Thursday, May 19, 2005


Here is an uncertain effort to relate "adventures” of Samoa and still suspend judgment as I write: Thomas Mallon, in the Books and Critics section of The Atlantic, May 2004, noted that American author Booth Tarkington wrote to his friend about one of his characters (Alice Adams): “…the girl is drawn without any liking or disliking of her by the writer.” Mallon commented: “Whether he knew the term or not, Tarkington had stumbled on the practice of what Keats called “negative capability”—the artist’s gift for suspending judgment while he simply creates”. Mallon was persuasive as he called to mind Tarkington and the nostalgia that clings to his titles, (e.g., The Magnificent Ambersons, Penrod and Sam, Etc.). I would surely like to learn how to suspend judgment while writing --it could possibly be the difference between creativeness and the pedestrian stuff I would like to avoid; current results may in fact be evident in what follows.

When I got into the taxicab on one of those bright and golden California afternoons, shadows were just beginning to lengthen, (a line that does not sound original even to me), in an altogether lovely and relaxing part of the day. I looked forward to the trip, especially since the driver, who is from Samoa, is not a stranger to me. In fact I had already written about him in a letter titled “All the Beautiful People”. He is a kindly man who had once gone far out of his way to return a small package I had left in his cab even before I knew it was missing. “Fah Lo Tah” is the way the Samoan “Aloha” sounds to me. Here is a difficulty already; I am going to write about this man and what he told me on this day, and I already like him. So far, that in itself seems to constitute a major failure in suspended judgment.

He had told me a story about his granddaughter, together with a charming Samoan folk tale, during a previous ride in his cab; today out of nothing more than idle curiosity I asked him if he had ever worn a lava-lava, one of those picturesque long, skirt-like garments worn by men in Samoa. I assumed they were just for tourist shows these days, but I remembered seeing them on Samoans in Hawaii years before. His answer surprised me: “Oh sure, I usually put one on when I get home from work. In fact, I wear a more formal kind of ceremonial lava-lava at church.” Here was more than I had expected, or hoped for; topics which among other things might more than make up for my chronically meager fund of small talk! Here were two wide vistas of unexplored terrain -– Samoan culture and its religion. As my informant began to enlarge upon both these subjects, he recalled that he had worshipped in the Mormon Church (established there in 1885) before leaving Samoa; after immigrating to this country he settled into a Samoan enclave (of which, he assured me, there are many scattered over the US) and is now attending a branch of the English Church first established in the Islands in1830 by the London Missionary Society. My driver told me this was going to be the “happy” part of the story about religion in Samoa. In the agreeably patois–tinged speech of the islander that he is, he proceeded to tell of times before 1830 when Christianity first came to Samoa. It seems that there used to be many gods; gods in plants, fish or animals. The people evidently lived in great dread of making them angry. In those days Samoans were very warlike, “fighting first, asking questions later”. Today this history is echoed as they excel the world over in the sport of rugby, and a recent study showed that of all NFL players in the US, Samoans are 40 times more likely to be chosen over other ethnic group members. It also occurred to me that during my stay in Hawaii nearly all the policemen in Honolulu appeared to be Samoans.

I read from a brief history by missionary R.M. Watson (circa 1905): “Their mythology and methods of worship, which have been ably classified by earlier missionaries, differ widely from Tahiti and other Pacific groups, in that the custom of human sacrifice, practiced with extensive and horrible cruelty in many parts of the Pacific, did not exist among the Samoans.” They apparently had legends of creativity and “they worshipped many high war and village gods, and many lesser gods of the household.” My driver told about the chief god over all, a Jove-like figure called Tagaloa of the Skies. The gist of the story from this point is that a Samoan chief was told by a Queen from a distant island (probably from Tonga where a Wesleyan Mission had been attempted earlier) to wait for the emissaries of the “greatest God from the sky”. They were apparently waiting: According to this legend, the chief and many Samoans had heard something about Christianity and the surprised missionaries from England found all the people eager and anxiously awaiting the “Good News”. Historical sources confirm the pre-awareness and “sweet” attitude of all Samoans to embrace the True religion, which emphasized love rather than aggression. According to my driver, the previously war-oriented chief now faced his people and said, “Do not call me chief, call me Missionary”.

My driver then announced, “Here is the ‘sad’ part”, and mentioned the name of John Williams; I later read that in 1827 “the famous Missionary John Williams” had journeyed to Raratonga in the Cook group and “there built a vessel of some seventy to eighty tons for island work which he called ‘Messenger of Peace’, and which, being built almost entirely of local products, was a remarkable effort of ingenuity. In this vessel … he sailed to Samoa … landing on Savaii…” in 1830. It is recorded that two missions, each with four Tahitian teachers was established there. Williams did not stay long at that point due to his firm resolve to try to bring Christianity to all the Pacific islands, but he revisited Samoa after two years, landing “some 200 miles from Savaii, and was greatly and agreeably astonished to find the natives claiming the new religion and clamouring for a teacher. … Williams, after visiting much of the group, sailed away (for a time) … Samoa had found its natural doctrine of love.” Visiting Samoa again in 1838 he found British missionaries settled, presumably in relative comfort, and the entire population of the ten islands of the Samoan group was said to be under Christian instruction. “He built a house for his wife, intending to make Samoa his headquarters. To the regret of the English-speaking Christian world, however, he was not permitted to do so.” It is reported that Williams was murdered, along with a young missionary named Harris, while landing on a beach at Erromango on a voyage to New Caledonia, in the New Hebrides.

My driver is more explicit. He told me that Williams and Harris were in the process of going ashore in the Gilbert Islands where “wild people lived”. First Harris and then Williams was killed and eaten by the cannibalistic natives.

It was not for nothing, apparently, that one 18th century explorer first called Samoa the Navigator Islands; with their many oared war canoes and well crafted sailing vessels they had access to a large part of the Pacific. My driver told me that upon hearing about the deaths of their “own missionaries”, a party of Samoans set sail to the Gilbert Islands and found skulls hung on long poles near the beach where the two men had had perished. Without any real opposition, (due probably to Samoan reputation), these faithful sailors brought the skeletal remains back to Apia. As it is otherwise recorded, the remains were “… later partly recovered and now lie buried beneath the Native Church of the mission of Apia – a fitting monument”. Earlier Watson had happily noted, “By inherited instinct the Samoans are lovers of religious observance. Now none can be found that is not a professed Christian ... “.
It is indeed true that some adventures can be completely vicarious, as was mine on this day –of an authentic tale about missionaries and cannibals. As for judgment, the only thing suspended was not judgment, (good Samoans, unsaved “wild people”), but rather my breathing pattern, as I raptly listened while my driver told the story.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


(My Journey Thus Far...)

I am sharing a journey with you; in some parts I have what amounts to informed knowledge, in others this is not the case. Thus far the journey surely includes some blind spots, biases and insufficient study-- for which I take full responsibility. Obviously I am not a theologian, either. Keep in mind what was attributed to a fellow who once aspired to be president of the US: “Always listen to a man when he is describing the faults of others. Most times he is describing his own, revealing himself”. That said, it is expected that some at least may join with me in this journey, and some will not. I am grateful for both persuasions. This is dedicated to my son Douglas--just a smidgen of return for all he has given to me. NLK

Pridefulness among Christians, as self-pride, would appear to constitute an oxymoron-- and not only at first glance, (although some unfriendly critics have complained of an air of smugness, if not arrogance, within the born-again community). Yet among those outside the pale there appears a powerful tendency to bank on themselves, on some kind of self-power and one’s own control over life’s demands. Especially those who have somehow survived the wounds, or perhaps the self-defeat of “overgiving” in past relationships, the attitude seems to be: “why take chances on others, (or even God), others who may not really care, may just leave, become abusive, take advantage, cheat and lie, fall out of love-- or even die, as so many are wont to do-- I’ll be sufficient unto myself!” Suspicious, rather timorously boastful at times (and sadly enough seeing the past as both present and future), the movement here is from a vision of our human frailty that is extended to God, now made in our image.

As we know from Holy Scripture only boasting in the Lord is acceptable, (1 Cor. 1:31 and 2 Cor.10:17). In Romans 3:27 we find “Where is boasting? It is excluded...” except ofcourse, in the Lord. Exclusive personal pridefulness is out. (The same throughout the Bible, an Old Testament view of pride is given in Daniel 4:30-31

Christian conduct seen in Stephen’s behavior is probably an exemplary model for most of us. His seemed a spiritually dogged determination, as opposed to the old college try, preoccupied as that often is with winning versus losing. He clearly carried out just what the Lord asked of him promptly, and then went right on with the rest of what life he had left to him, according to the Lord’s will. Even in his death he followed closely in the footsteps of Jesus. While his final words must surely win souls by sheer example, that would appear to be a secondary effect. Recall however, that a young man named Saul stood by and participated in bringing about Stephen’s violent death.

On reflection Stephen could probably have done no more-- just as Christians might customarily aim to do no less. Surely we do not earn extra credit for doing what we are supposed to do. Stephen could only give back to God that which God had given him. There is, after all, no other giver and no other source.


Stephen stands forth as a shining example of early Christian faith and determination, and by a radical turnabout Saul, now called Paul, became a totally dedicated follower and an accepted apostle of the Christ Jesus. To be sure, by then he was deeply aware of his own sinful nature, (e.g., see Rom. 7:14-25. According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek used here, HAMMARTIA, from HAMARTANO, expresses not only sinning due to one’s faults, but also to miss the mark and so fail to share in the prize. In English the word “sinning,” means the same thing. In Old England somewhere about the era of King James, “sinning” was the name of a sport with bow and arrow-- twelve arrows (apostles?) had to hit the mark or the hapless player was dubbed a “Sinner”). Paul clearly makes great efforts to push forward in his work-- his spirit seemed to be energized by awareness of the sacred nature of his commission; (e.g., Rom. 11:13). Apostle to the gentiles, he states “...I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” There are disclaimers to any special personal achievement as when he emphatically showed that neither Paul nor Apollo should get credit for bringing certain souls to Christ (1 Cor. 3:3-9). What were Paul’s efforts for-- or against? Extra effort or not, again all he could give back to God was what God had given him. In these questions the Holy Spirit can provide Scriptural answers. In the case of Paul, he is clearly shown to work against a constantly recurrent antagonist-- the demands of the flesh; his own and that of others. This is what “running the race” probably meant in great part to Paul. In terms of fleshly enemies one might start with Proverb 6:10, just “A little folding of the hands...”. Flesh seems to demand lots of rest. Also vanity, immediate relief from stress, increasing pleasures, much food and drink together with very little work or expenditure of energy. Under any kind of pressure the flesh gives up early and easily. Paul vigorously resisted all these and other impious demands during the major part of his life on earth. He fought daily and hourly against such carnal impulses and urged faith-- joy in the Lord and the Glory of Christ Jesus in the place of worldly values. Of course much more could be said, and has been said about Paul;
he continues still to win souls to Christ.

Considering the freedom of choice we need to exercise in this earthly life-- not just once or twice but daily and hourly, (as Paul did) such a stand and practice seems less an option and more of a necessity for Christians. Our concern in this journey is with problems of emotionality; the enemy quickly creeps in through doors left ajar during human emotional storms. What values are at stake? Eternal life, for one! Here of course is the issue of life after death. C. S. Lewis, in speculating on “the resurrection of the body” after death, from Pauline epistles-- “sown in corruption; raised in incorruption” concluded that “what the soul cries out for is the resurrection of the senses... what matters is a source of sensations.”. The glorified body of the resurrection as conceived by Lewis is “the sensuous life raised from its death... inside the soul.”. The latter not inside the body but outside it, “as God is not in space but space is in God”. (Admittedly guesses, Lewis is here quoted from letter 22 in his biography).


Upon thinking it through one cannot help but agree, considering the central role the amorphous but powerful spirit of love plays in Christian belief, and in all our lives, spiritual and earthly. But by the same token other difficulties arise here on earth; the problem of self-awareness, for one. We are recipients and givers of responses from birth; “experiencers” and givers of love but also bearers of jealousy, false pride and vainglory, among other things. The universal response to the “whips and scorns of outrageous fortune” is often “Why me? -- me of all people!” Though we seem more and more to congregate in droves, each “sheep” may be unable to quite understand why it should feel so lost or alone at times. We form ant-like files on crowded roadways, and this highly developed sense of self-dom not only shuns carpools, but under personally perceived stresses it rarely lets us play the part of just one of the “spear-carriers in life’s Grand Opera”. We feel special in some vague way and in the very midst of crowds of fellow beings there is concurrently a curious capacity to be acutely sensitive to intimate sore spots, loneliness or abandonment, real or fancied. It is just here that we are vulnerable, more apt to turn to vanity as compensation-- and hiding place. What is often hidden of course, is a sense of personal weakness and failure-- one of the sternest taboos in a society of self-sufficient others-- apparent loss of self control.

Anxiety is defined for our present purposes as simply the fear of losing control, specifically control over our bodies, our feelings, and our lives. The various reactions or defenses against anxiety are seen as efforts at maintaining a sense of control, not all of which are in our immediate awareness. It is also contended here that we are not supposed to have “control” in the first place. I am keenly aware that this view will not be accepted charitably by many.


Along with the fear of losing control, many defensive maneuvers come into play: the selective forgetting, simple denial, outright lies and fantasy, vulnerable make-believe lives. The great paradox of course is that at the very core of vanity or pride, is fear. The fear of losing control of one’s life is also a generalized anxiety about losing control to others by growing to need them. We might, heaven forbid, come to depend on others who might influence us willy-nilly. Once really needed they could grow cold and abusive, become rejective and finally just go away. Note how fiercely loss and separation are guarded against; it is not death per se that is feared most; in the face of need fear, or fear of needing, it is the fear of losing control over death! In cases of depression, for one example among many, dying on one’s own terms is often preferable-- one then controls by making it happen-- rather than all the waiting in darkness, not knowing the manner, day or hour. In situations where much anxiety and suspiciousness are precipitated, the control efforts may extend to (counter) attacks on the lives of others. Another aspect of the same paradox is that some of those who are actually deeply fearful of dependency, but schooled perhaps in a very negative early environment, may take on a quite spurious over-dependent role, but are curiously unable to allow certain others to really meet their needs; those “rescuers” are always seen to fall short, and disappoint the self-appointed victim in some way. Here the victim is the true controller. Can we really be independent? To shed some light on the control issue there are many instances when the actual state of affairs is revealed in startling ways. When a self-styled sufficient- unto-one’s self , “independent” person becomes baffled by everyday external forces threatening to take away some control, even momentarily, say in traffic or the confines of an aircraft journey, what may erupt, often surprising even the “independent” reactor, is violent rage -- sometimes with equally violent intent. Why? “Because that so-and-so turned in front of me! I have been robbed of my freedom, to move where and when I might wish-- without that one I would never react this way-- , (or) those others are responsible for what I’m doing, I hold them accountable, they will pay for it if I have to take it out of their hides.” This behavior would tend to suggest that the speaker’s well-being , and even sense of sanity depends entirely on the actions of those unimportant others. It thus seems that keeping our apparently inescapable dependency needs out of conscious awareness can lead to rude awakenings, some times with impulses to fight or destroy something, in order to reinstate a sense of having control.

Getting along in this world, (and the next) probably requires that some form of workable interdependency be in place, but obviously excessive anxiety about it may lead to tensions surrounding some relationships, especially those involving closeness. One such effect is a withdrawal towards a lonely, secret inner life, and to the loss of true security, companionship and belongingness-- essentially rejection of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; The deeper loss is that this fear of dependency, of relinquishing self-control, “ I did it my way-- I’m really an independent type”, extends often to the unwillingness to depend entirely on God the Father. It is true that the Lord expects us to be self-reliant to some degree, but even this is attained only through His Grace and strength.

How are we to understand Christ’s words, “Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”? (Mark 10:15). Among other qualities a little child is relatively dependent-- a condition suitable for acceptance by the Lord Almighty. The tendency to understand these words as a reference to purity and innocence exclusively runs head-on into the many dismaying reports of violent and criminal behavior among children and youths. “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Prov. 20:11. Calvinist enough?).


In working with young people displaying extreme behavior two elements appear necessary and often sufficient to precipitate relatively unprovoked violent actions. We may disregard much of the “weird” clothes and mannerisms as causative; upsetting to some adults (this is what the kids hope for), these are largely age- appropriate, if not always socially so. The first critical factor is chronic secretiveness, veiled motives and a marked loss and almost fearful rejection of trust and confidence in adults and some peers-- except as a source of hand-outs to further their own life- style. This factor is relatively frequent among youngsters from high crime and poverty areas but has been frequent, and quite significant as it occurs in well-off families. All by itself this may lead to antisocial behavior including drug and alcohol abuse (some times indulgently over- looked as “youthful high spirits”), but this also requires the presence of a factor that includes a preoccupation with violent death and dying. A fascination with torture may be included but is not always a prerequisite for deadly violence. The interest in death carries with it a marked urge to take control of it by making it happen-- either to themselves or others, the signs often hidden from those peers who do not share these same morbid interests, but who may later become targets.

Somewhat relevant here, I recall that a feature of a Totalitarian government has been described as the idealization of a golden, heroic and lost past, together with a concurrent deifying of the latest in technology, armaments and weaponry. That recipe is definitely not advanced here; there has always been evil in the world since the fall. As in John 10:10, “The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly”. But pride is now frequently made synonymous with the personal power to operate “independently” in adulthood. In earlier times pride was often put under the category of virtue-ethics, even among laity. There, pride was represented by a sense of honor marked with self-respect. Such a goal for any youngster has much to commend it. Largely gone out of fashion now, it is something that needs to be earned-- under constantly caring and watchful eyes.

Presumably this current pride in independence is recognizable when one gains some sort of victory over others in the arena. But all the loners, all the disturbed kids who might one day kill, all the recluses and even some of the self-made entrepreneurs of this world already know the false god of independence. They find it easier to keep one’s distance (and one’s plans, or material gains), than to risk the fires of interpersonal conflict; possible scorn and criticism, cruelty or erratic anger from undependable others (and even the possibility of having all this aroused in one’s self). These are the experiences that will always teach “independence”, but a far cry from the commandment to love one another and treat others as we would be treated This latter rule has many advantages; fellowship, intimacy, peace in one’s relationships, and life eternal for starters. By comparison competitive rivalry seems to have taken up a lot of space in our present day culture. (But note the allotment and sharing of diversified gifts in 1 Cor. 12:4-12). There are bright people who maintain that only conflict breeds progress. If they are coveting the progress mostly represented by technology, they may at the same time be disregarding those qualities of life that have always been, and are even now, available to the seeker-- and which are probably of greater value for eternity’s sake.


The words “It can’t happen to me” are replaced during critical events in all our lives with what some have called intimations of mortality, “It can happen to me”. Here anxiety and awareness of a hopeless cause often show themselves. Adam again naked! The siren-song of control first heard in the garden-- control over one’s own life, is unfortunately all too possible given the irrevocable condition of free will. But only in the short-run; “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Prov. 16:9).

It would appear that you really need to read the directions; read the Word of God which quite freely offers the unthinkable! Read for example chapter 34 of Ezekiel, occurring as it does in the midst of chapter after chapter of the Lord’s righteous wrath. Review there and elsewhere the many promises of astounding blessings, comfort, security, of well-being and constant loving kindness-- on this basis a first-time reader might well be inclined to think of the children of Israel wandering so long in the desert, or indeed of those who still wander and still fail to gratefully embrace such riches, as being very dense indeed. Clearly, they are not.

Most who seek after other gods and personal control are often quite bright; they are just deeply afraid to give up control and depend completely on their God. They are bright enough to invent well-sounding, convincing arguments about why they don't accept the Lord, who has probably heard them all by now. But how often the scriptures say clearly “do not fear”; do not fear to depend on the Lord your God who freely offers life, in place of loss and total separation.

The groundwork (from Adam) has been laid for the prevalence of anxiety, with all it’s strident and scrambling efforts to maintain some semblance of independent control over fleshly life. It is also important to recognize the forms and sources of depression. Essentially we are to consider the state of affairs when the need to control has gone underground, so to speak. Paradoxically again, depression seems to represent a condition of total self-control. When most people are depressed they seem determined to lose, and lose heavily, in the game of life-- but on their own terms. To the deeply depressed person usually no amount of exhortation or “cheering up” seems to have any lasting effect. It’s strictly a private affair. Even their anger is kept for themselves, directed inwards towards hopelessness and “failures” past, present, or future.

An important underlying issue in many depressions is a sense of loss or separation. This may involve persons, places or parts of one’s self image. A child may become depressed after the family moves to another town; aging and loss of faculties can precipitate depressive episodes as can the loss of a limb, of money or the end of a relationship. Depression occurs in infancy; babies abandoned by a once-known mother often demonstrate the early association with death. The child may refuse to be fed, or crawl away to the other end of the crib when touched. It is as if they are refusing to take a chance on another human being leaving them again. They seem ready to die on their own terms rather than trust again-- and lose again. Among adults, especially those harboring a great deal of mistrust, ruminative depressives may take up a weapon to attack family, coworkers, another ethnic group or even strangers. They seem to say to the world-- you had better kill me before I kill you! This has been referred to as “suicide by cop” in some instances.


An interesting problem here comes from sociological observation; sometimes team-groups may merge into conflict-groups. Studies of activity programs for inner-city youth such as those done even as early as the 1930’s invariably resulted in the persistence of a tendency to substitute gang-rivalry in place of organized sports. S. Freud himself once suggested that the wholesale application of team sports could reduce the level of aggression in human society. Even he never appeared to be quite convinced of it however; if rivalry were truly “beneficial” among gangs we might expect street deaths by violence (and the misery that accrues) to be lower in magnitude than it has now become. This is not meant to imply that effective programs for friendly rivalry in team sports has not been forthcoming, they have; but at the same time it needs to be pointed out that within this recurrent tendency much of gang violence appears to represent the effects of an urge to control, and of self-conscious pridefulness.

It was God who first endowed man with self-consciousness. The Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day and he said, ADAM, WHERE ART THOU? Adam, conscious now of his nakedness, knew where he was trying to hide, just as the Lord knew. Guilt and self-consciousness came into our lives all at once, preceded by sin.

Was the first man and wife duo simply duped by the devil or did they conspire? The serpent did not come right out and say “either believe in me or believe in the Lord”; he offered a substantial inducement-- you can believe in your own powers; eat of the forbidden fruit and you will be like gods! You will know what God knows and you can run your own lives. Before vanity and efforts at cover-up came the urge to be self-reliant, to in some sense be all-mighty.

Difficult as it is for many well-meaning people to accept, there appears to be no such thing as healthy total independence. Pseudo-independence, as noted above, often seems to coincide with early loss of basic trust; to such a child, perhaps abused in some way, depending on outside forces becomes “intuitively” untrustworthy. This reflects primitive and “gut-level” responsiveness. No longer needing to be thought through, it later resides as an anxiety source always on tap. Under these conditions the concept of faith, as taught by the local church or family (themselves now highly suspect by the untrusting one) tends to lay on a kind of veneer that quickly dissolves under any challenge or doubt—“seeds that fall on shallow ground”. One result is vacillating, changeable convictions giving way to confusion and lack of hope, e.g., a giving up of faith and trust, which is the deeper self- defeating motive to begin with.

A reluctance to need to depend on others shows up in various forms during different times and stages of life. One form is of a certain indifference and aloofness where others are concerned. This effect emerges especially in younger individuals during wartime or perhaps just during the battles of everyday life. It may crop up acting as a temporary advantage; we may press onward past the bodies of comrades fallen in the struggle, but they have become somehow faceless and nameless compared to our own unique self-dom. “It can’t happen to me. I have special purposes, and things about to come into my life-- a raise, or a promotion-- besides, I plan to move to another town and build a new and larger storehouse for my crops”.


What is illustrated here is the depressive drive to take control of their own lives, and deaths. These are examples of independence, often in the face of pleas and offers of help from those who appear, at least momentarily, to try to take that control away from them.

Losses may be subtle, losses may seem small-- but they loom large in the eyes of the one who has lost. A most poignant example is that of the person who has become aware through scraps of memory, deep introspection, or perhaps outright accusation, that he or she has in fact transcended moral principles that were always held dear. As passé as it may sound, honor has been lost. The word honesty comes from honor-- and one now feels somehow dis-honest; no longer the basically “good” person in their bathroom mirror. Self-awareness has crept in, just as it did in the Garden of Eden. Now, a lot depends on what is done with such self-awareness. The question is, are they willing to trust and depend on God’s love and forgiveness,-- knowing it might require painful confession and true repentance? Or do they hide it and put on a cover-up face to the world? Do they realize the latter choice is the much harder one? Some lapses that involve pride loom very large-- including the practice of selfish, hurtful arrogance. The remarkable thing about God’s grace is that just the same choice needs to be made for both small and large transgressions. When a depressive condition is involved the choice that has most likely been made is to hold it all within, perhaps only to act-out even more to prove “who’s in control”. The depressive one jealously hangs onto every last pain even unto death.

So anxiety about control is still the core problem-- this is frequently where it all starts; at the soft underside of depression lurks the same fear of losing control-- now gone entirely underground, not thought out but mostly acted-out. Any thorough and enduring resolution requires that the sufferer face that fear and replace it with the commitment to live, and to live a resurrection life. This may be especially appropriate here since depression is like a “dying” rather than a “living” experience. Has one in fact died to the world? If so, paradox again-- the depressive may be, without realizing it of course, a lot closer than many to being “born again”. Have you ever wondered why the words “do not fear” are repeated so often in scriptures?

Perhaps scriptural principles are observable here and the following seems in order: If you are going to boast, boast in the Lord-- If you are going to fear, fear the Lord your God!

The simplicity of these principles frequently confound the wise however, and those who are blind and deaf by obdurate choice will be puzzled by this very simplicity too. We are after all dealing with the complexities of regular doses of self-defeat, self-damage and self-destruction all in the covert pursuit of “control” and independence. Many of those who early on sense that life on earth includes chances of defeat, damage and destruction will develop private ways of refusing to take such chances through bringing it on themselves. If one takes any chance at all, one faces just win, lose or draw. To stand inert and lifeless is still chance taking, i.e., doing nothing. One truly has a sense of control only by bringing on the only thing you can do for sure-- loss, rejection by others, failures in crucial situations: if one sees possible criticism, give them something to criticize you for-- after all, it’s no surprise, you caused it yourself by telling them what to do!


When the number of people who continue to smoke, drink and drive, drive at excessive speeds, fire off weapons precipitously, sometimes taking human lives, use dangerous drugs, eat unhealthy meals, abuse but rarely exercise the Holy Temple of their bodies are taken into account, a very large percentage of the population of the United States is represented. These self-destructive patterns are deliberate and obvious ways of bringing sickness and death sooner rather than later. Again, this behavior is not always the result of ignorance-- at some level it is chosen as a defense against giving up control by taking one’s chances with life, or death. To challenge this type of behavior directly only runs the risk of eliciting more of the same.

It may be concluded then that there is a general tendency for many people, at most times and places, to strive to depend on themselves-- and work in the service of death rather than life. After all, there are only two ways to go, and to forsake the one is to become deeply enmeshed in the other: “This day I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life...” (Dt. 30:19-20).

Many of those who fear to “hold fast” or depend on the Lord and others also frequently evince complex ways of choosing for worse rather than for better-- and then repeating the errors; staying over-long in the wrong company, for example, choosing the wrong mate, making wrong investments, getting into problem areas and getting out of troubles with more than your average difficulty. They seem bound to bring it all on themselves-- to get there first with the worst. Refusing to take chances with reality or to learn from past experiences-- they have a losing system and appear loathe to try anything new. Blue moods make it worse.
Moods and attitudes are involved here. These arise from emotional substrates and will run the gamut from festering anger, vague fears, jealousy, envy, injured pride, over-investment in loves other than for the Lord, worry and confusion over right versus wrong choices-- most of which can prove a rather sickening “virus”, especially if carried on chronically for periods of time. It should be generally recognized that all our emotions are normal, and we all have them to one degree or another. Problems arise when emotions, or feelings, take over the driver’s seat in our existence. Feelings are just fine and very important when they remain secondary to our purposes, directions and goals. If they take the lead and are in charge of our motives however, there is bound to be trouble.


Within this purview of self-defeat and self-damage I would feel remiss not to include the interesting effects of a popular therapeutic idea generally known as “codependency”. Literally translated it sounds like a fine practice to encourage. I am sure that many Christians do tend to look to each other for support in worship and prayer, for example. I am also sure that that is not what these practitioners mean.

As the Women’s Liberation movement gained legitimacy in the U. S., the codependency approach was born and brought forward hundreds of women, and men equally, from the forest of emotionality who had apparently felt a need for independence, control and various other powers; and with good reason. Unfortunately many of them had been practicing their own brand of “control” overlong by forming relationships with anyone who seemed to need them sufficiently-- and proceeded to take on the role of over-giver, often to the point where the selected needer grew quite churlish and sometimes dangerously destructive about it. Amazing it was, to see how many apparently relatively clean-living men and women found mates with what could only be seen as serious character flaws. (This is not the old ploy of blaming the victim; I have spent enough time in crisis centers to know that as a frequent dodge by perpetrators-- and to recognize the difference. Behavior patterns gleaned from well organized family case-histories are helpful here). I want to add however, and not only by way of a peace offering, that a very useful and valid device known as assertiveness training (as well as other modalities), has been honed to a fine point in the codependency field, and has proven a boon to many in individual or group therapy encounters. After one gains some self-understanding it is an excellent idea to “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Col. 4:6). And simply let your yes be yes and your no be no, too. Always speak the truth, especially if you have learned what the truth is.

But His ways are wonderful, and His understanding no one can fathom, so he filled the world with many sorts, with many different people having different talents and proclivities-- and that is wonderful too. Genetic or learned, nature or nurture, given enough opportunity, all of us have the ability to learn. We have been given a wonderful capacity to change and adapt to different conditions-- if we so choose.

At this juncture we begin to look at some ways by which troubled underlying tendencies, together with their damaging behaviors, may be replaced with something more life-oriented. The road must take a turn if the journey is to proceed. Look again at the phase “if we so choose”.
Even though you can and should choose to change your life, it is entirely possible that this choosing may not have a very profound effect all at once. As with salvation and faith itself, in some sense the Lord seems to have to choose you too. Spiritual gifts! How do believers know the Lord is in their lives? It appears to me that to become a believer is to learn that you were foreknown, that you were predestined, and came to the Lord because you were chosen to do so. On that basis please note that you are not expected to clean up your life first, in order to come to the Lord-- you can’t! You must have God in your life to do that. There is nothing you can do to earn forgiveness. The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus has done it all for you on the cross!


The one choice you can and should make on your own, however, is to turn or return to the Lord. This is humbling, and is meant to be. “Repent, then, and Turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20). You see, the only way to the Father is through His Son.

You might start by offering Him your heart to be healed, with prayers. And while I think of it, it wouldn’t do a bit of harm to begin a daily reading of the word. Start with something easy like Genesis if you want a suggestion, but it is also invigorating to start wherever you happen to open the Bible-- and proceed from there. (I find it rewarding to read back and forth between the Old and New Testament, but the Lord probably doesn’t care how you or I do it, as long as we do it).

Beliefs and actions, (faith and deeds), are both essential to the work of change. Those of faint heart need to remember that the Lord can take even the murkiest situations and turn them into victories!

To begin with, you will need to look underneath all the airs and poses; the troubled heart and mind (and body) are usually more chaotic than calm, more tense and closed-up than open to new ideas-- so full of conflicts while busily processing tendencies to “take action” in the old ways, that God will probably not readily get your attention-- and if he should decide to do so you may not like it. (“Pain as God’s megaphone...”, C. S. Lewis). It is likely that having some method of being in a truly receptive condition could make the whole thing go more easily.

A useful approach, tried and true, is to counter some of those old tendencies and tensions with the practice of doing absolutely NOTHING for brief periods. NOTHING can be a very important thing to do when you are seeking direction and guidance. Remember that the goal here is to relinquish “control” by letting go, and letting the Lord get a word in edgewise. St. Augustine said, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full-- there’s nowhere for Him to put it”.

You will only need to continue to breath, but you can’t stop doing that anyway because anatomically the breathing center is located in the brain-stem and is thoroughly automatic. Speaking of breathing, it is important to get air into all parts of your lungs; tense breathing is shallow and brief, sometimes breaths are omitted entirely-- bated breath. So just lean back, inhale and bring fresh air all the way down to your tummy (diaphragm), pause briefly, and gently let it all out-- and continue on in this way. You are not supposed to be foggy-headed or sleepy either; calm and clear minded is the goal. (The exception is that some people find that relaxing this way makes it easier to fall asleep at bedtime). While thus relaxing at any time you might focus on a line or two from scriptures, but otherwise try to keep your thoughts to a minimum; gently push out the intruders even as they enter in.

You should notice that when you do these things that those fears, tensions and worries tend to fade; your posture now says “Lord, I’m not doing anything at all, and it’s now up to you, do with me what you will”. In olden days the phrase would be “Lord, here is thy servant”.

It is probably a good idea to practice this together with scripture readings, several times a day at first. Incidentally, to try to use this procedure only when you especially feel upset or tense may attain only a small effect-- if any, though better than nothing. It is the practice (devotion) in between times, for a few minutes at a time, that puts us in a clear state of mind and body whenever we need do do some spiritual growing. How glorious that God is always present and near when we need him.

Do relax and let all your muscles go loose and relaxed. Smooth out your face and forehead-- why harbor pockets of care and worry anywhere? Jesus Himself said, “Peace I give you”; this then is one way to accept his offer. We now seek spiritual gifts!


There are a couple of other things you might do in order to be loosed and free. Recall that we are dealing with primitive and forceful emotions that should not be in the forefront of our actions, thoughts and feelings at all. For anyone to whom asking for help from others has been anathema, for anyone who has been a victim of their own emotionality in the past, to do anything now just because you feel like doing it, (even when you trump up a “good” reason for such behavior afterwards), sad to say, is probably the worst possible basis for doing anything for quite a while.

So if we are not to be guided by our feelings, what shall we use for choosing our actions? Put bluntly, you need to use the brains God gave you, your spiritual values and your past experiences as guidelines-- not, heaven forbid, your destructive feelings. You don’t need to fight them however, just lower the tension level, let them go and put something else in their place --our brains, or minds if you prefer, are useful in two ways: To scan old experiences for self-defeating, self-damaging and self-destructive actions and situations, and to plan alternative courses of behavior, reactions and even thought processes-- in place of the negative experiences of other times and places. (Here I often find it useful, when unwanted impulses slip in as they will, to say sub-vocally or even out loud, “Out Satan, in the name of Jesus”. I found that only in His Name can one reliably bid the enemy out). But to continue, recall the things you have done in past circumstances as you anticipate recurrences (there usually will be), and deliberately choose, and eventually act, on scriptural, life promoting responses. “You will know them by their fruit...”, their results.

Consult the Word here. How wonderful it is to know that in place of insecurity and guesswork there is a plan for your life with reliable ways to behave toward yourself and the world around you. What a relief it is! You fearful ones who still yearn to control your own lives will face another difficult step; to let the lord mold, purify and justify you-- surely a hard and uncomfortable process-- but a lot easier than the way you have been doing things. “You have eaten the fruit of deception, because you have depended on your own strength...” (Hosea 10:13}

For those who have felt the fear of losing control, the stage of sharing control has to come; the phase of fellowship with believers who can understand and accept that you are making the effort to cope with problems of feelings and attitudes. Face it, you can’t do it alone, as much as you would still like to-- so look up your church and Bible study or prayer-groups-- they are your lifeline. At this point you will need all the friends you can get! It follows, of course, that within the range of individual differences some are more susceptible to anxiousness and depressive moods than others, thus some will have more changing, or reworking to do than others.

Do not avoid the fact that some of you may need, and should seek out, professional help. If that is the case, I suggest that you ask in the various registries for State licensed Christian Professionals. Since we all have somewhat different make-ups and backgrounds, professional help may be just what God wants you to have. A perennial difficulty is that some very acutely disturbed people can feel and appear fairly well at times, while other obscure problems are so disguised as to seem only in need of commonsense advice (whatever that may be). Paul said, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers...”(1 Cor. 4:15). To my capricious view here, this could mean that few will suggest kinship, but many may seem to become “experts” in your area of need. Seriously however, some people might get even more upset, while persons with no valid training in these problems may enthusiastically offer to “cure” them. I advise you to avoid such efforts, no matter how lovingly offered or engendered; if just listening to and reading the Word would always heal difficult emotional problems that would be O.K., but that is not the case. Anyway, it is the Lord who actually does the healing, according to his will-- your state of mind and spirit needs to be prepared to accept it.

Here I must figuratively leave you to God; you are in good hands-- if you have truly turned to Him and accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. Now at least, even if it takes more time than you would like or expect, your new life is assured. You may here be up against the hardest task of all for many like you-- to accept love freely and lavishly given. Controllers have ways of cynically rejecting love, or may buy into the devil’s ploy of assuring us, though saved, that we really don’t deserve it. A study in false humility, controllers may appear not to need love. (How many times have we thanked someone for some kindness or other, without daring to really appreciate it? Oh, the inner conflict however, when there is no love offered-- give up the charade!).

I should try to explain why I have been sharing these things. They are not all pleasant, I know. After all, we could ask in the same vein as Pilate and Herod, “What has all this to do with us? Just because at a certain time in some small corner of a vast Empire there were fractious differences among obscure sects of their own religion, what is that to us, anyway?

It is just that even after thousands of years have passed, it still occurs to many of us that throughout the Word of God there is wisdom, great joy and hope; perhaps some day soon each uncomprehending blind eye might see and understand, each barren lonely heart might receive, and give, real love rather than its many false and make believe versions. So the drama of Christian history, beginning with the "good news” seems far from over-- a new day will dawn and is now dawning

In fact it seems entirely conceivable, to me at least, that in every age, in every place-- and in every lifetime the whole drama is repeated again and again-- together with the same characters, taking familiar roles, in predictable struggle. If that is so, here is our grand opportunity; it will again be asked, “Are you the Christ? Are you the King of the Jews?” At last we have the opportunity to give the answer, “Yes, it is as you say”, and speak with pride in the Lord! Then rejoice! Your name may now be written in the Kingdom-- to the greater glory of God! Did you know that you are heirs...?
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to FEAR;
but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God:
And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we
suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:15-17).
Such is my journey, and my destination, thus far....

Thursday, May 12, 2005

JONAH (In case I have judged others)

Jonah was beset and confounded by notions of divine retribution – he was sure that God’s punishment should be administered to those sinners across the river. While he enjoyed the protective shade or cursed the burning sun, Jonah probably encountered the variations in life experience that happen to nearly all of us at times, sometimes throughout life. Many Americans are said also to be like Jonah, especially prone to consider that good or bad experiences are somehow deserved. How could it be otherwise for rugged individualists? Where is the fault in such reasoning?

Certainly at times it seems reasonable to see justice as being done, especially when we do not particularly favor the persons reaping those negative outcomes. That was the case with Jonah; what he saw in the Ninevites, to his mind, deserved only punishment. He was also sure that God, in his mercy, would most likely forgive those malefactors. In fact he later confessed that this was his reason for disobeying the Lord! When Jonah tried to flee from God his very name became the sign that has come to augur doom to any mission.

Many of us, including this writer, often find it hard not to account for negative outcomes in the lives of others as due either to foolishness or the fruits of bad behavior come home to roost—i.e., as the result of poor judgment or poor moral fiber or both, and richly deserving punishment. Why then, shouldn’t our Lord see it that way too? Can we not say, with candor and a rare sense of self-awareness, that to think in these terms is after all a commendable honesty about our human nature? To claim to be only human is not, in this case, offered as an excuse, but as a reasonable explanation.

Here however, is precisely where the flaw lies in Jonah’s thinking, and so often in our own as well. Do we always tend to treat ourselves with these same standards of judgment? At times I find myself mulling over my own motivations and purposes only to explain them (in fantasy, or to others), in terms of someone else’s perceptual field, usually someone for whom I would rather prefer to regard me in a good light (“Those small lies we tell ourselves in darkest moments shrivel in even the faintest light”—Atlantic Monthly, Mar. 04).. Two problems are occurring here; for one I have probably already bent the truth in my favor, but more importantly I have now internalized a fictitious view of myself – and it will most likely be carried forward, rendering my life experience in relevant areas as fictitious. It will be lived out sincerely enough, but now in less than a realistic relationship with one's self and others, and with God. Here we are back in Jonah’s mindset again, but asking for ourselves the same forgiving and indeed merciful, reaction from God that Jonah (resentfully) expected toward the sinners in Nineveh.

Can it not be said that we also sometimes become confounded and confused about ourselves and each other?

Thankfully God does not get confused about us, and furthermore he does not use human reasoning and feelings to decide what to do in applying His judgments. Like Jonah, we may at times get angry at God for not running things our way – we want Him to be made in our image rather than the other way around. As C.S. Lewis said, however, “If I always understood why He did things He wouldn’t be much of a God, would He?”

There is at least one other issue to deal with here: Knowing that God knows us very well, do we really want to ask for justice for ourselves – or do we desire His mercy? In order to do unto others in the way asked of us by our Lord, we should need to pray mercy for others as well.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Listen Up!

We live in a society where everybody talks, nobody listens, and everyone bewails the fact that they are not understood. (Anon).

The solution to what sounds like a swirling eddy down the drain of all our life-times might appeal to some as the universal acquisition and use of the late Carl Rogers’ method of counseling, i.e., to mostly listen and repeat back in a reasonable rewording only what the speaker has communicated. Often the first reaction to this ploy, at least inwardly, is “Maybe somebody else understands me!”

Rogers is known in annals of counseling as the client or person-centered therapist who, teetering on the shoulders of Sigmund Freud so to speak, carefully documented hundreds of therapy sessions in an effort to show that Freud’s notions of psychoanalysis were too esoteric and divorced from the “self” of the patient. He was obviously not alone in this effort and undoubtedly Rogers’ technique had practical value in some situations. He also pioneered his own teaching and group therapy methods. During the 70s and 80s, together with many other therapists he journeyed to Vienna to meet with Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) in order to explore his vision of potential international peace efforts. It was on one of these junkets that I met him but my first impression has to be limited, like all such brief before or after program encounters, to externals --the memory only of a cheerful, soft-spoken, affable man who might, at first impression have been a clergyman, (several of whom were in attendance). Rogers, who was born in Oak Park suburban Chicago, praised Frankl’s work highly; he and the Vienna-born Jewish psychiatrist Frankl with his Logotherapy, ironically enough and in a back-handed sort of way (and contrary to intent), probably helped to bring ordinary religious concepts back within the confines of clinical practice. Both men were avowed and vocal champions of their own particular efforts at saving mankind from itself, which as usual was sorely needed. It was Frankl, a survivor of three years of concentration camp imprisonment, who wrote that “Men” not only built the gas chambers at Auswitz but are also the ones who marched to their deaths with the Lord’s Prayer or Shema Yisrael on their lips. He advocated the importance of personal love as a core value in the ongoing struggle, using his own experiences as praxis and method. In an interview toward the end of his life he admitted to a long standing belief in God but did not, like his wife of later years (who was a practicing Catholic), follow even Judaism. Rogers, on the other hand, had become an avowed agnostic and in opposition to his rather dogmatic parents married a woman of whom his parents did not approve. He gave up his study for the Ministry in New York to follow the popular cultural trends of the 50s and 60s; he in fact became enamored of Buddhism and the Baha’i faith. His position was then clearly a version of humanistic as he continued, apparently, to overturn and undo the relatively rigid fundamentalism of his earlier years. It has been noted that Rogers’ “Fully Functioning Person” was similar to some Buddhist characterizations.

An example of Roger’s methods can be played out within a large county prison population with its potential for outbursts of violence, often sparked by frustrations common to prison life. Guards, usually police personnel, have to sit on top of all the “beefs”, real or fancied, that crop up daily. While there is undeniably a master-slave relationship between prison staff and inmates, there is also often an underlying parent-child relationship which may go some lengths in explaining problems of recidivism and apparent irrational reactions to incarceration. Within this relationship a sense of being understood is crucial to day-to-day relational stability. Consider the following scenario: Agitated prisoner approaches a guard in the open compound and asks, “Do you think I will be out of here by Christmas?” Guards could usually respond in one of two ways, both of which are known to the inwardly frustrated inmate as out-right fabrication. One is, “Oh sure you will be, don’t worry about it”, the other is, “How the hell do I know, I’m just doing my job?” The latter at least has the ring of truth, but represents another unhelpful and unconcerned attitude to the potentially explosive inmate. The Rogerian response is less rejective, something like; “Sounds to me that it is very important to you to leave here by Christmas.” Though it is not an answer that might lead later to a charge of false prophecy, the attention of the petitioner is in fact directed back at himself and away from the authority figure -- who has after all apparently understood the main concern. This is one example of Roger’s idea of felt empathy. At the same time it is unlikely that Rogers had forgotten what the Bible informs us in Proverbs 15:1; “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. (Most of us know this simple truism but how many remember it, let alone put it into practice?)

Rogers, a bright and somewhat “driven” man who was clever and innovative in his studies, was not however the sort of intellectual in the sense that obtained in the Vienna group; he was a mid-western lad torn between a study of the Scientific Agriculture of his successful business-man father and the rather narrow religiosity of his mother. Roger’s orientation to the external world was directed to the school and the classroom, towards which he devoted a lot of his writings. In his earlier years he tended to be inwardly private and not popular with his peers; his self had been closely restricted all during childhood and adolescence, at least to age twenty. His parent’s social attitude was described as recognizing that there were mostly a lot of fairly bad people in the world; one had to simply accept them and also to keep to one’s distance. At age twenty he enrolled in a university course entitled Why I Am Studying for the Ministry, but soon after dropped his ecclesiastical ambitions for the study of psychology. From then on he began to make it a principle of his life to try to regard all people as basically good and the “self”, his own and everyone else’s, to be presented to the world as an honest and open book. He saw Freud as a “genius” but looked to Otto Rank, more “self-empowered”, as his mentor. Freud, Rank, and even Frankl, were schooled in medicine and in psychoanalysis. They had undergone some form of training analysis, had received classical European schooling in historical antiquity, and were conversant with a world-view of both psychoanalytic and existential thought (as see Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger).

In short, they knew their cultural and clinical fundamentals, but in review the psychological concepts of Rogers may strike some as rather two-dimensional in nature, lending a solipsist character to his idea, (Philosophy 101?), that all that we know is what impinges on the self; therein one’s images of an inverted white triangle, a red triangle and a blue oblong always turn out to be a man in a blue suit with a white shirt and a red neck-tie. He wrote that all he could know for sure is what he himself experiences --“the touchstone of validity is my self”. Abraham Maslow, former APA president, who was at first agreeable to Rogers’ self actualization notions, later merely exclaimed, “Self, self, self!” The rather misleading simplicity of his therapeutic “method” even led to an early attempt at AI, or artificial intelligence. A professor at MIT, Joseph Weizenbaum (1967), developed a computer program named ELIZA which mimicked Rogers’ responses to his patients in treatment. That idea of computerized therapy was not offered seriously by the author nor was it taken as such except by some computer buffs who still see ELIZA as a curious game.

Listen Up! (continuation)

Though rarely to be remembered for his computer counterpart, it should be recognized that in many other respects Carl Rogers was both famous and revered by many students, teachers, universities, peers, industrial leaders and clergy. But the question remains, why? One possibility is that his approach clearly “resonated” with the post WWII world, which seemed to greet the relief of peace-time as a space to catch up with a zeitgeist that had long been developing.

A view to bear in mind here is that we are, or most of us are, living in an ontology developing according to philosophical thought since the 18th century, which started when science began to offer to explain everything. That was about the same time that Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra spoke God dead, (along with the death of most objective truths). By the end of the new modern period of Enlightenment led by Rene Descartes, God was no longer seen as the center of the Universe –man had taken His place as the main force of cause and effect in the world. Unfortunately this tended to leave life without much meaning beyond itself; some thoughtful writers saw the modern and post-modern thinking as leading directly to Auschwitz and Hitler’s death camps, among other calamities. Scholar James Sire noted “a ‘postmodern’ despair of any universal standard for justice. Society then moves from medieval hierarchy to Enlightenment democracy to ‘postmodern’ anarchy.” Anarchy might, in some respects, be descriptive of the effects Rogers has had on some of those who followed him. Judith Thurman, staff writer for the New Yorker (May 2, 2005) puts it succinctly: “Men facing annihilation …They remind us that a mere eighty years ago ‘the death of God’ wasn’t a graduate conceit but a viscerally felt void of authority and grandeur that ideology rushed to fill. Action is (Malraux’s) cure for the ‘absurdity’of life in a universe without salvation.” (p. 101).

Rogers was the respected president of the American Psychological Association of 1947 who lived to personally influence many people for the next forty years. I remember a speaking visit to L. A. in 1966 by a past president of that association, O. Hobart Mower. By his time ideas of therapeutic public confession of one’s most apparently “sacrilegious” actions and impulses, i.e., being authentic rather than dominated by external rules and regulations, held sway. Mower’s confessions of youthful erotic explorations down on the farm mostly aroused feelings of embarrassment to listeners of other persuasions. About that period an attractive young woman was assigned to our clinic on a training assignment from a local college. During one of our tutorials she confided to me that her most recent advancement in personal growth was her realization that she wanted to defecate in the streets; it also soon occurred to her that she might find other local training opportunities more congenial to her clinical posture. (The suggestion that she complete her toilet training should perhaps have been offered).

But in that welter of self realization groups, sensitivity training, encounter group, classes and workshops where much the same “openness” was encouraged from participants eager to be freed of their crippling cultural bonds, the air was electric with attempts at change and self exposure. This was the beginning era of sexual freedom: Rogers and cohorts were much in demand as all walks of life seemed to desire “hip” status, including freedom from taboos and moral restrictions.

LISTEN UP (final part)

Precisely because the work of Carl Rogers and other humanistic practitioners had such a deep and lasting effect on all walks of life it is important to understand what made it tick. Abraham Maslow was one of those practitioner/innovators who came to see, earlier than Rogers, that self-actualization can develop in both positive and negative directions. Maslow died in his middle sixties a rather remorseful man, as he finally recognized some of the massive flaws in their beliefs; he saw, for example, that when Rogers left science behind he had “swapped his belief in an objective realm of goodness and truth for the idea that what feels good really is good, at least in the personal sphere, as long as it is sincere.” (See W. R. Coulson, below). A couple of things that were wrong: (1) Rogers didn’t know how to say limiting phrases like “No, that is wrong, you can’t do that”, and (2), he had insisted on treating “normal” people. It is unclear if Rogers personally knew much about abnormal psychology or psychopathology, but he clearly wasn’t going to wait for patients to come from specialized groups as did most of his clinician peers. Since he felt everybody needed release from religious and cultural restriction, everyone became fair game. Virtually no one was saying, nor do I say now, that Rogers was a bad man; he may in fact have been something worse, a good man gone wrong –and that is bad.

To further his “therapeutic” ideas he called his efforts “client-centered”, to avoid “patient-centered”, but borrowed a key analytic concept from Freud’s work, which seemed to indicate that one is likely to be neurotic or crazy when resistance towards external moralistic demands or one’s libidinal impulses are repressed. He then pasted this blanket “diagnosis” on everyone in sight; it was pasted on the members of Catholic communities who had been led in droves into curious participation by misguided educators. And sure enough these people were repressed --but they were supposed to be! Instead of receiving help in deciding on, or living with, their principles, the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary in L.A. were soon enthusiastic in becoming “self-realized”; by the middle 60’s this largest sisterhood had literally ceased to exist. They had all broken their Holy vows, a few had changed orders but many had given up celibacy to engage in homo- or heterosexual encounters.

This information is now well known (see also: Carl Rogers and the IHM Nuns: by E. Michael Jones, Ph.D. --Originally published in a book, Libido Dominandi; Sexual Liberation and Political Control –South Bend. St. Augustine Press, 1999). During the 1960’s William R. Coulson was a research associate to Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow at Western Behavioral Sciences institute in La Jolla, California. He co-edited a 17 volume series on humanistic education with Rogers and helped him organize the country’s first program of facilitator training. Coulson himself later became deeply regretful of their “psychology” and indicated it was his belief that probably many of the sexual crimes by Catholic brothers or priests perpetrated upon children could be directly traced to effects of those encounter-group experiences in the 60’s. The dangers of permissiveness in practice is the theme of a paper given at a conference in 1995 entitled “You Can’t Do That: When Compassion Calls For Telling the Truth,” by W. R. Coulson, Ph.D. --in Collected Papers from the NARTH Annual Conference, Saturday, 29 July 1995. While a book of Rogers entitled The Emerging Person: Spearhead of the Quiet Revolution –in which he stated “homosexuality, bisexuality, and sexual freedom are given far greater social acceptance”, according to Coulson “Carl Rogers’ daughter and a diseased nun {a student IMH nun who contracted two sexually transmitted diseases} and an educator who was in the process of courting arrest had become heroic, along with others of their self-actualizing kind;… Not only was his daughter Natalie’s marriage in trouble at the time, her brother’s was too. The life commitments of the only two children Carl and Helen Rogers had were dissolving. The whole enterprise was imperiled –the future of the Rogers family including the future of six grandchildren.” The point here is not that these things couldn’t ever happen, but they happened to three people who had offered the world marital counseling and who were in the pursuit of proving their solution to life itself was a superior one. Carl and Helen Rogers had been married 54 years but they too faced divorce. As Coulson put it, “…the need had arisen for Rogers to defend against the claim that such a (moral) law is to be obeyed, or that it is even real. His children, his people, his tribe, the only tribe he had, were breaking it simultaneously”.

Long before his death in 1987, however, Rogers too began to cool some of his enthusiasm. As early as 1971 Coulson wrote that Rogers had “felt obliged to defend too many young victims… Finally this personal admission was heard in a tape recording circulated from La Jolla in 1976:

I started this damned thing and look where it’s taken us. I don’t know where it’s taking me. I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen next…And where’s it going to carry us? And did I start something that is in some fundamental way mistaken and that may lead us off into paths that we will regret…?”

It appeared the “quiet revolution” was losing it’s battle. His nemesis, moral values, was beginning to enter the fray as a refreshing back-lash. Some good things came out of the 50’s and 60’s, such as the Civil Rights movement, but Humanistic Psychology was not one of them. Stiffened moral fiber in the form of improved ethical and professional standards, with more stringent licensing laws and practice regulations in almost all the states, followed on the horror stories of past malfeasance.

I hinted earlier that Rogers may have helped unwittingly to bring ordinary religious issues back into psychotherapy; today the availability of Christian counseling is commonplace, and Christian, or Biblical and Theistic psychology is practiced and studied in our universities. Note a recent paper titled Scientific Psychology and Christian Theism by Harold D. Delany and Timothy F. Goldsmith of the University of New Mexico, 5/7/2005. This is an excellent short history of psychology and clearly shows that Biblical aspects of human psychology are now important issues –“hot”, you might say. And yes, we are being heard!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tea-Bag Tags

In later life it may be counter-productive to do things one has never done before. Until I happened recently to read a tag appended to a tea-bag I had not realized the great loss I have suffered through throwing, thoughtlessly, hundreds if not thousands of tea-bag tags away, unread, in bags of trash or garbage over the years.

For one thing the wisdom of the ages appears to be printed thereon, and I now see that as irretrievable. I have failed to avail myself of that tossed out wisdom. In addition to being left holding the bag, so to speak, bereft of such knowledge, there are the many attendant thoughts these tags might provoke; this maiden reading, as it were, is a formidable case in point. This one contained a quote from the writings of the honorable Booker T. Washington, prior to 1915, succinctly stated, and probably tersely too, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles he has overcome.” There you have it -- you are your own arbiter of success! Dr. Booker T. surely had more experience with obstacles on the road to those positions in life than most; those positions undoubtedly include being quoted on tea-bag tags. That being, I now understand, one of the more enviable positions to be reached in life, now probably being occupied by the greater, more brilliant writers and thinkers of all time. It is clear that such messages are pitched to intellectual types, the sort of wise thinker I am sure I would have been had I only read all those tags. The idea of measurement is introduced in this quote by Dr. Washington, but not measures in terms of those discrete, objective units or intervals readily available to the popular minds and hearts of everyone else out there. It is apparently a measurement one can use without ending up helplessly judged by those other people, the kind of standard which I think I have been looking for some time.

Other people, I’ve discovered, do not have the faintest inkling of the tortuous obstacles I’ve encountered in reaching my present position of apparent nonentity; they have not walked a mile in my sandals, so to speak, nor would I have inflicted them with an opportunity to do so. This is the old story of rising out of obscurity only to become enmeshed in oblivion. It is immediately clear that the level of difficulty I have faced, the everyday obstacles I have had to contend with, puts me head and shoulders above many of my peers. It is also evident, that they do not recognize themselves as my peers; but they are not the only ones who have encountered resistances on the ladder to success. I too have found the going tough and will henceforth take my place among them, quietly, sans tea-bag fame. This is surely a case of the old wisdom that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, and only the sojourner of tribulation knows how badly it pinches –but whose complaining?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Taking Chances on My Street

Today as I stepped out to the sidewalk a young woman on a bicycle rode briskly towards me down the center of the walk-way. I stepped backward (one “giant step”) to let her pass and noticed she wore a placid, serene, unchanging facial expression; her glance was straight ahead and unwavering. The thought struck me that it was the look of a person who was convinced she bore a charmed, invincible life. In uncanny confirmation she peddled out into the street without pausing, and on across a busy intersection. Apparently unmindful of near brushes with eternity she smoothly reached the opposite curbing and vanished from view.

On reflection, this sort of thing happens a lot on my street. Marked by a very busy four-way junction, its stop signs only seem to lend a spirit of risk-taking for both drivers and pedestrians – from all four directions. Many foot-sloggers out here, seemingly oblivious to the traffic, step off the sidewalk with or without benefit of the crosswalks, then amble towards various points across the vehicle studded thoroughfare.

We were taught at preschool age, if not before, to stop and look both ways before putting a foot out onto the macadam. That early training has not generally stood the test of time. For my part, having a certain respect for life and limb (at least mine), I do not emulate those ambulating lemmings out there mostly because I lack the ability to dodge quickly if need be. At least that version skirts the issue of cowardice, but in truth I tend to wince at any squeal of brakes in my street, the sound indicating a “charm” may have been broken.

The matter of faith comes in here, together with the question of faith misplaced. I admit a certain modicum of faith is required for me just to get out of bed on any given day; I probably lean on the everlasting arms in many routine, everyday situations – even in getting across the street. Other people seem to put a great deal of “faith” in the alertness as well as the good will, or the brakes, or gymnastic skills (say in the standing broad jump), of other wayfarers.

There is a serious error here, and one that is often overlooked. For one thing there is a very large difference between having confidence in something (or some one), and putting faith where it belongs. Armed with elementary science and some experience in everyday affairs I can gauge the confidence level to be expected of my traveling to the moon, (fairly low), or anticipating that my mail will be delivered to me rather than to my neighbor (usually a pretty sure thing, although mathematically there are no absolutely sure things in the realm of probability). In short, my confidence varies considerably with my small fund of knowledge and past experience, or alternatively how much confidence I feel in the word of friends or advisors. Having some idea of these confidence levels I may decide what chances to take.

We are really talking about the confidence we might have in the odds of some event occurring or not. With or without specialized information, over the long haul those odds will win out, but God can overcome them! Many times He offers Saving Grace to the faithful, but who are they?

As I think of it I realize that I do not, practically speaking, have faith in the weather patterns nor do I have confidence in them; the storms that rage and wreak havoc are not predictable to me and are simply to be avoided if possible. For similar reasons I do not have much confidence in my ability to cross my own street unless I look about with some caution first.

On that note, as long as we are differentiating between confidence and faith, I must hew to the difficult and to some the unthinkable: I seem to have much less faith in what I can see than what is unseen! But back to disasters, natural or unnatural for the moment; a passage in Luke is instructive to the weather-wise: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say ‘It’s going to rain’, and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say ‘It’s going to be hot’, and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:54-56). In this same passage some people in the crowd, like many people who today wonder why bad things happen, told Jesus of the report of Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no!… Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!” (Luke 13:1-5). Questions of weather aside, here the words of Jesus clearly suggest that the differences in those outcomes are not measured in degrees of sinning – we are all sinners, and to declare one’s self otherwise is risky. The issues are salvation and faith; those who have faith enough to repent of their sinfulness will live forever!

“For the power Thou hast given me to lay hold of
Things unseen:
For the strong sense I have that this is not my home:
For my restless heart which nothing finite can satisfy:
I Give Thee thanks, O God.”
John Baillie

Thomas the doubter needed to see for himself – Christ told us that even greater in the Kingdom are those who believe without having to touch his wounds. That is faith, as is the assurance that Paul showed when he said “Let God be true, and every man a liar”. (Ro 3:4). Then again, in worldly affairs the probability of anything being 100% true is impossible no matter how likely it seems; the law of averages tells us, (to the wonder and delight of many school kids ), that some day a pan of water will be placed on the fire – and it will freeze. The scientific community puts a high level of confidence in this effect even though no one has witnessed all instances of “water on stove”. We might say that this is a kind of worldly “faith” in things unseen. This sort of confidence is also implicit in the tenet “For every cause there is an effect, and for every effect a cause”. This too is a belief in the unseen, since not all cause and effect relationships have yet been witnessed.

There is a particularly knotty aspect to this problem because Original Cause appears never to have been discovered in any of life’s events. Science is very adept at putting together chains of events, one or more leading to yet another; this is done in a highly reliable and valid way and is referred to as empiricism among other things. When, however, one works backward to what seems to be the earliest event in a series, there is still no first, one and only, apparent reason for how – or why –- an event began to occur at all; there is always some condition before that one that needs explaining. You might try it with your friends: Start with some event such as how or why do plants grow, or why does the wind blow (i.e., warm air in the northern part of the state, cold front from the south, etc.). When you have gotten as far as you can in identifying one cause after the other, (with or without reference books), then ask why or how those special conditions existed to start the whole series of events in the first place. In the spiritual and emotional realm this question is frequently and poignantly asked in the form of “Why me, O Lord?”, when some unexpected and “unfair” calamity comes to pass. Fair or not, to my knowledge these questions have rarely been satisfactorily answered, and unless one knows what God knows, probably seldom will be. As in the passage from Luke above, Jesus immediately rejected human reasoning by his response: “causes” are not what you think in earthly terms! If and when we really need to have confidence in future events in our lives, earthly terms have limited usefulness; here we need faith, and faith is properly placed in the Lord – otherwise, blasphemy or at least idolatry; there is the ridiculous alternative of praying to a set of brakes or to on-coming pickup trucks. This brings us back to my street: That girl on the bike was either an example of divine intervention through prayer, (without moving her lips), or she was taking some mighty dumb chances in the hopes that the Lord had plans for her that did not include a hospital bed, or worse.