Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Graceful Creed @ScottStapp @christianaudio @caReviewers

Somehow I made it through high school and college without knowing the band, Creed. I discovered them after finding lead singer, Scott Stapp's solo album during grad school. The music and lyrics were very meaningful to me and helped validate the pain and struggles I felt as my aunt died of cancer. Creed's music was also powerful. I've looked a few times to see if he was releasing another album, to my disappointment.

But then last month, he releases his memoir, Sinner's Creed, and the lack of releases make sense. This incredibly courageous reflection on his life, faith, success, and struggles was quite powerful. I found it particularly relevant and moving from both a psychological and spiritual formation perspective.

I've written before about God image, the psychological concept describing how we view and experience God. Stapp's book is a wonderful example of how experiences in life and relationships with others impact our perspective of and relationship with God. If someone did not believe in the incarnational way God works and how we affect each other's relationships we God, I don't know how they could doubt it after this book.

Stapp's preface is particularly powerful, explaining how obtaining God's love required certain behaviors and work. Things had to be black-and-white clear. So clear that questions were banned. He goes on to say, "And yet the story of my life is profoundly unclear... What remains clear, though, is my passion for the God of love" (p. x). His life and story clearly demonstrate this process.

At the same time, the end of the book seemed a bit strange, going back to a sin-centered narrative rather than a love-centered narrative. While sin is clearly important in the Bible, do we see everything through the lens of sin or through the lens of love? It has some major implications. Stapp seems to move toward the love lens only to almost awkwardly end on the sin lens. I actually wonder if this is in part due to the influence of the 12 step approach in his life in the last few years. While not originally true, in many areas, the 12 steps have taken on a neo-Calvinistic sin-focused condescension. Perhaps this continues to be part of Stapp's journey.

The book is well-written (and narrated, although it would have been wonderful to hear Stapp narrating his own story). It was interesting to me, as a fan, but I'm not sure it would be as attractive to non-Creed or Stapp fans. It's another story of a celebrity's crash and redemption. At the same time, I think in our societal Cult of the Celebrity, it is important to continue to hear these stories to remember that not all is wonderful with fame. In fact, it can destroy life and faith more than anything else. I actually summarized part of Stapp's story in a parent education group a few weeks back when so many parents were more concerned about their kids' grades than their mental health.

One powerful message of this book that we all need to hear is remembering our priorities. This will make all the difference. Despite Stapp's weaknesses, I was quite impressed with how hard he tried to maintain his priorities and keep his son's needs first. In fact, all-in-all, I have so much more respect for Stapp after reading his memoir and am an even bigger fan. I listened to his solo album and the Creed records for at least a week. The meaningful music became all the most meaningful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Glorious Fog @EdwardDobson @christianaudio @caReviewers

Every month during my year-long predoctoral internship, I spent a day with patients diagnosed with or being assessed for ALS. This is a tragic disease that killed baseball great Lou Gehrig and gave renowned physicist Stephen Hawking his electronic voice. This disease not only affects the individual, but also the families. Often the families were more deeply impacted by the losses than the actual patient.

A common thread among the patients and families was that they were forced to address existential questions. During our support group including both patients and family members, it was not unusual to get questions and comments related to faith, the goodness of God (or lack thereof), and the process, hope, and promise of healing.

ALS can be a great equalizer of people. We saw all races and socioeconomic statuses. Both genders were well represented. While it tends to hit people in the second half of their life, we had a good representation of the under 40 crowd. We occasionally got someone under 20. And the process of ALS is different for each person. Some die within months of diagnosis. Others, like Hawking, can live for decades.

Medically-speaking, there is virtually no explanation for the etiology or the reason for continued degradation of the body. There was one lady whose hands were essentially paralyzed. She explained she and her congregation prayed hard and the ALS stopped partway up her arms and has been stable for years. Others have just as much prayer, and the disease seems to move faster.

This can impact one's faith in so many ways, as anyone can imagine. So when I saw Ed Dobson's book, Seeing Through the Fog, exploring, in part, his journey with ALS, I was intrigued. I was even more interested in hearing reflections from this pastor who worked closely with Jerry Falwell and yet voted for Obama.

What I particularly appreciated about Dobson's work is his complete honesty. Emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually, he discussed the journey of his life pre- and post-ALS.

Ultimately, this is not a book about ALS, although I can be very helpful for those suffering with ALS and their loved ones. It's also not a book presenting a formula for how to deal with challenges in life. Rather, he beautifully explores how to see God in the midst of the mundane parts of life. And find joy in those moments, growing ever closer to Christ in the process.

It seems that ALS really helped Dobson particularly see the complexities of life and find the joy in the nuances. He does not minimize the challenges of the fog that so many of us face in different ways, but he also reflects on the beauty of God's incarnational love that takes us through that fog. There were many times I left the support group I was co-leading wanting to cry. Not out of sadness, but because of the beauty of the deep, sacrificial love these families display. Like so many tragedies, ALS can destroy a family, or it can bring them together more powerfully than ever, gloriously shining the love of Christ for everyone to see.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).