Birthing My Book: Cultivating the Soil

The years 2009-2011 are pretty much a blur for me. I was on a high dose of psychotropics. I was still recuperating from the effects of E.C.T.. I was dealing with deep depression due in large part to a lack of purpose since going on disability.

After my first attempt to write a spiritual memoir was rejected by publishers, I stuffed it in a dresser drawer and quit writing altogether. I tried some gardening, wheeling aging veterans to worship, painting dairy barns, cleaning furnaces — anything to be somewhat productive and stay out of the pit.

Nothing helped. At least not much. In December of 2010 I enrolled in a partial hospitalization treatment program and was introduced to a relatively new therapeutic approach that was proving successful among bipolar patients. It was called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

I was less than impressed.  I found DBT to be a rather basic blend of pop psychology and generic eastern philosophy.  While I benefited from the support of group therapy and met many compassionate caregivers, I left the program feeling it had fallen short, eager for something more in-depth and, if possible, rooted in my own Christian tradition.

Thanks to the advocacy of a family minister, we discovered a program called Shepherd’s Fold. Originally designed as a re-integration program for prisoners adjusting back to family life, it had become more a discipleship center where men could study deeply the Scriptures, receive Christian counsel, and develop work and personal habits that might carry over for them to become better husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in Christ.

I enrolled at Shepherd’s Fold in September of 2011 and immediately began to adopt the schedule, the tasks, and habits they had carefully designed to promote spiritual well-being. While I struggled with the structure, and my pace at work and in chores was particularly slow, I found my overall mental health improved. Most importantly, I was able to read and reflect on God’s Word for hours each day.

I began to write again.  My letters home to my wife were often 30 pages and up (and sometimes I wrote 2 or 3 a week). I began a correspondence with a former colleague in ministry who sent me his sermons and I would respond with lengthy replies. In addition to daily journal entries from Scripture readings, I did a number of research papers on issues with which I had been dealing. After eight months in treatment, I was asked to write a “spiritual autobiography” and I filled over 125 hand-written pages. My writer’s voice was returning.

Sadly, my time at Shepherd’s Fold came to an end in August, 2012 as I left the program early.  God only knows the complete story of why it didn’t work out as we had hoped — to promote family reconciliation.  But it is clear that though the soil seemed barren, there was much cultivation.

Cultivating

Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II

I had so much fun and have received such a good early response to my previous post featuring seven of my blog followers, that I thought I’d feature seven more.  If the first post was a pot-luck, this is like going back for seconds.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the link below —

“Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II”

blogs

Freud’s Last Session: Can I Get My Insurance to Cover It?

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati presents: Freud's Last Session

This afternoon, I went to the Ensemble Theatre in Cincinnati to see a matinee presentation of  “Freud’s Last Session” which depicted a fictitious visit from C.S. Lewis just weeks before Freud’s death.

I didn’t know what to expect from the play.  I was hoping it would be intellectually engaging and reasonably balanced (though I suspected a modern theatrical production would show Freud in a better light than Lewis).

I wasn’t expecting a lot of action.  It would be hard to convincingly portray a meeting between the 83-year-old dying psychoanalyst and the young Oxford don and not focus almost exclusively on the dialogue.  (Though a mud-wrestling contest might have made for an interesting Python-esque twist).

The best assessment I can make of the play is that I was entertained about as much as when I listen to pop music from my high school days (early 1980s).  It’s familiar.  It’s comfortable.  But it’s redundant.  And not very deep.

The playbill said the story was “suggested by the book The Question of God“.  I think the script could have easily been written by looking up Freud and Lewis quotes on-line and just cutting and pasting them one right after the other.

Still, for a play where the most gripping action was an old man taking his dentures out, there were some good moments.   Such as,

–  When Freud backed Lewis into a corner over his strange relationship with “Mrs. Moore”, his war buddy’s mother.

– When Lewis defused Freud’s attack by asking him about his even more bizarre relationship with his daughter Anna.

– When Freud told a story of a hydrocephalic midget who comforted him in a hospital and Freud (almost) conceded to Lewis’ inference that it revealed God’s humor.

– When Freud told a funny joke about an dying atheist calling for the village priest.

I will also say that I was pleased that while we were basically presented with theology lite and pop psychology, it was at least a draw.  Neither Freud nor Lewis had the upper hand.  If anything, there was a “redemptive moment” for Freud in the end.  He doesn’t exactly fall to his knees and say the “Sinner’s Prayer”, but he does find comfort in something beyond himself.

I’m glad I went to the play.  But I’m more glad to be home, where I can sit down with the collection of writings of Freud and Lewis and dig a little deeper.

(photo above from EnsembleTheatreCincy in ETC presents:)

The “Precise” Dilemma

In the ninth post of Christmas, I truly give to you…

 

That young boy without a name
anywhere I’d know his face
in this city the kid’s my favorite
I’ve seen him, seen him, I see him every day

I’ve seen him run outside
looking for a place to hide from his father
the kid half naked
and said to myself,
“O, what’s the matter here?”

I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses
he’s their kid I stay out of it,
but who gave you the right to do this?

(from “What’s the Matter Here?” Natalie Merchant / Christian Burial Music © 1987)

Image

Precise by Rebecca Berto

Since Natalie Merchant and the “10,000 Maniacs” railed against child abuse in the 1987 pop classic “What’s the Matter Here?”, the quiet murmur of a few radical reformers has turned into a populous uprising in a fevered pitch.

Rebecca Berto adds her voice to the din in this story Katie Anselin who struggles throughout the book to carve out a life for herself and her young family and break free of the grips of her controlling mother – Rochelle.  Rochelle’s abuse of her daughter is primarily psychological (with a hint of some physical), but no less – perhaps even more damaging.

Rochelle is a modern “Mommie Dearest” who persistently blames Katie for the loss of her other children (due to miscarriages) as if Katie had committed unpardonable crimes against humanity.  The story is told from Katie’s perspective and wherever she is, whatever she is doing, she is tormented by her mother’s omnipresent voice of accusation.

Precise is the first of the “Pulling Me Under” series.  I suspect it will sell quite well, as  the theme appeals to a mass audience throughout the world who see themselves victimized by forces beyond their control and look for an advocate who identifies with them, who they feel is trustworthy.  For such, this may be precisely the book for which they are searching.

Berto labels the genre of as “Literary”.  It’s true that she steers clear of many popular features of other genres.  There are no blood-sucking vampires.  There is no blood-splattering psycho-killer on the loose. There is only a (mostly) understated romance between Katie and her husband Paul that avoids lapsing into endless pages of gratuitous sex.

So, how does Precise function as literature?  As for its strengths, it maintains a consistent voice.  Berto’s craftsmanship at writing shows promise and should only get better.  The tone is accessible, conversational without being riddled with cliches.

The primary area for growth is character development.  The only character who changes over the course of the novel is Liam, who plays a minor (but pivotal role) as Katie’s friend.  We are told of a significant change in Katie at the end, but don’t see it much (perhaps this will appear in future volumes).

This being said, Precise is a bold effort that will no doubt gain a strong following.  It was well worth the investment and I look forward to following Berto’s career in the years ahead.
*****
     You can purchase the Kindle version of Precise at Amazon for 99 cents.  If you don’t have an e-reader, you can get the Adobe version of Precise at Smashwords for the same low price.  You can also follow the author at Rebecca Berto’s blog, Novel Girl.
Cover art copyright © Silviya Yordanova (“Morteque”), used by permission
*****
– In the first post of Christmas, I truly gave to you…. “God is With Us (a Christmas Story based on Matthew 1.18-2.12)
– In the second post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Assaulting a Felon with a Fruitcake.”
– In the third post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Some of the Best Christmas Blog Posts for 2012
– In the fourth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “I Wonder as I Wander
– In the fifth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)
– In the sixth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Five Favorite Movies for the Christmas Season
– In the seventh post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal
– In the eighth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “What Sam Found in His Backpack After Break (A Prompted Poem)
– In the tenth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Potentially Praiseworthy Poems Posted on WordPress

Adam Lanza: Ill or Evil?

sandy hook

I was half-listening to some radio commentators this afternoon reflecting on the shooting at the Sandy Hook school when I caught one remark –

Maybe this will be the wake-up call for our nation that we desperately need to fund more mental health services.

Now, I am certainly in favor of funding mental health services.  Some of my best friends have mental illnesses.  I  have accessed services myself.  I certainly believe tax payer money could be wisely invested averting particularly potential violent offenders by paying for treatment rather than waiting for them to commit crimes that cost lives and/or spend even more money for trials and prison terms.

But what stood out to me in this comment and in the discussion that followed is the rather misguided assumption that somehow the latest secular psychology, psychotropic drugs, or positive self-esteem education can redeem the ills of our society.

It’s as if Adolf Hitler could have been cured with a healthy dose of haldol, talk therapy, and some anger management.  The reality, I believe, is that Hitler would no doubt have felt better about himself (provided the haldol didn’t totally knock him out) so he could have killed more Jews, homosexuals, communists, and general subversives.

Modern psychology is not the answer.

Education is not the answer.

Rules-based religion is not the answer.

To get to the answer we have to first acknowledge the problem that we face very real “powers and principalities” that are stronger than we can be alone or even with the best forces we can humanly muster.  We have to look for a faith-based relationship with the only One who can save us.

 

(image “unspeakable” from torbakhopper, some rights reserved)