Maya Angelou Writes About Pain

maya_angelou_review_12312016Maya Angelou. 2015. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Orig Pub 1969). New York: Ballantine Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was in graduate school, I shared an office with a black student from Trinidad. He was an easy person to like and we had a great time together. After a few weeks, however, I wondered why he seemed so different to me—he had no chip on his shoulder. I was accustomed to the African American chip and he lacked the chip.

In her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou wastes no time in revealing the chip. The first story that she shares is a story of shame, embarrassment, and torment in reciting a poem on Easter Sunday in Sunday school at the age of about three where she writes about her mother dressing her:

“As I’d watched Momma put ruffles on the hem and cut little tucks around the waist, I know that once I put it on I’d look like a movie star. (It was silk and that made up for the awful color). I was going to look like one of the sweet little white girls who were everybody’s dream of what was right with the world.” (2)

Angelou was born April 4th, 1928 as Marguerite Annie Johnson[1] in Saint Louis, Missouri, which would place this event around 1931 during the Great Depression. Her awareness of social position at age three is astounding—my first awareness of the existence of black people did not come until I was around 5 years old and at that point I had no awareness of my social position or lack thereof. The idea that I would define my own identity at age three in turns of another social group is incredulous. Ms. Angelou was either an incredibly gifted three-year old or she is writing in adult voice about her experiences as a child, imposing an adult chip on a three-year old shoulder. Because she self-identifies as a civil rights activist, I suspect that the later interpretation is more appropriate.[2]

Whether you accept the chip or not, this is a powerful image of deep pain, which is a theme throughout this memoir. In the following chapter, she writes about the experience of being abandoned by her parents (5-9); later, she is reunited with her mother only to be raped at age eight by her mother’s boyfriend (77-82); the final chapter recounts how she solicited a physical relationship with a good looking boy—to upgrade her own self-esteem—and has a child out of wedlock at age 16 (273-283). The deep pain, that these events reveal, leads us to excuse her use of adult voice, in part, because such pain leaves little room for the vicissitudes of a sheltered childhood.

Such deeply troubling and painful events may seem extreme. If I had not worked in a hospital that serves African Americans, I might have questioned whether this memoir was typical of the African American experience but I met many women with similar stories. Sadly, such circumstances are too typical. What surprised me most about my conversations as a chaplain intern with these women was how few of them were willing to shoulder the chip to blame others.[3] The grace and magnanimity of these women—most of whom were deeply religious Christians—was a testimony to their faith.

Maya Angelou’s memoir, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, documents her early life experiences as a young black woman from the age of three until about sixteen living in the rural south (Stamps, Arkansas), Saint Louis, and California. Angelou is an engaging and expressive writer who writes about her deepest and most painful experiences growing up. Hopefully, she found catharsis in writing and we, as readers, can share in this catharsis.

[1] April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014.

[2] http://www.MayaAngelou.com/biography.

[3] For Angelou, the chip is never far off. Near the end of her memoir, she writes: “The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.” (272)

 

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Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

Red Roses

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God Almighty, Great Physician, Holy Spirit:

We praise you for your goodness in granting us life,

which we often take for granted, living as if tomorrow was always promised,

but knowing that this is not true.

Break the power of sin over our lives—forgive us for our presumptions, for our neglect of giving thanks, and for living selfishly for ourselves, though we are unworthy.

Thank you for your eternal presence, your healing touch, and sending others to comfort us in our hour of need.

Break our bondage to worthless idols—heal our broken bodies, our troubled spirits, and our damaged relationships, for your name’s sake.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, send us doctors to offer your healing touch and nurses to offer your comfort in lonely hours.

Grant us strength for the day; grace for those we meet; and peace in a troubled world that we might rest only with you, this day and every day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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The Journey to Seminary

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him,
They have no wine. And Jesus said to her,
Woman, what does this have to do with me?”
(John 2:3-4)

Roughly a month after my departure from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in January 2004, I attended an inquirer’s weekend held at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) in Princeton, New Jersey, which I immediately fell in love with. The seminary put me up in their guest house and the program included faculty talks, meetings with admissions counselors, and visits to classes. Because I became aware of my own calling in part through preaching, I attended a preaching class. Before the weekend was over, my hair was on fire for the Lord and to attend PTS. Still, red flags were unavoidable which arose primarily in my interactions with the students.

During lunch on Friday in the cafeteria, for example, it became abundantly clear that not all the students were comfortable hanging out with someone twice their age—out of an inquiry group of sixty, only a handful of prospective students were second career. The vast majority of students could not have been more than 25 years of age and many of the faculty that we visited with were younger than I. Given a choice between attending a play called the Vagina Monologues[1] and a film, The Passion of the Christ,[2] all but one inquirer (other than myself) opted to attend the former, highlighting not only an age difference in interests but also a less-obvious theological distinction that became more obvious as the weekend wore on.

In Friday chapel, for example, a senior preached about his experience with evangelism on the New York subway—his evangelism consisted of wearing a PTS tie shirt so that everyone could see. He then proceeded to ridicule apologetics—which I had identified on my PTS application as my primary interest. I later learned that PTS offered no classes in apologetics and that the seminary’s commitment to theological diversity consisted primarily of hiring faculty who self-identified as liberal or evangelical. It was unlikely to find faculty with experience or interest in missions or evangelism.

PTS offered a wonderful sendoff dinner Friday evening where each inquirer was asked to talk about themselves and their experience. The typical student responded that they enjoyed their young group experience in high school and wanted to continue that experience by working for the church. When my turn came, I opined that I felt called to ministry but did not know if I could enter seminary because I still needed to work to support my family and PTS did not offer part-time studies. I later completed my application to PTS, but withdrew it after finding work at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) and seeing Maryam’s relief to see me working again.

Over the next several years, I despaired of being able to being able to attend seminary full-time as I visited other schools, studied Greek and Hebrew, and continued to lead adult Bible studies at Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC).

When my sister, Diane, developed a second round of breast cancer in 2006, I made a special effort to visit her in Philadelphia after Christmas. She had started chemo-therapy unsuccessfully in the fall and planned a new round of chemo after the holidays. To cheer her up, I bought her a DVD film, Last Holiday,[3] which starred Queen Latifah. The film featured a plot where a woman was diagnosed with a fatal disease, blew her life savings on a final holiday to visit a European hotel employing her favorite celebrity chef, and, then, learned that she had been misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, Diane was not misdiagnosed and she died unexpectedly on Monday, February 12th due to complications accompanying her treatment.

Diane’s expected death left the family gasping.

When Mom called called me at 6:30 a.m. that morning, a friend, Ming, and I were commuting east down route 66 just before the Beltway. I called my brother, John, and returned to Centreville to drop off Ming and pick him up. John and I then traveled to a hospital near Springfield where she was being treated and my parents were waiting. They traveled there earlier that weekend to visit, Diane, at the end of her week under care for a reaction to the chemo. On Sunday night, however, blood clots developed, she had a heart attack, a stoke, and, then, lost consciousness—among her last words were to ask for her brothers.

When John and I arrived at the hospital mid-morning, she was in the intensive care unit on life-support; nothing more could be done. The person I saw lying there no longer looked like my sister; she had departed. I consoled Hugo while we waited for their pastor to arrive. At that point, scripture was read; prayers were offered; and Diane was removed from life support.

Funeral services were planned that week for Thursday in Philadelphia and Saturday in McLean where Diane would be interned in the family plot at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church. I planned to attend the Saturday service locally, but my dad put the arm on me to eulogize Diane at both services so I changed my plans. Other than family, the only one that I knew attending the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield service was my best friend from high school, Rev. Jonathan Jenkins; yet, I drew comfort from the company of the many strangers as I mourned my sister that evening. At the service in McLean, many of my colleagues from OFHEO attended and began looking at me differently after that point forward.

Over the following year, I began to think differently about the idea of part-time seminary studies and in March of 2008 I drove to Charlotte, North Carolina with a friend, Jeff Snell, to attend an open house at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). From the moment we walked in the door, it was obvious to me that GCTS was a different kind of seminary. Many of the inquirers were older and obviously considering a second career in ministry; many more of the inquirers were African Americans; and the entire curriculum was available to part-time students taking classes over long weekend visits. I applied; I was accepted; and I began classes the following August.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vagina_Monologues.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passion_of_the_Christ.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Holiday_(2006_film).

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Ryan Explores Unintended Consequences

Andrew Ryan's Labbitt Halsey Protocol

Ryan Explores Unintended Consequences

Andrew Ryan. 2011. The Labbitt Halsey Protocol. Leesburg: Gadfly LLC.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The law of unintended consequences, first articulated by sociologist Robert K. Merton,  states that “outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action.” [1] The more complex the system in view, the more likely it will behave in ways unexpected when subjected to a shock. The law of unintended consequences may seem like nothing more than common sense. Presidents forced to make decisions under uncertain conditions might, however, disagree. The future is seldom known or influenced with absolute certainty.

Overview

In his novel, The Labbitt Halsey Protocol, Andrew Ryan explores the consequences of genetic engineering to improve human intelligence that has gone horribly wrong. Consider participating in a program that would raise the intelligence level of your children to genius level and has no known side effects. Would you participate? What if you refuse—how could you retire in a world where all the children, except yours, were geniuses? Now, fast forward 15 years and almost all the children participating in the program end up committing suicide—so much so that local police and hospitals are reluctant to intervene. How would you, as a parent who participated, respond to the prospects facing your only child?

Plot Summary

This is the setting where we meet Ann Franklin, a very talented, attractive, and upwardly mobile defense contractor living and working in Northern Virginia for Steady State Technologies (SST), a small defense contractor. Ann is a graduate of the University of Virginia business school, she is the daughter of Dr. Henry Franklin, a retired philosophy professor, and her only son, Jeremy, participated in the Labbit Halsey Genomics company protocol, known as the X-chromosome embryogenic neuroenhancement (XEN). Participating in the protocol makes Jeremy an Xen kid whose average intelligence tests out at about 150. Jeremy’s father is missing in action leaving Ann a single mom raising an Xen kid while scaling the heights of the government contracting world (1-12).

Conflict in this scenario arises as Ann simultaneously succeeds in promoting a large defense contract, while quietly beginning an affair with one of contracting officers, and in launching a personal campaign to save Jeremy. SST beats the odds to win the contract and establish Ann’s career; Ann is able to save Jeremy, but at a terrible cost to her own mental and physical health. The story of how this all came about makes The Labbitt Halsey Protocol a true page-turner.

Andrew Ryan Background

Andrew Ryan is a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm who earned his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Louisiana State University. He continues to study physics, cosmology, and neuroscience. His newest book, The Substance of Spacetime: Infinity, Nothingness, and the Nature of Matter, was released in 2016 and it is a nonfiction work “in theoretical physics that reimagines spacetime, not as a two-dimensional coordinate system, but as a real three-dimensional substance.” [2]

Ryan and I met at the library in Leesburg, Virginia while we were attending Indie Author Day (October 8, 2016)[3] where we exchanged books and conversation between book sales to the general public.

Assessment

I am not typically a novel reader. The Labbitt Halsey Protocol caught my attention as a psychological drama. It touched me both as a parent and as a defense contractor. Having a bipolar child, I volunteered at one point to work in a psychiatric ward just like Ann’s quest to enter the Xen underground. (Psychiatric patients are typically above-average intelligence, just like the Xen). Having worked as a consultant in and around Tyson’s Corner, I had a send-off from one job in Clyde’s Restaurant. This was one of the restaurants where Ann had a dangerous liaison. At least for me, reading The Labbitt Halsey Protocol included a lot of déjà vu moments. Surreal, it kept my attention and kept me up sleepless a couple nights. Great read.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences.

[2] http://www.gadflyllc.com.

[3] http://IndieAuthorDay.com.

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Prayer for the Church

Ceramic_church_April_16_2012Almighty God, Beloved Son, Spirit of Truth:

We praise you for your mercy, compassion, patience, covenantal love, and truth.

We give thanks for your church, especially Centreville Presbyterian Church, the manifestation of your Holy Spirit, the nurturer of our faith, the community of believers, the organizer of service, the refuge in the storm.

We confess that we the church have not listened to your spirit; we have not always cherished your word; we have not always been salt and light; we have not always borne the burden of others or been a refuge to the weary.

Reconcile her to yourself; revive her faith, return her to your word, embolden her salt and light, strengthen her in perilous times, grant her peace in the midst of chaos.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Marine Corp Marathon

 

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.”
(2 Tim 4:7)

Marine Corp Marathon

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the summer of 1987, Maryam and I spent about two weeks visiting relatives over the Fourth of July. Having successfully transitioned into Finance and Tax Branch, I found myself in the midst of a long research project in the office and busy with a pastoral nominating committee in my church. While not exactly bored, I needed inspiration to motor through the doldrums of a summer in the Washington heat.

Training

I went to my supervisor in late July and proposed to alter my schedule so that I could have a two-hour break over the lunch hour to train for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is normally run the first week in November. He approved of the idea and even helped me get a key to the building to start work promptly at 6 a.m.

Stretching My Workout

Training for my first marathon was a heady move for me because I had never previously run over ten miles. Ten miles was a benchmark for me because I ran a 10 kilometer race while at Michigan State University and would often run ten miles in those days “just to clear my head”. But a marathon was 26 miles and I was already 34 years old—everyone that I talked to called marathon running a “young man’s sport”. I never met anyone else who had actually run one, but I had a bit more than three months to train and set my goal simply to finish. I figured that I could run ten-minute miles pretty much forever or “til the cows come home”, as we used to say down on the farm.

Lunchtime Fun

Training over the lunch hour turned out to be more fun than I had imagined. The Economic Research Service had a locker room in the New York Avenue office. From there, I could run down New York Avenue past the Treasury Department and the White House to the mall. Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn and one day I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the

Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn. On one occasion I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the Old Ebbitt Grill. Cutting across the mall, I was able to run across the 14th Street bridge into Virginia, run along the Potomac River, and back across Memorial Bridge—the route favored by military runners who were often supported by comrades dispensing water. As I got stronger, I could then proceed past the Lincoln Memorial, up the mall, and around Capital Hill before returning to the office, a run of about 8 miles. One could not imagine a more pleasant run.

Dehydration

As the race approached in October, I began taking longer runs on the weekends, especially Saturdays. In finishing a 20-mile run, I started having a lot of pain which I simply could not ignore. I had to finish up my run walking in pain like I had never previously experienced.

It was still bothering me on Tuesday when I tried running again over the noon hour. As I was suiting up in the locker room, I asked some of my friends if they had ever had this problem. In turn, they asked: “Did you drink any liquid? Your problem sounds like dehydration.” Opps. I had never trained drinking anything. “My coach in Junior High School told us that drinking water would lead to cramps.” Apparently, my coach was badly informed—there were no runners’ magazines or Internet back then. From that day, I began stopping to drink water as I trained.

Race Day

On race day, I drove to the Marine Corps Memorial which serves both as the starting and finishing point. As I lined up, I joined the more than seven thousand runners. They were packed so tight that it took several minutes after the gun went off to even begin the slow trot north up the route 110 to the Key Bridge, which crosses over the Potomac into Georgetown. In Georgetown, spectators lined the streets and it was clear that not everyone trained adequately or paced themselves properly. There I saw a former Secretary of Agriculture bent over and heaving along M Street.

Capital Hill

The run up to Capitol Hill was a breeze with runners chatting and waving at the television crews along the route. By the time we reached the Hain’s Point the runners began to “hit the wall”, where endurance becomes more challenging. At that point, I remember asking a handicapped runner in a tricycle vehicle for a ride (only half joking).

Back to Virginia

I reached a critical point on the 14th Street Bridge, when I wiped my forehead only to find salt crystals. I began freaking out, at which point a fellow runner talked me back into sanity. The final stretch on route 110 was labored enough that a fast walker could have bested me. Still, I made it to the finish line, had my photograph taken, and collected my metal. I too 4 hours and 15 minutes, meeting my goal of running ten-minute miles.

Follow up

The following year I began training earlier. I was on track to run eight-minute miles, but I over-trained, got sick, and never ran another marathon. My knees gave out in 1989 making such distance running too painful. In the years that followed, I began swimming laps instead.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Taitz Teaches Thoughtful Eating (part 2)

taitz_review_01032017Jennifer L. Taitz. 2012. End Emotional Eating. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. (Goto part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In part 1 of this review, I gave an overview of Jennifer Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating. Here I would like to focus on her premise, that “self-control is a skill that we can learn.” (1) What challenge and what skills exactly are we talking about?

The challenge that we face in balancing our appetites is culture. Taitz observes that:

“We seem to live in a ‘birthday or wake, let’s each cake’ culture.” (7)

In other words, mindless eating is the norm and, if you disagree, turn on any television channel and watch the commercials for a few minutes—most are about food.

With respect to skills, let me focus on three skills that stood out for me as I was reading Taitz’s work: 1. Emotional Intelligence, 2. Surfing Urges, and 3. Self-Compassion.

Emotional Intelligence. Taitz defines emotions this way:

“Basically, an emotion arises when we experience something (a situation, a memory, a thought); we evaluate it (appraisal); then we notice changes in our bodies and feel a pull towards taking an action in response to that feeling.” (90)

Her objective in looking at emotions is to:

“to explore ways to both reduce the vulnerabilities that make us more susceptible to intense feelings and manage emotions by changing situations, practicing mindful attention, noticing appraisals, and altering the response components of emotions.” (91)

Here we see the intelligence part of the discussion. Mindless eating involves no such evaluation, but rather involves a mental shortcut from emotions to response, without reflection. For example, I might experience anxiety, then immediate run to the fridge instead of exploring why I feel anxious and deal directly with the anxiety-producing event. Cutting out the reflection, I might then experience a second tier of emotions (guilt and shame) as I realize that I have just blown my diet in hitting the fridge.

Notice that by dealing with the initial emotion, anxiety, directly I can actually feel less bad because I have not triggered this second tier of negative emotions. Taitz’s advice of mindfully reflecting on my anxiety, I get to choose my response and take ownership of it—a confidence building activity. My secondary tier of emotions could in this way be positive and actually help me to deal with the initial anxiety. And, of course, becoming more self-aware may also help in my relationship with other people, the usual application offered for emotional intelligence.[1]

Surfing Urges. Taitz asks: “What would happen if an urge got stronger and stronger and you just noticed it, without reacting?” (118) If urges get stronger when we indulge them, then responding to our urges just creates a vicious cycle of urges and indulgences, followed, of course, by greater and greater guilt. As with any addiction, the solution is not to engage in the behavior.[2]

Taitz observes a physical manifestation of addictive behavior:

“The brain is active and plastic. We strengthen neural connections underlying our behaviors when we engage in repeated actions [like practice your piano lessons]. In contrast, refocusing and changing behaviors alters the brain. Rebuilding neural pathways is a process. The good news is that over time, the link between the behavior and engaging in the urge will be weakened.” (120)

Because of this physical manifestation of the urge in the brain, therapy needs also to be physically manifested to build alternative neurology pathways. This is why developing new habits are an important part of dealing with addictive behavior.

 “Urge surfing” refers to the observation of the rise and fall of cravings (like ocean waves) and urges to help in regulating behavior (122). Taitz recommends a four-step process:

  1. Slow down your mind and body.
  2. Let go of the urge by nonjudgmentally observing it.
  3. Focus on something else.
  4. Choose your response (125).

Taitz observes that exercising self-control differs from will-power (124) and may actually build a reservoir of self-confidence.

Self-Compassion. Taitz reports that in raising children we have four strategies of regulating expectations and emotional support:

  1. Low on expectations; high on support.
  2. Low on expectations; low on support.
  3. High on expectations; high on support.
  4. High on expectations; low on support.

Citing Baumrind (1971), Taitz (177-178) reports that the most successful strategy for parenting is option 3 (high expectations and high support), which is also the optimal strategy for self-care. So what is self-compassion? Citing Neff (2003, 224) Taitz (179) self-compassion as:

“being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness towards oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience.”

In other words, if using the stick to motivate others does not work, why do you motivate yourself with a stick? Do practice the same compassion with yourself as your practice with your loved ones? (Hopefully, you are compassionate with others!) Taitz goes into much more depth with this and other issues.

Jennifer L. Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating, is accessible and interesting to a wide lay and professional audience both because of the topic and because the approaches suggested may be helpful in copy with a range of obsessive and addictive behaviors. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are helpful exercises to promote application of the concepts under discussion. I read the book to help me succeed in ramping down my weight and ramping up my exercise routine in the New Year and was pleased with what I learned—I suspect  that you will be too.

References

Baumrind, D. 1971.  “Current Patterns of Parental Authority.” Development Psychology. Vol: 4:1-103.

Goleman, Daniel. 2006.  Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ.  New York:  Bantam Books. (Review: Goleman:  Emotional Intelligence Brings Light; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-mf)

Koerner, Kelly. 2012. Doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy: A Practical Guide. New York: Guilford Press. (Review: Koerner Explains DBT and Supporting Skills; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1uP).

May, Gerald G. 1988.  Addiction & Grace:  Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York:  HarperOne. (Review: May:  Addictions Need not Enslave; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-iv).

Neff, K. 2003. “The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion.” Self and Identity. Vol. 2:223-50.

[1] For example, see: (Goleman 2006).

[2] May (1988, 177) advises—the only cure for an addiction is to stop the cycle.

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January Prayer

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)

Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Truth:

We give thanks for a month of new possibilities, not looking back, not fearing the future, but focused on the present.

Be especially present, eternally present, in our lives here and now.

May we participate in your shalom, the peace that passes all understanding, and share it with those around us.

In our sense of peace, give us the serenity to examine our thoughts, our emotions, and our responses,

that they may reflect your presence, honor it, and extend it each and every hour of each and every day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, may your truth guide our path and lead us closer to you.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Nemesis

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
If they say, Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason; …
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths”
(Prov 1:10-11, 15)

In the third and fourth grades, I attended Brent Elementary School[1] which required that we meet a school bus every morning, but on other occasions I walked there or rode my bicycle. Generally, I crossed Good Luck Road, walked to Jodie Street, followed Jodie all the way to the Carrollton Parkway. Going right on Carrollton Parkway, I could cut across Brier Ditch by going up the hill to Charles Carroll Junior High School and down the other side which had a sidewalk. But that route was dangerous if the usual bullies were hanging around when it was safer to go left on Carrollton Parkway cutting over to Lamont Drive. Turning right on Lamont Drive took you all the way to the school, but it was a much longer walk and more difficult because of the hills.

The bully problem around Charles Carroll stemmed from the fact that the school sat on a hill surrounded on one side by Brier Ditch and on the other side by a deep creek. For a long time, the only way across the creek on our side was to cross on a fallen tree. So if someone picked a fight with you, they would simply say in front of all your friends: “I will meet you at the creek.” If you did want to fight or be pushed into the creek, it was a long walk home down Lamont Drive. Everyone was happier when they later built a reinforced steel bridge across the creek.

In third grade, I had a friend named Michael who I used to enjoy working with in class. He and I built the only working telegraphs in our class that year, but the following year he started hanging around with a gang that enjoyed picking fights on the playground during recess. One day in recess, he threw sand in my face and grabbed the kick ball that I had been playing with. When I cleaned the sand out of my eyes and went to retrieve my ball, a gang fight broke out. Michael began throwing punches while his gang harassed me. I threw the gang off my back and fought back with Michael until the teachers broke up the fight. They sent us to the aid station where the nurse cleaned up all of Michael’s blood; they then sent us to the principal’s office where our parents were called and we were sent home.

Michael never reformed, but he always kept a nervous eye on me. Apparently, most of his victims did not fight back. We shared a shop class later in eighth grade where he spent the hour sharpening wooden knives on the sander to threaten people with—including the teacher. By the time we reached high school, Michael disappeared into the juvenile detection system never to return.

[1] http://www1.pgcps.org/MargaretBrent.

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Taitz Teaches Thoughtful Eating (part 1)

Jennifer L. Taitz, End Emotional Eating. Taitz Teaches Thoughtful Eating (part 1)

Jennifer L. Taitz. 2012. End Emotional Eating. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In early January, Cub Run Recenter,[1] where I swim, is busy each year with New Year’s resolutions athletes. New faces mostly disappear after two weeks and the regulars return to their usual routine. Raw, will power does not persist long.

Introduction

Addressing the limited resource—will-power—in her book, End Emotional Eating, Jennifer Taitz observes:

“Willpower, as it turns out, is less about will then it is about skill. Mischel [author of a study about the marshmallow test] explains that willpower relates to the ability to strategically direct attention. For example, teaching children [age 4] to pretend the marshmallow is just a picture transforms low delayers [kids unable to delay gratification] to high delays. Obsessing and focusing on the marshmallow creates intense temptation … In this book, you will learn to sit with temptation by paying attention in a particular way … you will practice living in full contact with the present moment, learning from your feelings, copying with distress skillfully, and developing self-compassion.” (1-2)

Mindfulness

A key component in her Zen-influenced approach is developing mindfulness which she defines as: “present-focused, flexible, nonjudgmental awareness.” (3) She defines another key component of acceptance as:

“a willingness to experience thoughts and feelings, even uncomfortable ones. It doesn’t mean endorse things we don’t want to experience or running headlong into unpleasantness.” (3-4)

Taiz’s approach targets patients with eating disorders, like binging, bulimia, and anorexia. Still, the book reads equally well for people who struggle with maintaining a balanced, healthy relationship with food.

Caveats

Some of you may be like me and be suspicious of ideas, like mindfulness, which arise out of Eastern religions, like Zen Buddhism. It is good to be vigilant. In this context, I would make several observations.

  • God, as creator of heaven and earth, is also the origin of all knowledge, including knowledge of ourselves. In Proverbs, we read: “The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.” (Prov 15:7 ESV) We should not fear knowledge, but focus on using it faithfully.
  • Mindfulness is being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and responses, which is a skill that comes also with continuous prayer[2] and meditation. Devout Christians routinely practice mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness comes close to meditation as when a Zen author might encourage meditation on physical things, like a raisin. The Christian focus in mediation is more typically on Christ (as in the Jesus prayer) or on scripture (as in Lecto Divina). Recognizing that we worship the creator, not the creation, mediation on physical things may be helpful as spiritual exercise, but would not be otherwise encouraged.

As Christians, it is our responsibility to understand the uses and abuses of knowledge, but especially spiritual knowledge. As such, Taitz’s work is helpful as a tool for dealing with the special problem posed by the sin of gluttony, sometimes referred to by its Latin name, gula, which has historically been called one of the seven deadly sins.[3]

Organization

Dr. Jennifer L. Taitz is psychologist specializing in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)[4] with degrees from New York University and Yeshiva University, also in New York. She writes in ten chapters, including:

  1. Understanding Emotions and Eating
  2. Accepting the Idea of Acceptance
  3. Mindful Moments
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Surfing Urges and Developing Realistic Confidence
  6. Minding Your Mind
  7. Coping with Difficult Emotions with a Second Helping
  8. Cultivating Self-Compassion
  9. Tasting Values
  10. Ending Well and Beginning Again.

The book begins with acknowledgments, a foreword, and introduction; and ends with a list of references (iii-iv). Taitz offers detailed reviews of the literature and her references are helpful.

Assessment

Jennifer L. Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating, is accessible and interesting, and may be helpful in coping with a range of obsessive and addictive behaviors. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are helpful exercises to promote application of the concepts under discussion. I read the book to help me succeed in ramping down my weight and ramping up my exercise routine in the New Year and was pleased with what I learned—I suspect  that you will be too.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Taitz’s work. In Part 2, I will look in more detail at some of her concepts and teaching.

References

Fairlie, Henry. 2006. The Seven Deadly Sins Today. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Kelly Koerner. 2012. Doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy: A Practical Guide. New York: Guilford Press. (Review: Koerner Explains DBT and Supporting Skills; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1uP).

Footnotes

[1] http://www.FairfaxCounty.gov/parks/rec/Cubrun.

[2] The Apostle Paul writes: “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess 5:17 ESV)

[3] Fairlie (2006, 155-156) writes: “Avarice is more interested in possessing than in the possession, lust in sexual activity than in sexual feeling, and gluttony is more interested in eating than in the food. It is the appetites in themselves, and their need for gratification, that takes over one’s life.”

[4] I first became aware of DBT because it is one of the few approaches that seemed to work with borderline personality disorder patients, who were previously thought to be untreatable. DBT practitioners are experts at emotional intelligence, another good reason to take a look. For a good review, see: (Koerner 2012).

 

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