Category Archives: Good Books

Escape to Timbuktu

Cover of "To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the...

Cover of To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger

I’m a sucker for adventure travel writing. I love all kinds of books. I’ll dabble in a little theology, philosophy, politics, history, and of course a healthy dose of psychological literature. But, when I am full up hearing about the problem of child sexual abuse by Christian leaders, I’ll escape in adventure travel. Right now I am working on To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger by Mark Jenkins. He tells the story of his trip to the source of the Niger in Guinea and then as they kayak down the Niger towards Timbuktu. Interspersed in each chapter are tidbits from early explorers who attempted to locate the source of the Niger. I haven’t a clue how it turns out since I am just to the part where they finally start kayaking.

While there are a few course words in the book, I find Mark’s writing style such that I am right there with him.

Places with no roads and no wires are bigger than other places. Distance hasn’t been distorted. People claim that world is getting smaller, as if ti were some green and blue balloon leaking air. Africans don’t buy this. To most Africans the world is enormous. Why? Because they walk. They have no choice; they are poor. If you must use your own legs–your own blood, bone, and sinew–to travel from one place to another, a mile is a mile…

Places with no roads and no wires are also more mortal than other places. They are so because you cannot escape. Can’t fly away or drive away or phone for help. If you want to leave, you must walk. If you cannot walk, you must have the help of those around you–if they will help you. Thus, kindnesses are not overlooked, mistakes not forgotten, cowardice not forgiven. In such a place, or on an expedition into such a place, what goes around comes around. (p. 56-7)

Or, describing some expats,

Like all expats in Africa, the Olafsons don’t quite live in Africa. They live inside a walled compound with guards and guard dogs and gardeners, servants and chauffeurs, flush toilets and air conditioning. …. Most expats, when they go back to their own country…find it too tame and talk ceaselessly of the drama and wildness of their life in Africa. But then back in Africa they take every precaution to make their lives just as they would be if they lived at home–except for the servants and the cases of expensive liquor …

He goes on to claim that many journalists do the same. I wonder about travel writers too. But then, I don’t care much because it is a good story.

Why do I like these kinds of books? I am amazed at the risks people are willing to take, their perseverance in the face of hardship (when I would have quit a long time ago) and the descriptions of places I might like to see but for the severe difficulty getting there. In this book, I get a front row view of a tiny village and how it operates (at least when white people are in the mix).

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Filed under Africa, book reviews, Good Books

Male Child Sexual Abuse: A Survivor Speaks Out

Most books and stories about child sexual abuse are about female victims. Given the lack of material highlighting the problem of male child sexual abuse, many victims can feel doubly isolated since it seems that no other males experienced abuse. Those looking for a story about male child abuse and rescue might find R.A. Dickey‘s new memoir a good starting point: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball (Blue Rider Press, 2012).

R.A. Dickey is on the pitching staff of the NY Mets and in this book details abuse he suffered at age 8 at the hands of a teenage female babysitter and by another neighbor, a 17 year old male. The story is about his struggles growing up, his conversion to Christianity, and his struggles to reach the big leagues after being a very promising first round draft pick. What I like about this book is that it is not a happily ever after story. Yes, many wonderful and good things happen…but so do difficult things. Losing an 800,000 dollar first contract due to an anomaly in his pitching arm, repeated attempts to make it in the big leagues, a miscarriage, the loss of his fastball. Furthermore, he tells the story in such a way that does not promote himself. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and is more than willing to admit his insecurities.

Very little is about the actual abuse. He tells a bit about the abuse and how he felt, the smells, the experience (written in the present tense), etc. He also tells about his encounter with the teen girl some years later and the experience he had trying to confront her. If you know someone who would like a realistic read on the struggles of growing up with abuse and other family heartaches and finding one’s way, this might be a good toe in the water  kind of book.


Filed under Abuse, Good Books, Uncategorized

Baseball in December? Here’s a good read!

If you love baseball you may like Dan Barry’s recent book on the longest game ever played in professional baseball. 33 innings (in April in Rhode Island!) of Triple A baseball between the PawSox and Rochester (NY) Red Wings in 1981. Players such as Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs played in the game but the book goes beyond the play-by-play to cover the back story of many of the lesser known players, the umpire, the PawSox owner, and even the Red Wings’ radio announcers. Even if you don’t like baseball, I suspect you can find lots of human interest in the book to stay interested. Warning, the only negative is the author has to include the F word quite a few times.

While we think about the millions made in professional sports, the vast majority of players never make it to the “bigs” or only do for a few games. This book shares some of the experiences and struggles of those minor leaguers chasing dreams that never materialize–for the love of the game.

I imagine that this read was far better than actually attending the game.  Oh, and by the way, the game concluded in June (it had been suspended in the 32nd inning) with 6000 plus people in attendance. So, lots can say they attended the longest game even though almost all failed to attend the most grueling part.


Filed under Good Books

Calculated high risk takers: A different breed?

Some people are willing to take far more risk with their lives than most other human beings. Now, I’m not talking about the impulsive types who take uncalculated risks. I’m speaking here of those who make very considered risk. Take mountain climbers as an example. What drives a man or a woman to climb peaks such as Everest or K2 or Annapurna? Climbing mountains over 8,000 meters is a high risk endeavor. It is considered the riskiest form of sport. More people die trying in this sport than per capita in any other sport. Why are some willing to risk climbing. We cannot attribute this to impulsivity. The planning, effort and costs associated with climbing eliminate whimsical reasons. Further, opportunities to turn back in the face of increasing hardship (cold, lack of air, isolation, etc.) also eliminate those who would be adventurous but would rather not suffer much in the process.

So, if not impulsivity and if not passivity about life…then what is it that drives calculating risk takers?

I’m reading Ed Viesturs’ The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna–The World’s Deadliest Peak.  Ed Product Detailsexplores a number of climbers who are willing to spare no expense and effort to get to the top of Annapurna as well as all 14 of the 8K plus peaks. (He’s nuts enough to do all 14 without supplemental oxygen!). You get the sense that he is (a) driven, (b) willing to turn around again and again if he thinks he cannot climb safely, (c) yet willing to take far more risks than the rest of the population by being in/near danger and by pushing his body right up to the edge of the breaking point, and (d) supremely confident in his capacity to know where that breaking point is and how to stay on the right side of it.

I think he might agree with me that many of his colleagues who didn’t make it back down the mountain (more die on the way down rather than the way up) is a large dose of luck along with his will to turn back when he meets a risk too large.

As I look at this list I see that I am not that driven. I don’t get that much rush out of doing the impossible or pushing my body beyond the breaking point. I don’t like that much pain. I don’t have that much focus or drive to do just one thing either. In addition, I not that confident in my skills of making decisions on a knife’s edge nor confident in the skills of others to help me along the way (most mountain climbers put immense trust in their partners).

How about you? Do you know any calculated risk takers? Are you one? What is the difference between those who watch and those who do? How do you calculate risk?

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Filed under book reviews, Good Books, Psychology

Good Read! New book out for lay counseling training

I am frequently asked about the best materials out there for churches interested in building a lay counseling ministry. There are materials out there that help to teach people to be good listeners. There are materials out there that give lay counselors an education on the nature of problems and how God is in the business of changing hearts and minds. These same materials help readers realize that lay counseling can be a credible and highly important ministry in the church. While professionals are needed for difficult cases, many counseling needs can be handled “in-house” if the church supports and supervises wise lay counselors.

Well, a new book is out and though I have not read it all, I have gotten a flavor of it, enough to recommend it to you all if you are looking for such a book. It is written by Robert Kellemen, author of a number of counseling texts and frequent blogger. Don’t miss his answer to a question of mine at the bottom.

Why is this an important book?

Here’s why:

  • Most prior books on this topic present lay counseling either as an anemic listening only task or speak only in theological terms and fail to actually train lay counselors to listen well. This book considers both the biblical basis for lay counseling AND is concerned about listening skills as well.
  • Most prior books forget to bring the WHOLE church along in the vision of biblical counseling. Bob has the readers consider the church culture and health. If the church (leaders) aren’t buying in to this, there won’t be a counseling ministry.
  • Bob focuses on the character of the counselor. This is HUGE. What’s worse than a poorly trained counselor? One who is well-trained but arrogant and un-reflective.
  • Bob covers practical matters of a counseling ministry including the ethics of lay counseling. This is extremely important if a church doesn’t want to make mistakes that could lead to lawsuits.

Click here for more on the book including a table of contents, video trailer, and sample chapter.

So, I asked Bob this question:

Most churches seem divided between those who support lay biblical counseling and those who think counselors should be specialists outside the church. How does your book speak to both?

Bob’s answer is extended but helpful:

That’s an excellent question. Anyone who knows the focus of my ministry knows that I tend not to be an either/or person, but rather a both/and person. I believe God calls both biblical counselors in the church and those who counsel outside the church.

Equipping Counselors for Your Church, by the very nature of the title, is much more focused on local church-based equipping. However, in chapter one I address More Than Counseling: A Vision for the Entire Church. Here I outline seven different “styles” of meeting counseling needs in the Christian community–including the “specialist model.”

A main reason I choose to focus on equipping counselors for the church is that very few others are doing so. While we have scores and scores of books about training professional Christian counselors, the last book written on equipping counselors for the church was Tan’s 1991 book–based upon his 1980s dissertation which in turn was based upon research from the 1970s. We’ve gone an entire generation without a book on equipping counselors for the church! Frankly, that’s inexcusable given the Bible’s clear mandate that we equip God’s people to speak the truth in love so that we all grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Further, we have 100s of counselor education programs in Christian colleges, graduate schools, and seminaries, but in my research, few of those programs have required courses in equipping counselors. In the one course I took on the topic in my seminary MA, we were told that it was not possible to equip counselors for the local church! I couldn’t disagree more. I always tell pastors, counselors, and students that if you are going to obtain a Master’s Degree that means you have so mastered the topic that you not only are able to do the work of counseling, you should be able to equip others also.

So, we could debate the issue forever (biblical counselors in the church or specialists outside the church), but the fact is, there’s a dearth of biblical, best-practice material available for those who are committed to equipping one-another ministers for the church. Equipping Counselors for Your Church brings together two-dozen best-practice churches who are doing it successfully now, plus my experience launching and leading biblical counseling ministries in three very different churches. It provides a biblical, logical, theological, relational, field-tested, practical step-by-step “4E” process: envisioning, enlisting, equipping, and empowering.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, counseling skills, Doctrine/Theology, Good Books

Great literature on the effect of unconfessed guilt and refused forgiveness

The Scarlet Letter (1860) by T. H. Matteson. O...

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Listening to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. You can read for free here (if you have a Kindle you can download).  Hawthorne does a fantastic job illustrating the anguish of unconfessed sin. Despite the book being about Hester Prynne and her reception of the scarlet letter, Rev. Dimmesdale takes center stage with his struggle with his own sin shame and his unwillingness to speak the truth.

For those of you who read this back in the dark ages of high school, you will remember it takes place in Puritan Boston and Hester is a known adulterer given her lack of a husband and her infant daughter just born. She is branded with the scarlet letter but refuses to reveal her paramour.

Rev. Dimmesdale is a staunch reformer but in chapter 11 you see what his interior life is like and his torment between his perception of his own sin shame and the way his community views him (as near saint).

It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within their life. Then what was he?—a substance?—or the dimmest of all shadows? He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. “I, whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood—I, who ascend the sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward, taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most High Omniscience—I, in whose daily life you discern the sanctity of Enoch—I, whose footsteps, as you suppose, leave a gleam along my earthly track, whereby the Pilgrims that shall come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest—I, who have laid the hand of baptism upon your children—I, who have breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends, to whom the Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted—I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!”

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit, with a purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken words like the above. More than once he had cleared his throat, and drawn in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when sent forth again, would come burdened with the black secret of his soul. More than once—nay, more than a hundred times—he had actually spoken! Spoken! But how? He had told his hearers that he was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity, and that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words. “The godly youth!” said they among themselves. “The saint on earth! Alas! if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!” The minister well knew—subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was!—the light in which his vague confession would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast—not however, like them, in order to purify the body, and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination—but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness, sometimes with a glimmering lamp, and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify himself. In these lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly and close beside him, within the looking-glass. Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his mother turning her face away as she passed by. Ghost of a mother—thinnest fantasy of a mother—methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman’s own breast.

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their misty lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not solid in their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, square, leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity. But, for all that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit’s joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false—it is impalpable—it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to smile, and wear a face of gaiety, there would have been no such man!

This is a long quote but you can see the psychological and spiritual torture of unconfessed sin and the public/private divide. At one level Dimmesdale is painted as one who can really relate too the common sinner. At another level, he is tortured by his living a false persona.

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Filed under deception, Good Books, Great Quotes

What did you read this summer?

Here in Philadelphia we are preparing for whatever part of Hurricane Irene comes our way. Looks like there will be time spent in the Monroe basement fighting the onslaught of water. Wet vacs at the ready.

In the lull before the storm, this would be a good time to review the good reads of the summer. I’ll tell you what I read if you tell me what you read or listened to via CD/recorded books. Is there a theme? I read things that caught my interest which was all over the place.

  1. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns. Stearns has done a masterful job in collecting first person interviews from those involved. From Congolese, rebel fighters, RPF soldiers, Ethnic Tutsis who have long called the Kivus area home. If you are interested in trying to understand the complex nature of the political and humanitarian crises in this area after the Rwandan genocide, this is a good book to read. A bit depressing but helpful in prep for our October trip to the Congo and Rwanda. I also started a book about Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe but didn’t finish it.
  2. The Anglo Saxon World, by Michael D.C. Drout. I listened to this 7 CD set. Dr. Drout (from the other Wheaton College) was eminently capable in his lectures covering the rise and fall of the Anglo Saxon world in England from 500 t0 1000 AD. I never lost interest! Helped me understand its Germanic roots, influence on English Christianity, the value of Epic poetry like Beowulf (which I have decided to read now), and some of the foundations for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (Drout considers Tolkien one of the foremost Anglo-Saxon experts).
  3. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, by Paul Theroux. Listened to this book as well. Paul writes a travel log of his retracing a prior travel some 33 years earlier where he takes trains across Europe to China and up Russia. Some 25,000 miles of travelling. Quite interesting if you like knowing what life is like in the countries he explores. Seems to be quite focused on the sex trade and some very heartbreaking descriptions of trafficked women in southeast Asia. But the BEST part of his book is this: read his introduction to the book here on p. 1-3. See what he says about travel writers pathology. Funny!
  4. Baseball books. I read two this summer. Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch by Tim Wakefield. I’m a big Sox fan and I have a great deal of respect for Wakefield. He’s no superstar but he is absolutely willing to do whatever his team needs, whether go out and start, do long relief, or sit the bench during the playoffs because they need someone else to be on the roster. As I write this, Wake is trying for his 200th win…and getting hit around. Seems he’s stuck on 199 for a bit. The book was a nice look at his life from his own vantage point. The second book was even more interesting to read. Nobody’s Perfect tells the story and the back story on what should have been a perfect game thrown by Armando Galarraga–except for a blown call on the last out (what SHOULD have been the last out). What makes this interesting is that each chapter is written in the first person telling the inner story of the pitcher and the umpire, James Joyce. Both show their quality character. If you like baseball and understand that a perfect game is so unlikely and that umpires never admit their mistakes, you will like this book.
  5. On recommendation by someone who gets how systems work, I read, The Primes: How any Group can Solve any Problem, by Chris McGoff. Excellent business planning book that didn’t feel like business at all but how to figure out how to do the “one thing” that you just have to do. I’m reading it as I try to figure out how to devise a continuing education and consultation side of my work. If you ever dream about starting a business or solving a work problem, I’d encourage you to read this.
  6. You might be wondering if I read anything in my own domain of counseling. I did. Two books. Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World, by Richard Mollica. He describes how the act of telling one’s trauma story can lead to healing. If you are working with international trauma, a must read. I also read Working with Narrative in Emotion-Focused Therapy, by Angus and Greenberg. I started blogging on the chapters but went on vacation and finished it when I didn’t have access to the Internet. I hope to get back to blogging the chapters.

I think that is it. I know I skimmed and glanced at a whole bunch more. I tend to do the 5 minute read on lots of books that might be interesting but that I know I don’t have time to read. The 5 minute read gives me the main points and conclusions without having to take so much time.

By the way, the summer isn’t over. I have an edition of Beowulf on my nightstand. Not sure I’ll get through it. Linda Polman’s The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid is waiting right beside it. I’m about to start listening to John Milton’s Paradise Lost on my drives to work and I’m listening to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter at the gym. My new great love is listening to stuff when it would normally be wasted time. My way of not thinking about problems.

So, did you read or re-read something fun this summer? What was it?


Filed under book reviews, Good Books, Uncategorized

Does your voice create or destroy culture?

Am reading a very helpful book by Chris McGoff entitled, The Primes: How any Group can Solve any Problem (2011, Victory Publishers). While this is a business book, it really is a book about envisioning and enacting transformation of systems. If you have ever dreamed about inventing a new system instead of just making tweaks to an existing system, this is THE book for you. It is amazingly simple and can work for you whether you are trying to change an existing business or just dreaming about starting some venture. It has applications to therapy (especially couples or family therapy), non-profit work, or dreaming about trauma recovery in Africa (which is why I am reading it).

Good Quote for July 4th

The book is full of pithy quotes but the one I want to examine here on July 4th is by Ayn Rand:

A culture is made–or destroyed–by its articulate voices

Why is this good for today? Well, we often spend time with family and we think about our country and those who serve it in the military. So, it stands to reason that we might think about how our voice influences (makes/destroys) family, community, and country culture.

Family Shaping

Whose voices shape your immediate or larger family system? Where is your voice? Does it speak to build up or destroy? Listen for a bit to see what an outsider would gather from your family conversations. What are the themes? Are they about politics? Family troubles? Complaints? Future events? Memories of past fun? In the conversations, is the focus on the family or the outside world? Who are the “enemies?” A family culture is shaped by the voices that interpret what is going on. Voices that only talk about the good and never the bad are just as shaping/destroying as those that only talk about problems.

Community Shaping

Watch, for 5 minutes, CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC. Listen to individual voices such as Beck, Hannity, Stewart, or the like. How do these voices shape our consciousness? Bring it in a bit closer? Listen to the voices in your church community. How do they shape your sense of identity, the problems, etc. I was part of small group some time ago that all were concerned about racial diversity in the world and the local church. It was easy to point out the failings of leaders who either “didn’t get it” or were obviously racially ignorant. We realized that if we didn’t change our conversation, we would become embittered. We weren’t just naming the problems (though we were doing that), we were shaping our attitudes and willingness to do something constructive about it.

To come in even closer, I think about how we faculty shape Biblical Seminary. We believe (don’t laugh!) we have the brains to make the best decisions for the school. We know how to talk about very complex theological and practical matters. We want to be the shapers. But, faculty can be known also to talk something to death, to point out why every strategy will fail, but to fail to offer up our own strategy.

So, take a moment and consider what you are constructing or destroying with your “voice.” What drums do you beat? What complaints do you make over and over? What ideas do you strike down? Can you balance describing (not judging) what is with what you want it to be? Let us take a moment to remember those who sacrifice for this country and to evaluate how we influence our own circles.

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Psychological mystery recommendation: White Lies

Just finished Anna Salter’s novel, White Lies. The book was published 10 years ago, so you may have already come across this great read. If not, Dr. Salter is a forensic psychologist with expertise in the area of sex offending. I highly recommend the book if you want to see how a psychologist goes about gathering data on a perpetrator so as to recommend treatment or predict future re-offending.

What I found most interesting was her use of sentence analysis (written and spoken) to highlight how we tend to deceive self and others. Lying comes in what we say and don’t say. At one point, the offender (a doctor) states that he started his residency at such-and-such a place but never mentions where he finishes it. She evaluates the sentence and tells the reader that the offender has told more of the truth than he planned. No one would say they started it somewhere unless they didn’t finish it there. Instead, you would say, “I did my residence at…”

Her work reminds me of some training I got from Eric Ostrov as an intern at a juvenile jail facility. Dr. Ostrov told us that people generally want to confess their sins–or at least a more acceptable version of them. They make themselves passive in an event, they confess a sin they wished they committed (e.g., crossing sexual lines with a client who seduced them) rather than the sin they did commit (inviting and manipulating a client into a sexual situation).

Long ago I had aspirations of becoming a forensic psychologist. In fact, I did some training and practice in my pre and post doc and had a job offer lined up. I ended up choosing to come to Biblical Seminary. While I don’t regret that choice, the work of exploring self and other deception still interests me.

Anybody out there read her other two novels: Fault Lines or Shiny Water?

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Filed under Abuse, counseling and the law, counseling science, Good Books, self-deception

Place and Movement in cultural narratives

Am reading Ira Berlin’s, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (Viking, 2010). I’ve only finished chapter one but am taken with his way of juxtaposing place (rootedness) and movement (migration) as key narratives in the life of African American history. It is a “contrapuntal narrative,” says Berlin. Had to look that word up since I wasn’t familiar with it. It is point and counter point. Or, better, two independent, seemingly opposing melodies played together to form one new melody. In the book he covers migration from Africa to America and three other major migrations in US history. But he also notes how “place” and rootedness follow the migrants. The Barber shop, the church and other familiar places can help root the migrant in a brand new locale.

It got me thinking again about how certain cultural narratives shape our view of self, other; of God and country. Some of these narratives seem in opposition to each other. While I was reading this chapter, I was spending some time in Lancaster County, or the Amish country. All around I could see evidence of cultural narratives of these descendants of German Anabaptists:  hard work; family first; shunning beauty or technology or anything that might make one put trust in self rather than God. I would imagine that place and farming rhythms shape many of the Amish sense of identity.

What themes do you notice in your life? How much does place (geography, community, contexts) play into your sense of self? How much does movement (independence, migration, freedom, transitions) shape you? I would think that these narratives really do have a significant effect on your philosophical and theological views. I suspect that if you have lived in the same place where generations of ancestors have lived, you may be more inclined to emphasize tradition and sameness. However, if you have had a pattern of change (whether forced upon you or not) and experienced a transitory life, you might find yourself more comfortable with a flexible theology.

What do you think?

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Good Books, Race