Thursday, March 15, 2012

A radical liberal biography – or cognitive therapy? Your choice.

This book Annelie and I wrote does have some radical propositions, and it is biographical. Actually, it just turned out that way.

The insight that young Saul had a flashback on the way to Damascus shook me up just as it will a lot of readers. That what followed became biographical because of our being mental health counselors. We just followed the clues much like a trail of blazes in a dense forest. Dr. Luke, the Apostle Paul’s personal physician and biographer, seems to have laid it out that way. The Fairway Press has a web site for the book, using the book’s title, and you may have gone to that. There are reviews by a pastor, a counselor who worked with abused women, and a theologian. We intentionally sought different perspectives to our own. Just as we would welcome yours. Perspective is all we have. Really.

Our book would not have been possible prior to 1994. That is when the American Psychiatric Association published its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition. Those five pages on the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder emerged out of the suffering from the Viet Nam war, but compiled out of the accumulated awareness of the condition. It began with the description of Achilles after the death of his closest friend during the Trojan War. Out of the current consolidation of information about the condition, Annelie and I, both as counselors and  students of the Bible, came to a radically different sense of Dr. Luke’s story in The Acts of the Apostles – what he put in and what he left out.

There are then two other propositions that will strike some readers as radical. The second has to do with the conditions under which Paul would have been able to write and get out letters from prison. In addition to his need to keep contact with friends, Paul’s theologizing was a main way of coping, helping him to maintain his wholeness as a person amid intense stressors. To get a letter out of prison, however, it either has to be smuggled, bribery involved, or. That’s the big one; the conditions of the prison authorities for a letter have to be met. Advance theirs, in that game.  The third of these propositions has to do with another way in which Paul coped with stress: he wrote poetry. This began as far back as that first letter from Ephesus to the Corinthians when a few lines of poetry from the Hebrew scripture were combined with a few lines from its translation into Greek.

One primary hope we have for the reading of our book is that it will be of therapeutic value to those who suffer from life’s battering. Feelings from this tend to narrow and harden, don’t they? The brain is flexible – thank you, Creator God – and can change, for the better as well as the worst, even after a lot of “worst.” What would be of great help is a broadening of perspective, a changing of the channels in which an afflicted brain has been cycling. We would love to hear that our book has become of use in a discussion group. Biblical, this book is. Narrowing and hardening it is not. Emotional release is a given to be sought and intellectually challenging is a means towards such an end.

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