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Psychology

"I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!"

"I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!"

An old girlfriend of mine—let’s call her the Girl from Ipanema…no, on second thought, we better not—had a type when it came to men: blond hair and blue eyes. That worked out well for me—for awhile. Then a ghost showed up—taking the form of an ill-fated previous relationship with a man who looked remarkably like […]

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey's Gospel Madness

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey's Gospel Madness

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,     vanity of vanities! All is vanity. God, in his mercy, sends preachers. Some are well-educated and institutionally-approved folk serving the faithful in fine old churches, but in these last days we should take no alarm that the same Lord who spoke through Balaam’s ass might again choose an eccentric […]

Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

“There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But […]

A Welcomed Interrogation

A Welcomed Interrogation

John le Carré knows spy craft. A master of espionage fiction, he also once served as an intelligence officer in Britain’s MI5. In a recent interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” while promoting “A Legacy of Spies,” le Carré discussed the art of interrogation. He expressed his firm conviction that the “rough stuff” […]

Rollo May's One Paradox of Courage

Rollo May's One Paradox of Courage

An important (if not challenging) definition of courage from existential psychologist Rollo May, brother of writer and addiction counselor, Gerald May. This comes from Rollo’s famous book, The Courage to Create—a title dedicated to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be—and this section is a description of what May calls the paradox of courage. Courage, as […]

"Mark Yourself as Safe"

"Mark Yourself as Safe"

Greetings from the heart of Houston, and the heart of Hurricane Harvey. For the past few mornings, I’ve woken up, glanced at my phone and the multiple flash flood warnings that came through overnight, and scrolled through a few dozen pictures of whatever fresh hell visited my city the night before. Then, I write some […]

Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker's <i>The Denial of Death</i>

Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death

Freud, Kierkegaard, and the drug lord Heisenberg…A free peek into the Love & Death Issue, which people continue to tell us is their favorite issue thus far. Here is Ethan’s piece on the classic, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. If you subscribe to the magazine, and add the code JESSEPINKMAN in the notes section […]

The Real (Suppressed) You

An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

From the Archives: What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation

From the Archives: What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation

Lately there’s been a considerable dearth of David Zahl on this site, wouldn’t you say?! So here ya go. The following article goes out to anyone strapping a cargo shell to the roof of his or her car this weekend. From our archives, this one remains as prescient and timely as when DZ wrote it […]

The "Centre Point" of Paradox

The "Centre Point" of Paradox

I suffer from what psychologytoday.com calls ‘polarized thinking’ (self-diagnosed). This is a way of seeing the world in ‘either/or’ terms. When I judge something — which happens, let’s face it, all the time — it’s either this or that, good or bad, right or wrong. It’s not some of this and some of that — […]

Telling Stories to the Devil: From <I>Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story</I>

Telling Stories to the Devil: From Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story

This is an incredible excerpt, albeit completely unorthodox. It comes from a short section entitled, “Saying Goodbye to Satan,” in Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s book, Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry. As you read, note the utter left-handedness in Mehl-Madrona’s approach: he allows the patient to tell her story and […]

#allthefeels: Trying to Control Emotions in a World of Chaos

#allthefeels: Trying to Control Emotions in a World of Chaos

NPR’s fascinating podcast Invisibilia is back for its third season, and all is right with the world. Now we can all geek out about the strange ways our minds and bodies work and have everything we thought we knew about ourselves turned on its head. The first episode is a heavy hitter, covering a few […]