Category Archives: Great Quotes

David Brooks on Suffering

Over at the BTS faculty blog, I’ve written a short post pointing to David Brook’s recent Op Ed pieces on suffering. He has been writing quite a bit on the topic lately. I think you will find his nuanced thinking quite useful and theologically rich.

You can read my post here.

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The cure for mental weariness?

Check out this thought by George Matheson, a blind 19th c. Scottish Presbyterian minister:

What a strange cure for mental weariness…I should have expected an invitation to mental rest….The weariness of the body is cured by slumber, but the weariness of the mind can be cured only by stimulus.

He said this as he was meditating on Hebrews 12:3 (Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart). He suggests that an active meditational life on the work of Jesus will help promote rest and protect from mental weariness.

Quote found in Leaves for Quiet Hours, p. 141 (1904)

[reblogged; first published 2/8/07]


Filed under Depression, Despair, Great Quotes

Book Note: A brief window into Palestinian life

English: Personal photo of Poet and Author Mou...

English: Personal photo of Poet and Author Mourid Barghouti, taken by Dia Saleh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just finished Mourid Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (2011, Walker & Co.; first published in Arabic, 2009). It is a set of short stories about the author’s experiences as a Palestinian making trips from Jordan back to his homeland in occupied territories (Ramallah). No matter your political leanings or support for Israel and/or a two state solution, you will find his descriptions of road blocks, walls, difficulties moving around, etc. a reminder of the fact that trauma can result not just from shocking and unexpected experiences (e.g., assaults, rape, domestic violence) but also from the daily grind of living in a police state without the right status. And lest you think he is only talking about living under Israel’s thumb, he also describes living under intimidation in Cairo as well,

No matter the differences in terms and methods from one Arab country to another, such people [those who had just taken his adult son] are always gracious when inviting their prey to be their guests and they will always be bringing them back in an hour or so at the most. Men and women have spent decades in the cells of the Arab regimes without ever finishing that damned cup of coffee.

We got the message.

The message of fear or, rather, of intimidation….

Thuggish authority is the same, whether Arab or Israeli. Cruelty is cruelty and abuse abuse, whoever is the perpetrator (p. 199)

His son was forced to leave the country of his birth (Egypt) since he was not Egyptian. Here’s what the author said,

What has stayed with me from this incident was my inability to protect my son. (p. 200)

Besides the descriptions of interminable waits at checkpoints, rude interrogations, refused entry to home villages for no apparent reason, Barghouti also describes the experience of being seen by others as a criminal, a possible thief, a terrorist instead of the poet that he is.

A worthy read to see life from another perspective.

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Kristof on talent vs. opportunity

Have you caught the recent PBS showing of Half the Sky, a documentary based on the same-titled book about the oppression of women around the globe? Worthy of your time. The previous link will also point you to the book by Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. Last night, I caught the portion about female genital mutilation in Somaliland, caste-based forced prostitution in India, and struggles in Kenya.

Though there are many movings scenes, the quote that stands out most to me is from Kristof,

In this world, talent is universal, but opportunity is not.

Good reminder. We often believe in a just world, level playing field mentality. You get ahead because of hard work. You don’t get ahead? You didn’t want it bad enough. The problem with this is that the field of life isn’t level. You may be the brightest in the class, but if your parents can’t afford to pay your school bill, you won’t be able to graduate. If you don’t graduate, you can’t get the same kind of jobs, etc.

Rather than wring our hands over the unfairness, we ought to consider what boost we have received at birth and what we will do with our extra talents (to use the word from the biblical parable).

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Why we lie

Just finishing up Karl Marlantes’ What it is Like to go to War (New York, Atlantic Monthly Press). It is not an easy book even as it is a quick read. There are many psychological frailties brought to the surface that should unnerve any reader, and not just those who want to know about war changes a person. One such human foible, lying, gets a whole chapter. After describing types of lies we tell, he has this to say about why we lie,

We lie because we find ourselves in positions where it appears the truth will hurt us. But a truth isn’t a thing like a flying rock. So by “hurt us” we must mean it will hurt some goal toward which we strive. And we’ve managed to confuse that goal with a definition of ourselves. “Hurt our ability to achieve our ends” equates to “hurt us.” Worse, we have such a large number of goals to use to define ourselves that we rarely know which to apply at any particular time. I want to be a hero. I want to stay alive. I want to be a good officer. I want my troops to like me. I want to defend my commanding officer. I want his job. I want to tell the whole world how incredibly difficult a time I have just had. I don’t want to look like a crybaby. I want to uphold the honor of my service. I want to get even. (p. 132)

I think Marlantes nails us all here. We might not struggle with the same wants but surely we can find ourselves in the same sort of struggle between hero and self, between getting what we want and doing the right thing. And we get confused as to what will get hurt if we tell the truth. Though we lie to ourseves that our lies are to protect others, mostly we lie to protect our own self.


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King to psychologists: Some maladjustment is necessary!

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, someone forwarded to me an email from Ken Pope (see his fabulous and informative website: containing excerpts of Martin Luther King’s address to psychologists in September 1967. I pass on excerpts for your enrichment and encourage you to read the entire address available for download here.

Here’s King on the necessity of being maladjusted to some things:

On creative maladjustment

There are certain technical words in every academic discipline which soon become stereotypes and even clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. This word is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is a good word; certainly it is good that in dealing with what the word implies you are declaring that destructive maladjustment should be destroyed. You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But on the other hand, I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.
Thus, it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women should be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’; or as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of his vacillations finally came to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; or as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history, words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. (emphases mine)

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Great literature on the effect of unconfessed guilt and refused forgiveness

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

Image via Wikipedia

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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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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Must Read: Diane Langberg on “Trauma as a Mission Field”

My supervisor, mentor, and colleague, Dr. Diane Langberg has been telling us for some time that “trauma is the mission field of our time.” Recently, however, a few Christian NGO/Missions leaders have heard this line in one of her talks and have become electrified by it. I cited it last week in a board meeting at Biblical as I was trying to make the case that developing postgraduate trauma training at Biblical fits our mission: following Jesus into the world.

But, some of you have not heard her give one of these talks. For you, I point you to the World Reformed Fellowship website so you can read a report she made on June 5 regarding the problem of trauma and the opportunity of the church to have a hand in healing this man-made scourge. Below is an excerpt of that short report. Do go to the WRF link and read it in its entirety. The report is not long but it is powerful and includes a couple of specific comments from two leaders in Africa.

We are the church. That means we are the body of Jesus Christ and He is our Head. In the physical realm, a body that does not follow its head is a sick body. That is also true in the spiritual realm. We are His people and I believe with all my heart He has called us to go out of ourselves and follow Him into the suffering of this world bearing both His character and His Word. And we do go – we send missionaries and the Scriptures; we provide food, clean water, education and jobs for many. And we should. We have rarely, however, seen trauma as a place of service. If we think carefully about the extensive natural disasters in our time such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis and combine those victims with the many manmade disasters – the violent inner cities, wars, genocides, trafficking, rapes, and child abuse we would have a staggering number. I believe that if we would stop and look out on suffering humanity we would begin to realize that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.


Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Congo, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Great Quotes, missional, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda

Pessimism and Powerlessness

What is the most dangerous threat in your life? In society at large? Is it economic stress? Job insecurity? Relational conflict? Health-care challenges? Amorality? Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan believes there is a deeper danger afoot (Thanks Darryl Lang for telling me about this op-ed!):

Inner pessimism and powerlessness. That is a dangerous combination.

Noonan says this just before the previous (and concluding line):

When the adults of a great nation feel long-term pessimism, it only makes matters worse when those in authority take actions that reveal their detachment from the concerns—even from the essential nature—of their fellow citizens. And it makes those citizens feel powerless.

She is trying to make the point that Americans are coming to terms that the country is not going to provide the next generation with a better life. Parents now hope their children will have about as good a life but they even fear that is not possible.

I’m not so interested in what she is discussing in this column (politicians and the immigration debate). But I am interested in what happens to us (how we respond to life) when our personal and collective narratives shatter.

Noonan mentions that Americans do not have pessimism in their DNA. I have seen this to be true  with most Caucasian Americans. They may be unhappy with their life but they are optimistic that things will get better. This is in opposition to those from other parts of the world who seem quite happy but not at all optimistic about a better life. We Americans generally feel empowered and independent. When we do not have the power to change our situation it drives us to re-write our understanding of self, the purpose of life, and assumptions about God.

What will we write? Will we cave to pessimism and powerlessness? Or will we develop realism and creativity in finding life in the middle of brokenness?


Filed under Christianity, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, News and politics, Psychology, suffering