Worse Than Useless

I had mentioned before that three times in my life I have had some reasonably sustained therapy [1]. The first time it happened was between the ages of about five and seven, at a local psychiatric hospital in Plant City, that went bankrupt during my childhood, called the Panos Center. Of all of the times I have ever had therapy, this is the only experience with it that I feel fondly about. It is possible, of course, that hindsight has made it a more pleasant experience in retrospect, although this is seldom how my mind has tended to work. Nevertheless, one must at least concede the possibility that memory, particularly memories going back thirty years to a period where one did not really understand fully what was going on, is not going to be a reliable basis for judgment. Be that as it may, I remember as a child that the therapy was playful and that it was not a very stressful experience. Had such been my only experience with therapy, I might even have a more positive perspective on psychologists and psychiatrists in general, but that was not to be the case. Nevertheless, the fact that I fondly remember at least some childhood experiences of play is a good thing, given the generally harrowing nature of the childhood that I remember and occasionally see in nightmares.

My next sustained familiarity with psychology came as a high school student when I attended the International Baccalaureate Program at C. Leon King High School and chose Psychology as one of my four higher level classes during my junior and senior years. In our school’s program, the psychology class focused first on different schools of psychology, and then on abnormal psychology. Included in such assignments was a self-designed naturalistic observation, survey, and social experiment as well as an intriguing dream journal assignment. For the most part, I found some of the schools of psychology fairly congenial to me personally—I have always respected the insights of Carl Jung that have applied to personality theory, for example [2], have been fond of the humanistic psychology of Maslow and Rogers, and have preferred the big-picture mentality of Gestalt psychology to many approaches. If Cognitive Behavioral Theory has struck me as a bit too cold and Freud I have found to be grossly overrated, and if I have been horrified by the perspective of behavioral psychologists and their reductionist thinking, I have nevertheless found at least some aspects of psychology as a field personally worthwhile in my own self-learning, especially where Christian counseling has been involved [3]. My studies of abnormal psychology were less pleasant, not least because they led me to question the extent of my own sanity, as can often be the case for those who deal with diagnostic manners and have a tendency to think their physical or mental health to be at least somewhat defective, but overall I enjoyed my studies in psychology, and if I did not consider myself to be fit to make them my life’s work, at least I considered the studies to have been time well spent.

My second experience with therapy, in the mid 2000’s, was less pleasant. As I had become conscious of the serious and damaging effects of child abuse, and also of the deep extent of my own depression and gloom, by 2007 I thought it necessary that I take some efforts to improve my own personal mental health, and sought to find a therapist in the area who had competence and expertise in early childhood psychology and its effects. The city of Tampa, in whose metropolitan area I then lived, did not have many of those psychologists, but I eventually found one who had offices near the University of South Florida, where I attended graduate school as a commuter student at the time while also working full time. Without going into too much painful personal detail, or violating confidentiality, the experience did not go well. There was a point, and it came after between eight and ten counseling sessions of 45 minutes in length apiece, where the therapist thought that in order for me to find greater healing and peace of mind that it would be advisable for me to seek the services of a prostitute, since it was her view that more sexual experience would greatly solve my fairly extreme anxiety and personal timidity in such matters. It should go without saying that I found the counsel to be deeply disturbing and that marked an immediate end to the therapy sessions.

My third experience with therapy may have been even more traumatic, if that is possible, although it is also far more complicated. In early 2013, shortly after moving to the Portland area, it was thought necessary for me to attend some sessions with our congregation’s local counselor so that it could be determined whether and to what extent I was a threat to the well-being of the young people of my local congregation. It did not take very long for it to be clear that even though emotional entanglements of an awkward and sometimes even disastrous nature were well within the realm of probability, that I was not the sort of person who was a threat to those around me, and probably far more of a threat to myself. What made the situation awkward were several interrelated concerns. For one, there was not sufficient distance between therapist and patient, given that we are moderately friendly acquaintances who go to church together and have other personal ties. For another, he seemed to lack hope that the difficulties I faced were soluble in this life—he seemed to be of the belief that sometimes everything one does is wrong and that there may simply be no good options to choose from. This did not inspire a great deal of comfort or encouragement as far as I was concerned. Additionally, this man has frequently asked me to sing with a teen and young adult a capella choir in our local congregation, which I have felt has tended to magnify the potential difficulties and stress of the situation, both for myself and for others.

Despite my at best uneven experiences when it came to the field of psychology, nevertheless, it is fairly obvious that this field views itself as being of the utmost importance in encouraging and fostering mental health. And, to be sure, there is a great need both to recognize ways in which mental health can go disastrously wrong, but more importantly, what good mental health looks like. If psychologists and therapists have not always succeeded in encouraging good mental health among those they help, there are at least a few good reasons for this. For one, the field of psychology has a highly developed theoretical framework without having a highly developed understanding of the brain, the mind, as well as its individual quirks. Like many aspects of health and nutrition in our contemporary world, knowledge of psychology has been hindered by theoretical and worldview concerns, such as a hostility to spiritual and moral excellence, as well as a certain obeisance to political and cultural trends of a harmful nature. Anytime a therapist feels comfortable advising a patient to break the laws of God and man in order to pursue the fulfillment of frustrated longings for intimacy, there is clearly something deeply amiss. Fortunately, my experiences in reading and studies of the field have been far more enjoyable; it is only when matters have gone from the study of general patterns and trends and gone to the far more thorny and difficult matter of trying to improve my own personal life, to increase the success of intimacy, to reduce difficulties with others, and to banish the continual presence of anxiety and even alarm that the field has been a dismal failure in my own life.

Nevertheless, the abuse of a field and its frequent operation under faulty worldviews does not mean it is a field without worth. On the contrary, it just means that such a field requires great care and attention if it is to operate most effectively. No doubt a great deal of my own well-being, to the extent that it can be argued that I enjoy a high level of mental health, is due to close attention to matters of mood and psychology. Some of this involves matters of eating and sleeping and exercise, for out of fairly basic behaviors a great deal of our own well-being depends. Additionally, the search for self-knowledge and the concern for other people often involves knowledge of and attention to matters of psychology. If we are truly well-adjusted people, in a decent and moral sense, our behavior will not seek to cause distress to others, and will be attentive to feedback from others, so that we are able to avoid, at least to the greatest extent possible, causing unintentional offense. If we are not perfect in such matters, we should at least strive to become better and grow in them.

Of particular interest to me personally are therapies that involve personal interests of mine. For example, the use of writing and music as therapy is something that I have long explored as an avenue of encouraging my own mental health, even if creativity carries with it the strong risk of misinterpretation, as has been known to happen. Additionally, I have found in the enjoyment of plants and the pets of others, or riding horses, a great deal of therapeutic value. If my own busy and somewhat nomadic lifestyle has made it difficult for me to feel comfortable with having pets, I do enjoy the greater peace of mind that result from being in nature and being surrounded by fellow creatures, so long as they are well-behaved and not personally hostile to me. Since this is the case most of the time, I have found such activities to be enjoyable, even to the point where at some point, if resources permit, I may devote some time to gardening or animal husbandry as a result, even if it is a bit too much like the sort of activities many members of my family love. Perhaps that is a sign of healing, in that the activities that family members enjoy are no longer horrifying simply because they were done by others. Perhaps someday this will be the case with activities like photography as well, outside of the few times I have enjoyed vanity photography sessions which have felt far more comfortable than most of the photography I have been involved in thus far. There are obviously some areas where healing has yet to come.

At any rate, even if my own personal experiences with psychology have often been worse than useless in that they have actually made my life more difficult and less encouraging than they would already be, I have viewed this not as a sign of uselessness on the part of psychology as a field, if it was properly conceived, but rather as a sign of the incompetence of the people who have failed to help me, and as a sign of the difficult task of psychology given my own personal background and context. No doubt the fact that some of my friends have been attracted to psychology, a task I have sought to encourage them in where possible, has been a testament to the fact that even with deeply imperfect skill on the part of many practitioners, the field itself still retains an attraction for those who see the promise of encouraging the mental health of others, after first having understood and improved their own mental health. Perhaps that is the biggest promise of the field, in that we can first seek to help ourselves, and then, once we have helped ourselves, we are able to turn around and help others as well. Among the best results of our own growth and improvement is the corresponding increase in our ability to help others out. And is that not at least a large part of what makes life worth living in the first place, and that makes people devote their lives to counseling and encouraging others to the best of their God-given abilities? Perhaps we are not so different after all.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/a-telltale-heart/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/accident-report/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/pieces-of-me/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/suffer-the-children-tears-for-fears-and-musical-therapy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/book-review-many-faces-of-ptsd/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/ordinary-magic/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/remember-that-you-are-a-child-too/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/a-week-to-remember-a-week-to-forget/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/you-have-the-right-to-remain-silent-but-not-the-ability/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/broken/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/book-review-please-understand-me-character-temperament-types/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/book-review-please-understand-me-i/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/book-review-bearing-the-unbearable/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/book-review-safe-house/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/book-review-still-restless/

http://breakingfree.ucg.org/content/book-review-threshold-hope

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‘Cause If You Get It Wrong, You’ll Get It Right Next Time

For reasons that are difficult to understand, Thursday mornings are particularly unpleasant times to drive to work in the morning [1] in the course of the week. Today, for example, it took me two hours to drive to work, and it would have taken longer had I not gotten off of I-5 at the earliest possible exit to drive the back way over the hills, the route I usually take on the way home. This particular time, unlike previous cases, it was very obvious what was causing the trouble. Specifically, there had been an accident involving a tractor trailer on the Marquam Bridge on I-5 southbound, involving the spilling of a large amount of gasoline and all of the lanes of I-5 Southbound being closed off for several hours while the cleanup took place, and being diverted to I-405. By the time I had been at work an hour, the lanes were opened to traffic once again, where they were no doubt nearly immediately crowded with the remnants of the rush hour traffic that had not been able to find alternate routes earlier.

This was not the only somewhat ominous travel experience that I had noted today. As I was departing my apartment complex, I noticed a couple of DOT trucks in the middle lane that had stopped and were putting out traffic cones for some sort of work. I wonder what work that was, whether it was repaving or surveying or what. Earlier this week, my apartment complex had dropped off a form to fill out to tell what vehicles belong to us to make sure that the precious and few parking spaces are used in the most effective manner, since the complex does not appear to wish to construct any new ones despite acknowledging the increasing crowding as a result of the housing crisis of the Portland-Vancouver area [2] and the total lack of vacancies as being heavily involved. Not only this, but there was a connection as well to the audiobook I am currently listening to, The Big Short, which examines the problems that led to the housing bubble of the early 2000’s, which is a root cause of the current lack of housing available at present, as well as the lack of infrastructure that results when incomes and taxes fall and as banks become skittish about lending money to those who wish to borrow it for financing home construction or purchase.

There are a few related concerns that one deals with in an overdetermined problem like the lack of general infrastructure. On the one hand, scarcity of resources often prevents people from being able to effectively work on adding or maintaining infrastructure, but the fact that people can profit from an absence of infrastructure may also hinder the diversion of such resources into increasing flow and capacity because of concerns that even if such projects would be useful for the larger area as a whole, they may hurt those who are profiting from the way things are. In a sense, the situation can be a bit of a catch-22, in that those who would benefit from infrastructure are seldom able to pay for it themselves, and those who have the means to do so lack the will or the interest to do so, for one reason or another. This is true whether the infrastructure is bridges over a river, highways to move people around, and parking spots and housing for people to enjoy at the beginning and ending of their often lengthy days.

We ought to be especially careful about the solutions that we choose for problems because temporary fixes can easily become permanent solutions that shape the terrain in which choices can be made. Likewise, people far too easily think of restrictions in the face of scarcity rather than thinking of expansion. To be sure, there can be occasions where people build bridges to nowhere in the thought that if one builds capacity than demand will follow, which does not necessarily work out, but there are also many occasions where people believe that artificially keeping supply limited will eventually reduce demand, and all that does is make for a lot of people in difficult or even miserable circumstances. We would be better served to live and act with thoughtfulness about what is best for other people, and if we fail, we should fail with good intentions and acting as wisely as possible, not being miserly and hard-hearted, and too clever for our own good, as can occasionally be the case. Sometimes one never gets the chance to be right next time when one gets it wrong this time.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/can-we-taco-bout-it/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/cleopatra-isnt-the-only-queen-of-denial/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/all-over-creation/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/some-minutes-of-the-vancouver-affordable-housing-community-forum-meeting-part-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/some-minutes-of-the-vancouver-affordable-housing-community-forum-meeting-part-two/

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Book Review: The Water-Saving Garden

The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/10 Speed Press in exchange for an honest review.]

As someone who has read my share of books on gardening [1], it is intriguing to see the parallels between one book and another. Especially since this is the third gardening book I have read from the same publisher, there are some definite parallels between this book and the other two, namely that what this author sees as gardening with water in mind is useful as well to those who wish to grow on rooftops in containers (which is discussed in this book) and also involves the use of bee and bird-friendly natives and well-acculturated other plants. That said, this is a book that is written from a clear agenda, namely a high degree of concern about droughts, water restrictions that harm traditional turf-heavy lawns, and the supposed threat of dreaded climate change, which give the author a great deal of encouragement in writing this particular volume to those gardeners who want to reduce their labor or garden with reducing water consumption in mind.

In terms of the contents of this book, there is a lot to appreciate. The book is full of photographs to illustrate its point that gardening does not need to use a lot of water to look gorgeous. The book itself, which is just over 200 pages, is divided into five parts. After a short introduction introducing the author’s panicky message of environmental trouble, the first part consists of seven sample gardens that show off water-saving techniques: a dry garden, a zen-inspired concrete garden, a desert-themed garden, a garden that holds onto every drop of rain not letting any runoff, a colorful dry slope, a garden with bold foliage, and a dry garden that evokes water. Part two consists of the first five chapters of the book, and focuses on techniques that make a garden a water saver rather than a water guzzler: holding onto water, choosing permeable paving, efficient irrigation techniques, soil and mulching, and using shade to lower evaporation. The third part of the book looks at how someone can plant a water-saving garden containing five chapters on such issues as reducing lawn space, growing native and well-adapted plants, ripple-zone planting and taking advantage of lush areas of naturally high water content, properly timing planting, and saving water in container and balcony gardens for urban dwellers with limited space. The fourth part of the book consists of three chapters that help gardeners create the illusion of water by encouraging zen gardens, evoking water through wavy plants, and squeezing water from stone, so to speak. The fifth and final part of the book consists of 101 plant recommendations to save water, some of which are very lovely indeed.

Although there are some areas where this book is worthy of great praise, such as the way it promotes a great deal of Portlandia gardening expertise, this book is not free of blameworthy aspects. For one, the book contains the usual internal contradiction that makes fallacious appeals to the evolution of native plants while promoting unrecognized and deeply intelligent garden design. For another, the book’s strident political tone and uncritical adoption of environmentalist rhetoric is off-putting and alienating, about as irritating as kudzu. Fortunately, there is enough that is beautiful about the book that the author’s endorsement of heathen Buddhist zen garden design and bogus political worldview is only a minor irritant, and that one can largely ignore the book’s philosophizing and take its practical tips and well-photographed pictures of elegant and water-efficient gardens at face value, which is far more worthwhile and enjoyable. Whether one agrees or not with the author’s politics, the fact that water-saving gardens save money and effort in watering and mowing plants, and can create beautiful and elegant gardens is worthwhile enough for readers to consider, especially if they like to create distinctive spaces with strong local color.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/book-review-down-in-the-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/book-review-the-bee-friendly-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/book-review-the-rooftop-growing-guide/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/book-review-back-in-the-garden-with-dulcy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/book-review-through-the-seasons-with-dulcy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/book-review-brother-cadfaels-herb-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/book-review-rooted-in-design/

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Fallow Years

On August 27, 2008, I wrote my epitaph [1], in Spanish, in part because I was heading to the Feast of Tabernacles that year in Chile and my mind was in a Spanish-speaking place, and in part because as a poet, one has to be sensitive to questions of language, as some aspects of language are more beautiful and more elegant in some languages than in others. In Spanish, for example, my epitaph reads as follows: “Vivir es sufrir / Morir es domir. / Aqui no sufrirè nada más, / Así dèjame dormir en paz.” Translated into English, this becomes: “To live is to suffer / To die is to sleep. / Here I will suffer nothing more, / So let me sleep in peace.” Even during the fallow years of my deep gloom, I was wrestling with large questions as to the meaning of life, and what insight could be gleaned from it, and what wanted written on one’s tombstone, to leave behind as a record of one’s life to others after one was gone.

I have long looked to Abraham Lincoln as a model of how to cope with the difficulties of life and the frustrations of ambitions [2]. I have pondered how he learned how to become a gentleman, how he wrestled with a task of reuniting the United States that was more difficult than Washington’s, how he punctured the arrogance of slaveowners who believed that slavery was a good thing for other people, and how he wrestled with the divine will. Given the fact that Lincoln is widely thought to be at the very top of any ranking of American presidents [3], it is worth reflecting on the fact that for a president, his record was remarkably thin. He had been active as a political candidate, but had twice been defeated in efforts at achieving the spot of U.S. Senator for Illinois, once because of the refusal of anti-Nebraska Democrats to vote the longtime Whig in 1854, and once because of malapportionment in districts in 1858 that led to Lincoln’s majority of votes becoming a minority of members of the state legislature that voted for Senators. He had been elected half a dozen times to the Illinois legislature and served one term as a U.S. Representative but had never held executive office, nor been considered for any position higher in the Executive Branch of government during his life than the territorial governor of Oregon during the presidency of Zachary Taylor, a position he declined out of respect for his wife’s refusal to leave the civilized and comforts of Springfield for such a pioneer experience. Until the very end of his life, Lincoln had a reputation for being well-spoken, thoughtful, and a man of character and integrity, but this did not lead him into the rewards of the highest offices, and instead landed him in frequent disappointment. Yet all that time spent out of office, working the Eighth Circuit ride, and honing his arguments about slavery and constitutional law were not wasted time, for they were preparing him for the greatest test of his existence, a test he passed with flying colors, though at the cost of his life in a cowardly assassination.

In 1980, my father turned 34 years old, and five days after his birthday he married my mother. From what I have heard, at least, he felt under a great deal of pressure to marry. My mother, in her own way, seems to have felt under internal pressure to marry, and never has seemed entirely comfortable with being single. Some people, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, even in the absence of romantic intimacy or relationships, always tend to have some sort of flirtatious friendships with people around them. Such is the case, for example, with me. Like my father, I know the pressure of having relationships, as I cannot even chat with friendly children without fielding awkward questions about why I have not found someone to marry and why I don’t have any children yet when it is fairly obvious that I would be a loving husband and father for all of my quirks and eccentricities. If small children not yet in kindergarten can ask such questions because they seem puzzling, it is certainly a puzzling matter to larger people, and frequently to myself. Yet if, like my father, I have felt a great deal of pressure when it comes to relationships, like my mother I have never been able to go very long without some sort of dramatic situation, some sort of friendship of teasing flirtation and frustration, of difficulties in communication. At some point all of that effort at communication and relationships has to pay off, right?

While I have not ever been married, or yet been close to marriage, nor do I see any immediate prospects for it, some friends of mine are working on their second marriages. Indeed, I recently saw a friend of mine [4] who had been pushed into a shotgun marriage after an unplanned pregnancy announcing that she was now engaged to another gentleman, when I was unaware that she had even been divorced from her first husband. Nor is this phenomenon limited to women; when I attended the Night To Be Much Observed I spoke with a young woman whose ex-husband had gotten married for a second time on the anniversary of his first marriage only days after the divorce had been finalized, which is acting with all kinds of ridiculous haste. It is somewhat disconcerting that while I flounder so unsuccessfully seeking to marry right the first time, many of my peers are working on their second marriages with barely a pause after the dissolution of their first marriages. Perhaps being in the marriage market is like being in the job market—having experience, even bad experience, is better than having little or none at all. The fact that one was able to have convinced someone to marry someone in the past makes it easier to convince someone else to marry one in the future, even if the first marriage does not work out. Yet when marriages do not work out, hearts are broken, it becomes difficult to trust, and one often has to deal with the reality of complicating the lives of beloved children. And failure is a habit; once someone walks away the first time, it is easier to keep on walking or running away anytime things get difficult or unpleasant.

I consider the years between 2006 and 2011 to have been largely fallow years in my life. Perhaps a great deal of that comes from my family background in agriculture. A farmer who wishes to preserve as best as possible the fertility of the soil will leave his fields periodically fallow. This is not only wise from an agronomy perspective, but is a command by God given in Leviticus 25:1-7, which reads: “And the Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Eternal. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Eternal. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the Sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.” As my father’s family is a farming one, every few years field are left fallow, and when they are left fallow the cover crop is usually alfalfa, which is tasty both for people on salads, where it can be found to put on salads given concerns over E. coli, and for deer, which are willing to risk eating out in the open Pennsylvania sky in evening or night in order to eat the tasty sprouts.

When one is farming, one knows that one has to let the land rest and recuperate so that it can grow its best. Being a person who tends to struggle with rest and relaxation, who tends to feel under extreme pressure, to feel as if life on this earth will not be long because it cannot persist under its current pressure indefinitely without something breaking down absolutely, I tend to find myself frustrated at fallow periods. Yet they are necessary. Jerusalem, because of its inabilities in resting as it was commanded to do, was let to lie fallow in ruins for seventy years until its Sabbaths had been fulfilled. So too, it is possible that the fallow years of my own life, the frustrated longings and ambitions, have a larger purpose of their own, and that the end result will be far more uplifting and successful than the hurrying along from one situation into another, without having taken the time to pause, reflect, and recuperate from the difficulties that have come before. If all is pressure and stress, whether internal or external, then one never has the chance to be fully rehabilitated or restored to a state of peace and contentment. And if it is hard to find contentment, it is certainly worthwhile to find it, not least because what we were created to be requires effort that can be sustained, which requires pacing and endurance, and is not something that can be done with sprits.

Yet fallow rest is not the end in mind. One of the reasons I long delayed writing this memoir is that I had not reached a level of sufficient success, in my mind, to justify writing about my life, because the arc had not reached a high enough point to show glory and praise. With no marriage, the struggles with intimacy that were the result of early child abuse and a disastrous family background had not been fully redeemed with success, only with the reality of present and the likelihood of future struggle and difficulty. With no positions or offices of great honor and responsibility and no full recognition of talents lying fallow and unused, there was no ability to point to my having been put along the sort of route and track that would fully utilize my God-given abilities. If there is still space to go and room to achieve far more in life, that means that any ending to an account is not a denouement, but merely an obvious place for a sequel to follow. It is in the same place as a hits album that is titled volume 1, with the obvious expectation of there being a volume 2 to follow, even before the additional music has been recorded. And what can be meant as a sign of hope of better days to come can easily seem to be bragging without having accomplished anything to be bragging about.

And yet if I feel as if I am writing a memoir of a life that had been, at best, something like Abraham Lincoln’s life in the 1840’s and 1850’s, where whatever potential promise existed in that life had not been fully realized, and where there was a great deal of concern that it might never be realized, such fallow years are not wasted if they remind us that just because a crop is not yet harvested does not mean that there is not an enriching of the soul under the surface, or that the time is entirely wasted and unproductive because it has not fully borne fruit. We may know that we were put here to show fruits of the Spirit, to live a productive and successful life, and to bear in our lives and experiences the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father, and we may chafe at the bit at not having shown the production that mirrors the potential that we have. But so long as we know that this is not the end and that we have to keep working and keep improving, after the time of rest is done, then the time is not wasted at all, but is a brief intermission between where we are and where we will be.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/mi-epitafio/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/although-your-dominion-is-small-the-curious-connection-between-abraham-lincoln-and-san-marino/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/today-in-history-on-february-12-1809-abraham-lincoln-and-charles-darwin-were-born/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/how-abraham-lincoln-learned-to-be-a-gentleman/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/abraham-lincoln-democracy-despotism-and-the-two-trees/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/to-remember-that-he-had-lived/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/book-review-where-they-stand/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/the-price-of-honor-an-application-of-exodus-2216-17/

Posted in Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Audiobook Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The British Empire

The Politically Incorrect Guide To The British Empire, by H.W. Crocker III, read by Ray Porter

It is a great shame that the audiobook cd I was listening to skipped at times, as this is a greatly entertaining and provocative book to listen to, and one that is worthy of a read for fair-minded individuals. To be sure, those who are most in need of listening to this book to hear of the positive side of British imperialism are likely to be the most close-minded about its contents, and those readers that take the author’s comments in a praiseworthy way at face value will likely be confirmed in their own existing prejudices. Neither reply to this book, either knee-jerk acceptance or knee-jerk opposition, is a productive response, as this book is a well-crafted one that is worthy of being taken seriously, but it is sufficiently imperfect that it cannot be taken uncritically. If this is not a likely response to this book for many readers, that is to be regretted, but all the same it does not make the book any less enjoyable for those who are interested in the British Empire.

In terms of its organization and structure, this book is organized in a topical fashion. The book explores the British Empire by region, in a highly selective manner, focusing on a few larger or more significant colonies, ignoring wholesale smaller colonies beyond brief mentions, and focusing on political and military leaders among the empire in various regions to the exclusion of most cultural figures, with the notable exception of Rudyard Kipling. The author wades into debates about the origins of the American Revolution [1], shows some remarkable hostility towards Israeli Jews, even when they were on the same side as Israel as in 1956 in the Suez War, and generally lives up to his aims of writing in a politically incorrect way, basically taking the thesis of Rhodesia’s breakaway leader Ian Smith at face value in the discussion of that colony, for example. The author, somewhat puzzlingly, does not include any of Britain’s Antarctic explorations or many of the smaller islands of the British Empire, or the shameful matter of Diego Garcia, into his account at all, making this book a tour of the highlights and most shocking aspects of empire rather than a systematic and thorough account.

Ultimately, given the somewhat superficial nature of this account, much of how a reader is likely to appreciate this book or not depends on the reader’s assumptions and larger worldview. To the extent that the reader has a fondness for political and military history, a willingness to countenance or even to express paternalistic sentiments towards backwards cultures, and a hostility to naïve idealism and left-wing social experimentation in general, the reader will find much to appreciate and enjoy in this book. That said, those readers who are hostile to the author’s approach and worldview are likely not to recognize the somewhat skewed but at least partially accurate insights this book presents. In the final analysis, this is the sort of book one reads and quotes from if one wants to start a quarrel, contains some intriguing choices for books and movies that anti-imperialists do not want the reader to enjoy, some of which are quite worthy of their own examination, and the high point of the book is to be found in its thoughtful and sympathetic biographical sketches. If the book is an imperfect one, it is still worth grappling with, especially if one believes that the flawed British Empire was still far better than the benighted fate of much of the former empire in the decades after independence. Is it better to live in basic peace and safety while unfree or to live disastrously unsuccessfully while free? That is the question.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/book-review-the-american-revolution-a-grand-mistake/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/book-review-independence-the-tangled-roots-of-the-american-revolution/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/book-review-guide-to-the-american-revolution-1774-1783/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/book-reviews-why-we-won-the-american-revolution-through-primary-sources-and-the-story-of-america-slavery-in-early-america/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/book-review-the-german-element-in-the-war-for-american-independence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/book-review-a-leap-in-the-dark-2/

Posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

On Obedience And Subordination In Thomas A Kempis’ Imitatio Christi

It is striking and telling that when C.S. Lewis wished to speak about his belief in the subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father [1] in his book The Four Loves that he sought to ground it not in frequent or detailed biblical citation, but rather by quoting the noted medieval mystic Thomas A Kempis. In this text, to a degree that is seldom seen elsewhere, the distinct and variable translations that exist of this book and the strikingly variant readings that can be taken of its elegant and repetitive Latin text mean that it can be hard to see exactly what part is being taken by Lewis and others who see in the Imitatio Christi (or Imitation of Christ, for speakers of English rather than Latin) a model for the submission on the part of the believer to the inscrutable wisdom of God just as Jesus Christ submitted to Him. Let us therefore quote a few passages that show this subordination and then comment a bit on why they are viewed as being Orthodox.

Before doing so, it is important to state why it would be worthwhile for someone to go through the frustrating task of writing about what people profess to be wisdom even if it is foolishness in the eyes of God and gives one a headache to try to wrap one’s head around given the immense logical and doctrinal inconsistencies and contradictions that are engaged in the explanations and explorations of various religious matters found in the world. To be sure, this is not a task that is profitable on many levels, not least in terms of personal enjoyment. Nevertheless, even where we disagree with the perspective and worldview that someone else has, it is important at least to recognize the standards by which others are judged so that we may know where we are likely to run into trouble with others when we come from the Word of God itself. If, for example, we know that our opponents who lack God’s Spirit and a belief in biblical truth have certain mistaken ideas about God, it is worthwhile to know what those mistaken ideas or so that a bridge can be built between that error and the truth, so that people may be encouraged to walk according to God’s ways, and provoked with the vanity of their present thoughts. Let us never forget that the thoughts of the Imitatio Christi, as is the case with much Hellenistic Christian work, is full of vanity and folly, but rather let us recognize that these thoughts are viewed so highly by many that to neglect to mention them is to let them remain unanswered, which would lead to the assumption that they are unanswerable. For textual purposes, please note that I am quoting from William C. Creasy’s translation of the Imitation of Christ below, published 1989 by Ave Maria Press in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Selection From “Of The Royal Road Of The Holy Cross:”

“No one feels in his heart what Christ felt in his Passion, except the person who suffers as he did. So, the cross is always ready and waits for you everywhere. You cannot escape it no matter where you run, for wherever you go you are burdened with yourself, and wherever you go, there you are. Look up, look down; look out, look in. Everywhere you will find the cross, and you must endure patiently if you wish to have inner peace and gain eternal life.

If you bear your cross willingly, it will carry you and lead you to your desired goal where suffering will end, but that cannot happen here. If you bear your cross unwillingly, you will make a greater burden for yourself—and you must carry it, in any case. If you fling aside one cross, you will certainly find another and, perhaps, a heavier one.

Do you expect to escape what no one has ever avoided? What saint was there in the world without crosses and afflictions? Not even our Lord Jesus Christ spent one hour without the anguish of his Passion as long as he lived. It was necessary that Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead and so enter into his glory. So why do you seek another way, different from the royal road, which is the way of the holy cross?

Christ’s entire life was a cross and a martyrdom, and will you look for rest and happiness? You are deluded if you look for anything other than affliction, for our entire mortal life is surrounded by crosses. And the more we progress in the spiritual life, the heavier our crosses will be, for the pain of our separation from God increases in proportion to our love of God (79).”

Selection From “Of Setting Aside All Created Things That We Might Find The Creator:”

“A person should, therefore, soar beyond every created thing, leave his self-importance completely behind, and stand enrapt to see that you, the Creator of all, have no equal in your creation. And unless one were cut loose from clinging to created things, one could not freely attend to spiritual things. This is why there are so few contemplative men and women today: very few people know how to let everything they do in this world flow from their love for God.

A great grace is needed for this, which may lift the soul and carry it above itself. Unless a person is lifted up in spirit, is cut loose from worldly values, and is wholly united to God, whatever he knows and whatever he has mean nothing. Anyone who considers anything to be great, except the One, the immeasurable and eternal Good, will always be a small person, tied to the earth. Whatever is not God is nothing by comparison and should be recognized as such (122).”

Selection From “How A Lonely Person Should Place Himself In God’s Hands:”

“O just and ever-praiseworthy Father, the hour has come for your servant to be tested. Beloved Father, it is fitting that at this hour your servant should suffer something for you. O Father, ever-worshipped, the hour has come, which from all eternity you knew would arrive, when for a short time your servant would break down and be overwhelmed, though in his heart he would be with you through it all. For a little while he will be ridiculed, humiliated, and brought to nothing in the eyes of other people; he will be crushed with sufferings and weariness. All this will happen so that he may arise with you again in the dawn of a new day and be glorified in heaven.

O holy Father, you have declared it to be so. Such is your will. And since you have ordained it this way, it has come to pass. This is a grace to your friend that he should suffer and be afflicted in this world for love of you, no matter how often, by what means or from what person it comes. Nothing on earth happens without your allowing it to happen and without your knowing about it beforehand (145-146).”

Comments:

What can be seen about subordinationism from these passages. For one, it is fairly obvious that the author has an abject view of his relationship with his creator, to such a level that is uncomfortable to read. It should be noted that some of this language mirrors, perhaps intentionally, the prayers spoken by Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was taken and crucified. Thus in some way, at least, the imitation of Christ gives believers a vicarious understanding of what it means to submit to the ultimate level of what Jesus Christ suffered, should it be necessary, in that we can extrapolate from our own suffering to what Jesus Christ suffered on our behalf. Even taking into account the author’s mystical desire to identify with Jesus Christ, it is clear that the author is not viewing obedience or subordination in the sense of a formal look at the Godhead, but rather in terms of Jesus’ obedience while on earth and its implications for us.

It is clear, even without wading into very deep waters, why this would be acceptable. Focusing on the Passion is clearly an easy decision to make for meeting any test for Orthodoxy. There is no wading into the difficult waters of the Godhead, areas that the author views as being beyond comprehension and therefore not worth dealing with. Instead there is a focus on the subordination of Jesus’ will to the will of the Father in accepting upon His righteous and blameless shoulders the weight of the burden of all human sin. And in that particular realm there is no doubt that Jesus Christ was subordinate to the Father, and no doubt at all that this subordination and obedience unto death is a model for believers. We may hope that it will not be necessary for us to suffer in such a fashion, but if it is, the decisions of the Lord are true and righteous altogether, and our place is not to demur or to defy but to obey.

Besides the clear placement of obedience in the context of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, where it is entirely unobjectionable, it is here worth noticing as well that a big part of what makes Thomas A Kempis’ discussion such a commonly cited one for Hellenistic Christians who have no interest in leaving themselves open to charges of subordinationism or modalism or semi-Arianism is the fact that it focuses its force on emotional grounds—namely the intensity of the suffering of Jesus Christ on our behalf and of His obedience to the extreme—rather than focusing on questions of rational importance. The question of the precise structure and nature of the Godhead is an intellectual question in the extreme, hard to frame, depending on navigating one’s way through an interpretive minefield. The question of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the fact that we may be called upon to suffer as He suffered as a result of being godly and righteous and redeemed in a wicked and rebellious world, is not an intellectual question at all, but a personal question of great emotional power and resonance, and one that by focusing on the essential and core aspects of Christianity avoids running afoul of heresy hunters, at the risk of avoiding certain parts of the Bible, like most of the Gospel of John, where these interpretive minefields exist for good reason. Nevertheless, for those who are not inclined to either delve into difficult biblical areas and whose interests are on the Passion rather than intellectual matters, Thomas a Kempis has chosen an appealing way out of the potential area of trouble.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/the-subordination-of-jesus-christ-to-god-the-father-in-c-s-lewis-the-four-loves/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/book-review-the-four-loves/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/what-makes-c-s-lewis-view-of-subordinationism-orthodox/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/book-review-imitation-of-christ/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/c-s-lewis-an-acceptable-place-for-orthodox-subordinationism/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/comparative-evaluations-of-essentially-different-excellencies-subordinationism-in-c-s-lewis-discarded-image/

Posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Imitation of Christ

Imitation of Christ: A Timeless Classic for Contemporary Readers, by Thomas A Kempis, translated by William C. Creasy

In many ways, it is easy to see why this particular book is thought of so highly by many professed Christians who share a broader sense of communion with the Hellenistic Christianity of its late medieval monkish author [1]. It is also easy to see why the translator of this work thought that the book deserved yet another translation of this book using professed insights gleaned from reader-response theories of communication. Creasy’s translation shows Thomas A Kempis to have been highly motivated to write frequently about humility, against gossip and intellectual vanity and a lack of resilience or commitment and comparing oneself to others and trust in material possessions and in the support of famous or powerful people. The book speaks against many blameworthy aspects of our contemporary culture, and that makes it a fairly easy choice as far as a book for those who wish to adopt a more modest and more contemplative life, and indeed one with a great deal of monkish renunciation. In many ways, the book reads like the Catholic equivalent of a Buddhist text with its strictures against wrongful clinging and the threat of bad karma and retribution and its passionate wishing for heaven as a place beyond the temporary and beyond concern with the affairs of the material world [2]. Given the contemporary popularity of Buddhism and New Age thought, it is mere chronological snobbery which leads many contemporaries to view with disdain this very old book when they highly regard its thought and tone elsewhere.

In terms of its contents, this book is a bit of a trackless collection of loosely connected and often repetitive thoughts. The short book, under 200 pages including a somewhat lengthy introduction, is divided itself into four books: Useful Reminders for the Spiritual Life, Suggestions Drawing One Toward The Inner Life, Of Inner Comfort, and The Book On The Sacrament. Each of the books (the third of which is the longest) is then divided into different numbers of smaller essays that amount to the equivalent of contemporary devotionals or short blog posts of a couple hundred words of length. In book three in particular, part of the book consists of imagined dialogues between the believer (likely a stand-in for the self-flagellating author) and Jesus Christ, who is viewed as being far more harsh than he is portrayed in our own contemporary accounts. There are occasional references to scripture, but for the most part the writing is of a somewhat overly anxious and perhaps somewhat neurotic person who viewed the contemplative life as a way of helping to resolve his own anxieties and find inner comfort and peace, and someone who in the midst of the Great Schism and clerical corruption around him nevertheless urged readers to submit to God’s will and respect the pivotal role of the priest and accept the religious hierarchy in place over each believer and to be content with where one is and what one has.

Even so, although it is easy to see why this book is highly praised, there is much to criticize about the book from the perspective of the Bible itself. For one, the way that the author portrays Jesus Christ as being hostile to God’s law is deeply unbiblical, and if this book represents well the spirit of Hellenistic Christianity or authoritarian Gnosticism, it fails to represent the spirit of biblical Christianity. This book is an example of human wisdom, at times wiser than the customs of our own decadent times, but not reaching to the level of salvation. The author’s almost desperate attempts to avoid speculating on the nature of God beyond a few pointed references to the Trinity and the unprofitability of focusing on too much that is beyond human knowledge and understanding suggest his desire to place his own Christian mysticism beyond the reach of critical and fault-finding tendencies among his own contemporaries and his general anti-intellectual tendencies. Those seeking for elegant and searching Gnosticism will find much of it here; those looking for a deeper understanding of genuine and biblical Christianity will have to look elsewhere. This book is to be viewed as an important work given its historical context and its high status among Hellenistic Christians, rather than for its value in presenting a godly perspective of belief and practice, even to such an age as our own.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/book-review-25-books-every-christian-should-read/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/book-review-the-four-loves/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/ghosts-of-the-taira-the-relationship-between-the-wars-of-the-gempei-and-the-warrior-ghost-noh-dramas/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/book-review-buddha-dharma-sangha-buddhism-and-the-buddhist-life-in-thailand/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/from-chiang-mai-to-khun-yuam/

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: NKJV Chronological Study Bible

NKJV Chronological Study Bible, by Thomas Nelson Publishers

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

As someone who enjoys the chance to review and examine new Bibles from time to time [1], I am continually impressed and also puzzled by the level of marketing that goes into Bibles, as well as the intents that different Bibles are made for. Some Bibles are fairly low-frills while other Bibles are designed, at least within the levels permitted by modern printing, to be objects d’art. This book is designed on the artistic level, and from an aesthetic perspective it is immensely pleasant. With a two-toned brown leather cover and fine paper pages with frequent drawings and shaded areas for commentaries of a historical, geographical, or theological nature, the book is one that is pleasing to the eye and also to the mind. This is clearly a Bible that was designed with great care, and the people responsible for its graphic design are worthy of immense praise, as are the people who did the research on historical maps and the factual commentary of the book. The book’s frequent timelines and cross references with other contemporary biblical passages help to put the Bible on a firm and somewhat non-contentious chronological perspective, commenting upon different opinions but seeking not to be drawn into a disputatious spirit and leaving the reader to decide between, for example, different timings of the Exodus after presenting both arguments.

In terms of the contents of this Bible, much of its basics will be familiar with many who are aware of the standard Thomas Nelson format for the NKJV, including its textual apparatus and its marginal notes, which give comments on literal meanings and alternative readings for various verses, as well as cross-references. The real differences from most NKJV versions on the market is in the way that the Bible itself is structured, with a focus on being a chronological Bible, where the Bible’s passages are placed in nine numbered and sequential epochs in the following eras: Before the patriarchs (Creation to 2000 BC), the period of the patriarchs between 2000 and 1500 BC, the rise of a unified Israel from 1500 to 1200 BC, the political centralization from 1200 to 930 BC, the divided kingdom between 930 BC and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the exile and post-exilic Persian period from 586 to 332 BC, the intertestamental period between 332 and 37BC, the Messianic age between 37BC and 30 AD, and the early Church between 30 AD and 100 AD. Not all of the choices of chronology are without controversy, such as the placement of Job, for example, in the post-exilic period rather than in the Patriarchal period given the apparent knowledge that David had about the contents of Job [2] and the placement of the vast majority of the Psalms as well as the latter part of Isaiah in the post-exilic period, neglecting their historical content during the first temple period (or before, in the case of many of David’s psalms). These misplacements of scripture will draw well-deserved criticism from those who have a properly high value of scripture and great criticism towards corrosive higher textual criticism. More praiseworthy to the fair-minded reader will be the book’s large number of maps, explanatory notes, and chronological charts, time capsules, answers to noteworthy textual questions, notes on science and technology, and comments on beliefs and ideas of the biblical contemporaries as best as the Bible’s editors understand them.

Besides these stumbles when it comes to misplacing scripture in the wrong chronological period, there are a few aspects of the book that are worthy of some comment and criticism. For one, the book nowhere conveniently contains an index showing the precise place where passages can be found in order, forcing the reader to hunt around for the placement of widely separated fragments of books that are split across several sections, unless the reader can find the index of scriptures after the concordance. While this is not a problem if the reader of this Bible is expected to view the book in a front-to-back fashion as part of a desire to read the Bible in a year (or some other such scheme), if someone is attempting to use this Bible to follow along with a sermon speaker in church services, the simple task of locating verses is a hazardous and difficult task, and possibly a very embarrassing and unsuccessful one. Additionally, this is a Bible that is designed to be a definitive statement, and does not contain either wide margins or a congenial atmosphere for writing notes within the Bible itself, which would likely make it harder to read the book’s notes or contents and would destroy much of the aesthetic appeal of the Bible itself; this is not a book, in other words, that one will want to highlight or write inspired marginal notes in, which will likely make it less appealing for many readers as well. It should also be noted that like some authors [3], the editors of this book have repackaged previously published material from the Life and Times Historical Reference Bible of 1997 in this version. Readers who are offended by this sort of repackaging are hereby given due notice of its practice here. This is, in short, a worthy Bible for reading and home study, but a Bible that is not ideal in its adoption of dubious higher criticism or for use as part of one’s participation in public worship.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/book-review-jewish-new-testament/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/book-review-nkjv-prophecy-study-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/book-review-nirv-giant-print-holy-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/book-review-kjv-foundation-study-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/book-review-the-evangelism-study-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/book-review-niv-once-a-day-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/book-review-niv-fast-facts-bible/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/was-david-familiar-with-the-book-of-job-the-enigma-of-psalm-139/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/the-work-of-rework/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Naming Our Abuse: Rehabilitation

What is the purpose of reflecting upon such painful and difficult experiences as has been done so far? If our desire is not merely to put the blame of our difficulties on other people, what is the point of going through such exacting clinical detail about such matters? Ultimately, one of the goals of self-examination, especially the somewhat public one that takes place when one writes about their own life at length and some depth, is to gain insight and to give encouragement to others. It is easy to believe that we suffer difficulties alone, or almost alone, especially when few people have written about them, and so one of the benefits of telling our stories is helping to give courage to others so that they too can speak up and no longer find themselves trapped in silence. In addition, there is a great deal of hope that sorrows and troubles, once spoken of openly and honestly, can be redeemed. By offering up the public sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, whether that heart is broken over the evils we have committed against others, or the evils that others have committed against us, we express the hope that the past can be acknowledged, forgiven, and overcome, and seen in retrospect through the eyes for hindsight putting them in a different context than they were first felt.

One of the most challenging passages in the Bible, not only for me personally, but for others who have endured abuse, is Romans 8:18-30. Although this passage is somewhat lengthy, it deserves to be quoted in full and discussed at least at some length, as a reminder of the hindsight that we are expected to develop at some point when looking upon such experiences, even those as traumatic as child abuse. Romans 8:18-30 reads as follows: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined, to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

There is much that can be said about these passages; indeed, whole books can be and have been written about Romans 8. To get the full impact of what Paul is saying when he opens this passage, we must candidly note that when Paul stated that he did not consider the sufferings of this present evil age to be worthy of comparison with the glory that will be revealed in us, he was a man who had suffered greatly. When reluctantly boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:22-33 about his credentials to be an apostle, Paul listed a variety of different types of suffering that many people can identify with. He speaks of beatings, of being in peril, shipwrecked, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in cold and nakedness, and even in the humiliation of being hunted by a king and having to escape from capture by his enemies by being let out of a window in a basket. It is not a profitable game to compare our miseries and suffering with others, and no doubt Paul felt somewhat uncomfortable in this task as many of us, myself included, feel in talking about such unpleasant matters. Even so, in boasting in his infirmities and troubles, Paul was reminding us that he knew suffering well, and if his suffering was not worthy of being compared to the future glory we are to manifest as recipients of the gift of eternal life, then our suffering is not worthy of comparison either, but it is worthy of mention nonetheless.

They are worthy of mention because of the promise that God has made that all things work together for the good for believers who are called by God, justified by God, and who will be glorified by Him as well [1]. In the hands of someone who uses Romans 8:28 as a way of considering the sufferings of this life to be beneath mention, this statement can seem cold and unfeeling. But what it is instead, when one reflects upon it, is something to marvel. When Paul says that all things work together for the good, knowing his background as we do, he meant all things—he meant both the violence that he had inflicted upon believers, the murders he consented to, the spiriting away of people into prison, the vile blasphemies and vicious cruelty that he had seen within his own heart in defense of the traditions of his elders. He also meant all of the evils that he had suffered from others—the imprisonments, the beatings, the shame and humiliation, the terror and torment of a life spent in frequent danger and trouble. Whether we face the mystery of divine providence as someone looking for mercy or for healing, the Eternal offers us a vision of restoration to something far more than we ever were in any state of original innocence, but rather to what we were intended to be all along. And compared to this vision, our troubles in this life do appear small in hindsight.

And yet this is something we look forward to in hope, not looking backwards, at least not yet, in having achieved it. For a long time I refrained from writing at length any kind of organized account of my own life because I wished to look back in achievement, in the realization of those hopes, and not to look ahead still in confidence that God will be faithful in fulfilling His promises. Once we see our hopes realized, we are no longer in need of hope, but rather only in need of a good memory, so that we can call to mind what God has done for us. It is while we look forward in eager anticipation, or in deep impatience, for what God has promised, that we need hope. We have most need of hope when there is the least evidence of performance, for when we hope we do so trusting in a promise that has yet to be fulfilled. To the extent that our capacity for trust is inhibited or harmed, we suffer from a lack of hope because of a lack of belief that things can be better than they are, and lacking hope, we lack the encouragement to do what we can, and to believe that God will do his share. The result is that those people who need hope most of all often struggle the most to find it at all, and those who have the most need of restoration and rehabilitation find it the most difficult to conceive of what God wants to do with them. It is, in this light, little wonder that God would call the weak and base things and those things which are despised, that no flesh should glory, for by choosing the most unpromising materials, God makes it so clear what He has in mind for humanity that the only response is to bow down in awe of the grandeur and difficulty of the task He has taken for Himself.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s there was a study done at Stanford University led by psychologist Walter Mischel which has become famous for both its simplicity and its stunning results. In this experiment, a small child was offered a choice between a small reward now and two smaller rewards if they waited for about fifteen minutes for the return of the tester. The reward was something like a marshmallow, a cookie, or a pretzel, and those who were able to delay their gratification and have trust in the better future that would result from waiting rather than taking the small reward were noted to have far better life outcomes from SAT scores, educational levels, to body mass index. Of telling importance as well is that those who were able to delay gratification also tended to have a strong positive role of the father within their lives. A restoration of the felt love and concern of our Father is a major aspect of what allows us to have a hope in a better future and to endure the trials and sufferings of life at present. The interconnection of these concerns and issues is worthy of reflection [2].

Let us not forget, after all, what we are to become. The promise for believers who endure until the end is to become the very children of God Himself. Our promise is not only eternal life, but eternal life as part of God’s own family, being adopted as His children. This is a promise that none of us could achieve on our own, unaided. It is not something we can demand as payment for righteousness, as perfect righteousness is our minimum acceptable standard for living as human beings, a standard that it is impossible for us to attain on our own efforts, unaided. None of us comes to God with any ability to make demands on Him—we were made according to His will, for His own purposes, long before anything entered our own mind as to making meaning for ourselves or for determining our own purposes and plans in this life. If we are all felons looking for mercy from the heavenly court where we all stand at the bar as defendants, and some of us are painfully aware of the crimes we are guilty of as well as the crimes we could have easily been guilty of but for the graciousness of God, then our attitude ought to be one of mercy towards others.

Even so, the point of all of this is not for us to feel bad about desiring justice, but to be rehabilitated so that we are fit to be children of God’s family and citizens of His Kingdom. One of the great needs of this world is rehabilitation [3]. We may look, for example, at the prison rolls to see how many prisoners themselves suffered from abuse as they were children, and how a large part of the difficulty of rehabilitating criminals is dealing with the abuse that people suffer while in prison. At times we may forget that even criminals are worthy of the dignity of being treated like human beings, no matter what sort of wickedness they have done, and that by viewing others as worthy of all kinds of abuses and indignities, we only show ourselves to be monstrous people. To the extent that we view rehabilitation as impossible, we may seek to judge swiftly and surely, and leave the future in the hands of our Creator and Judge. To the extent that we view rehabilitation as desirable and possible, though, we ought not to hinder that process through delighting in the possibility that others will suffer as they inflicted upon others, for if we are without pity or mercy ourselves towards others, no mercy will be shown to us either when we suddenly find that we ourselves are in need of rehabilitation as well, when our own darkness is brought into the light. Let us hope that others may be rehabilitated, and hope the same for ourselves. Perhaps someday we may live to see that hope realized, and the glory of God manifest in ourselves as the resurrected children of the Most High God. May that day speedily come.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/a-meditation-on-the-divine-will/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/divine-providence-in-the-story-of-naaman-the-syrian/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/divine-providence-in-the-book-of-ruth-part-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/the-mark-of-the-yeast/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/only-emptiness-remains/

[2] W. Mischel. (1958). Preference for delayed reinforcement: An experimental study of a cultural observation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 56, 57-61

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/progress-and-restoration/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/they-could-not-drink-the-waters-of-marah-for-they-were-bitter/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/back-to-the-foundations-a-novel-application-of-c-s-lewis-trilemma/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/excuse-me-sir-but-there-has-been-an-imputation-in-your-account/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/the-shadow-of-that-hideous-strength/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/has-anybody-seen-all-my-wasted-love/

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Islands In The Stream, Or, Caminemos Pisando Las Sendas De Nuestra Inmensa Felicidad

In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney Australia, two African swimmers, both from Equatorial Guinea, gained significant notoriety for their record slow times in swimming. Eric Moussambani, nicknamed “Eric The Eel” and Paula Barila Bolopa, nicknamed “Paula the Crawler” had very slow times in swimming the 100m and 50m freestyle, respectively [1]. The two received their spots in the Olympic qualifying as a result of a quota that allows spots to be saved for athletes from nations too poor to qualify for the Olympics by meeting the usual standard. In Equatorial Guinea, this is not surprising considering the nation only has two swimming pools and none of them are Olympic sized, leaving the overmatched competitors to try to swim up to a standard that they had not ever met by practicing as hard as they could for a month. Of course they were overmatched, and being so overmatched, they attracted a good deal of goodwill despite their incompetence as the sort of lovable losers who can profit from fifteen minutes of fame for trying something that they are hopelessly bad at and giving it the college effort anyway.

When it comes to most standards of living for the populace as a whole, the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea, which sits along the Cameroon line in the Bight of Biafra, composed of several small islands, the largest of which, Bioko, contains the nation’s capital Malabo while a new planned capital closer to where the current dictator lives is being constructed, with a small and mostly rectangular section of land called Rio Muni, where most of the nation’s small population lives nestled between Gabon and Cameroon, is at best a lovable loser. Freedom House considers the president of the country, one Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as a “predator” of press freedom, a status that likely did not hurt his chances at winning yet another managed election in the nation over the weekend [2], cementing his status as the continent of Africa’s longest “serving” dictator. The country also ranks on the bottom tier of sex trafficking among the world’s nations, with a litany of other serious problems, such as 20% of children dying before the age of 5 and half of the population lacking access to clean drinking water [3].

What makes all of this more galling for those few people who know anything about this tiny kerplunkistan and kleptocracy is that the miseries suffered by its people come despite an average income that is among the highest in Africa, at $12,438 per capita nominal GDP and a robust $31,731 per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity. Of course, such numbers mean little when the wealth of the country is so concentrated in industry, with 97% of the country’s exports being either in crude oil or other liquefied hydrocarbons, and the vast majority of the wealth concentrated in the hands of the small nation’s microscopic elite, led by the nation’s president and family, who frequently offshore the wealth they have plundered from their nation in Western banks for their own convenience while their people are at best ignored and at worst ridiculed as among the poorest and most badly misgoverned nations in a world full of corrupt leadership. What is the point of measuring by averages in a nation as skewed as Equatorial Guinea, for example?

Should such a nation be a lovable loser among the world? Should a nation whose oil wealth, being tapped by none less than Exxon Mobil, be in such a disreputable state as Equatorial Guinea, given that at under a million people it is not large enough that size should present a barrier to development of the nation’s human and other natural resources, as well as the development of at least something worthwhile for others to see. After all, the nation has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites nor any tentative sites for the World Heritage List, nor even any intangible cultural heritage listed by UNESCO. This status as a cultural backwater makes the claims recorded on one of its Wikipedia pages rather risible: “While lying on the enriched continent of Africa, Equatorial Guinea has proved to be entrenched in ancient rituals and songs. This is especially true for the Fang, a people whose territories begin at the southern edge of Cameroon south of Kribi, Djoum, and Mvangan in the South Province and continue south across the border, including all of Rio Muni in Equatorial Guinea and south into Gabon and Congo. While on the capital island of Bioko, this beautiful country has largely been influenced by Spanish customs and traditions during the colonial period. During the colonial period, education and health services were developed in the country. Now, you may enter into the traditions of the breathtaking Equatorial Guinea [4].” If UNESCO, no slouch when it comes to recognizing culture, finds nothing either tangible or intangible about a national culture worthy of being remembered, the only breathtaking nature of that culture is likely to be the breath that is held in when people are trying not to laugh out loud at the ridicule of Fang chauvinists while trying desperately to say something polite that is not too far from the truth.

At best, it may be said that Equatorial Guinea is a land full of painful ironies. Its national anthem, for example, has the title “Caminemos Pisando Las Sentas De Neustra Inmensa Felicidad,” in the language of Spain, its former colonial master. This title can be translated as “Let Us Walk The Paths Of Our Immense Happiness.” Yet a land so desperately poor and struggling, with such an absence of high culture, or even of the basic means of survival, even while its wealthy elite plunders the land and lives high on the hog, taking photos with American presidents, putting the ill-gotten gains of theft and graft abroad so as to better secure them from the potential of hostile regime change and redistributive justice, is not likely to have an immense happiness at all, except perhaps the fact that it might need to appear happy in order for its silence to be taken as implicit criticism of its national leadership. One wonders what it would take for a nation like Equatorial Guinea to have happiness in its nation and servant leadership, apart from the miracle of divine takeover, which makes this little but easily forgotten nation like far too much of the world around [5].

[1] See, for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swimming_at_the_2000_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_100_metre_freestyle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swimming_at_the_2000_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_50_metre_freestyle

[2] Equatorial Guinea – Reporters Without Borders. En.rsf.org

[3] BBC (14 November 2014) Equatorial Guinea profile.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Equatorial_Guinea

[5] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/book-review-why-nations-fail/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/laughing-stock/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-on-the-legitimacy-and-viability-of-mini-states/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/book-review-the-israeli-solution/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/the-stern-compression-of-circumstances/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/failure-is-not-an-option-the-forgotten-travails-of-the-central-african-republic/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/somalias-tin-wars/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/libya-ira-and-the-perils-of-partition/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/malis-free-radical-problem/

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