith to its fullest yet I was 28 years old when I felt like I finally figured out how to begin to grow in virtue and actually live a Christian life. The secret to this: PRAYER! My entire life growing up and even studying Theology as an undergrad at Franciscan University I heard about prayer, and heck I actually thought I was doing it. To a certain extent I was, but I was not fully engaging myself in prayer. The problem was that I never really understood how to pray.