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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – NY Times Health Information
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Web site offers haven for those with troubles | heart support
Web site offers haven for those with troubles
Published: Wednesday, January 09, 2008, 8:51 PM Updated: Wednesday, January 09, 2008, 9:05 PM
In spite of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder that have nagged her since she was a teenager, Krissee Danger is determined to keep the self-destructive manifestations of both conditions in check.
It hasn’t been easy, says the 20-year-old Northwest Grand Rapids resident.
“To this day, I still want to do it,” she said.
“It” was pulling out her hair, a strand at a time until she was essentially bald.
“It” also was self-injury. She used a razor blade or X-acto knife to slash her forearms and legs.
Growing up in Frankenmuth, Danger — who asked that her real last name not be used — remembers a happy childhood, but one that was tinged with feelings of low self-worth.
As the feelings persisted and her anxiety grew, she pulled out her hair and eventually started to cut herself as a way to cope, she said.
“I had this amazing buildup of stress, and this was a way to release that, a physical way to cope,” Danger said. “I couldn’t always hide what I did, so I’ve got to believe I wanted somebody to know I wasn’t OK.”
Her parents tried to find her help, she said, and a “parade of every sort of counseling, therapy and medication you can think of” brought some good results.
But it didn’t make her invincible.
“I needed a safe place to talk,” she said.
Then a friend told her about heartsupport.com, and Danger volunteered to be one of the first to share her story with a new online community whose organizers want to be a source for hope and healing for those who are hurting.
Source of support
She posted a video testimony of her experiences on the Web site, and today serves as a live-chat moderator.
“The main thing is, you’ve got to talk about it,” Danger said. “When I finally talked about it to the people I loved, that’s when the healing really started.”
Heartsupport.com is a new ministry for those with substance abuse or self-injury issues, eating disorders, depression or suicidal thoughts.
The ministry was started in October by friends Jon Bell, 24, brother of Mars Hill Bible Church teaching pastor Rob Bell; Web designer Clint McManaman, 27; and Craig Gross, 32, an ordained minister and former youth pastor perhaps best known as the founder of anti-pornography ministry XXXchurch.com.
McManaman, a drummer for former Christian rock band Sub Seven, said he had heard stories from fans about their personal struggles while on the road touring.
From the backseat of the band’s tour van, he used his talent for design to come up with a logo to express his concern — a heart with a line underneath.
“I thought I could sell
T-shirts and raise money to give to the organizations that are helping people with some of those issues,” McManaman said.
Eventually, the trio of friends decided they wanted to do more.
Heartsupport.com includes features such as live and
e-mail support with licensed counselors, chats and message boards where posters can share their experiences and the chance for people to upload their video stories.
The idea behind heartsupport, as described on Bell’s Web site bio page, is simple: “Sometimes the most important words for a person to say are ‘Me too.'”
An addiction to porn was how McManaman connected with Gross. For Bell, it was a struggle with drugs and clinical depression that led to his involvement with heartsupport.
“I realized I was depressed in seventh grade,” Bell recalled.
Instead of seeking help, he said, he numbed his pain with drugs.
“I didn’t feel like I could let my parents or siblings down, and I didn’t feel like church was a safe place to talk about what I was going through,” Bell said.
“I think that’s common, the feeling that people will think ‘What do you mean, you’re not doing OK? You’re in church.’ I think a lot of people feel a need to have everything together.”
After having “a really bad weekend” of drug use and being so depressed he couldn’t get out of bed, a friend called Bell’s brother to let him know what was going on.
“Rob called me, and I remember it clear as day,” Jon Bell said. “He asked me ‘Are you living in hell?’ And I said ‘I absolutely am.’ All I needed was to have someone say ‘If you could get out of where you’re at, would you?'”
Admitting that he had a problem led to treatment and counseling, and allowed those closest to him to pull him up and out of his misery.
Had someone recommended an online resource, he probably would have used it, Bell said.
“It’s a safer conversation to say ‘Go to heartsupport’ than ‘You should see a counselor,’ even though what they’re really saying is ‘You should see a counselor.'”
Bell blogs on heartsupport’s depression page.
“We believe everybody’s story is important, and that nobody should struggle alone,” he said.
“People who are struggling put up walls. We’re trying to kick down as many walls as possible.”
In its first month, heartsupport.com had 10,000 hits. Visitors to the site typically range in age from 14 to 40.
The trio largely relies on word-of-mouth to promote the Web site. They also speak to church groups and at conferences, and starting this month, Bell will take part in a 37 U.S.-city concert tour that will include a heartsupport booth, where concert-goers can film their own stories to be uploaded to the web site.
Bell also will speak at 9 a.m. Sunday at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville.
“If they don’t have anyone around them they feel they can talk to, now they have somewhere to go on their own time, in privacy,” McManaman said. “Maybe this is the step they need in talking to someone face to face.”
For Danger, the word “accountability” comes up a lot when she talks about healing, particularly when it has to do with sharing her story.
“It’s part of learning to cope, and it’s about finding people you can be completely honest with,” she said.
“Having so many people know what I have been through and what I still think about, that holds me accountable to not slide.
“It’s like I have a whole team behind me.”
© 2010 MLive.com. All rights reserved.
Creating Sabbath Peace Amid the Noise
By JUDITH SHULEVITZ
Published: July 16, 2010
THERE are people for whom the Sabbath never went away — Seventh-day Adventists, Hutterites, Jews whose fathers and mothers never stopped walking in the ways of their fathers and mothers.
And then there are the rest of us. The Sabbath, Jewish or Christian, is a distant memory for many Americans, the recollection of a quaintly tranquil day when stores were closed, streets were quiet and festive dinners were had. The Sabbath would seem to have no place in our busy, beeping world. The very word tastes musty in the mouth, as if it were a relic from another place and time.
But what if you wanted to revive something like the Sabbath today? What if you coveted some of that sweetness and slowness and went looking for ways to get it? What would you do? Would you commit yourself to the Sabbath’s rituals and laws? Would you transform yourself into an Orthodox Jew or latter-day Puritan? How much would you be willing to change?
If you’re like me and like some friends of mine, as secular as you are Jewish or Christian but nonetheless drawn to your religious traditions, the answer is, you wouldn’t change all that much. You’d take from the Sabbath the things that were useful to you. An organization of brash young Jews called Reboot, for instance, recently published a “Sabbath Manifesto.” Its Ten Commandments feature suggestions like: “Avoid technology.” “Connect with your loved ones.” “Get outside.” “Avoid commerce.” “Drink wine.” There is no mention of prayer or religious law or God.
“Sometimes doing things halfway is exactly what we need to do,” said Amanda Clayman, a therapist who lives in Brooklyn Heights. Ms. Clayman, who recently converted to Judaism, and her husband, Greg, an executive vice president at MTV Networks who was born Jewish but grew up nonobservant, select from the panoply of Sabbath rituals the customs that seem most meaningful to them. At the moment, these are the ones that involve making and partaking of a traditional Friday night dinner.
“Our Shabbat starts on Friday morning, like in the old days,” said Ms. Clayman, who takes Fridays off to be with her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Alexandra. “Alex and I get up, we talk about what we’re going to make for dinner, we go to the butcher shop, we get a chicken, we roast the chicken.”
Another ritual has Mr. Clayman blessing his wife and Alexandra just before the meal. Ms. Clayman loves play-acting the parts of the old-fashioned Jewish family: “When Daddy gets home and the house looks nice and Daddy gets to put his hands on us and bless us, it’s very masculine in a way that men don’t often have the opportunity to be in this enlightened society, and we talk about what’s something great that Mommy did for us this week. This is a time in which we get to inhabit these timeless, traditional family roles.”
This traditionalism works for her, she said, because it differs from ordinary life, in which neither she nor her husband feels restricted to particular gender roles.
REUBEN NAMDAR, an Israeli novelist of Iranian-Jewish background who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (his award-winning collection of short stories, “Haviv,” published in 2000, has not yet been translated into English), follows Jewish law by avoiding cooking once the sun has set on Friday night. But he will drive a car and buy his children ice cream cones once the Sabbath services are over on Saturday afternoon, even though driving and spending money are prohibited by the Jewish law of the Sabbath.
“The bottom line with me is, it’s very personal. It’s not a theology,” Mr. Namdar said. “That’s what my parents did, and not just my parents, the Sephardic community. Maybe they didn’t want to know that there was a fire inside the engine,” referring to the idea that driving violates the ban on igniting a fire during the Sabbath. Or they knew but didn’t care, because it was their custom to drive.
In any case, he said: “Why do you assume that the Orthodox Shabbat is the Sabbath? I don’t agree with that. Minhag Yisrael, the custom of Israel, is what matters.” Mr. Namdar rejects “all this crazy stuff the Orthodox rabbis added, the stuff with tearing toilet paper and cracking open soda cans before Shabbat” lest you violate laws against tearing and making new vessels, part of a complex body of law to prevent anything that could be construed as work. The Sabbath, Mr. Namdar said, is not a theory but a practice, or rather a set of practices, living, evolving and human, handed down from parents to children, not inscribed in a book in heaven.
“The second you write down the rules, it doesn’t work for me,” he said. He believes that the Sabbath of everyday Jews, rather than the Sabbath of the disputers and the thinkers, was never as strenuous or elaborately thought-through as the Orthodox Sabbath is today: “You ate well, you slept well, you had sex, you were in a special state of mind, you did not chastise the kids. It was organic.”
Those who want to keep the Christian Sabbath face the opposite problem — not an excess of law, but the absence of customs and a community that observes them. Though Sabbath-keeping was once ubiquitous throughout the Christian world, Sabbath rituals other than church-going have mostly vanished.
What would an organic Christian Sabbath look like today? For James Carroll, an ex-priest and dissenting Catholic in Boston (he is the author of “Practicing Catholic,” published in 2009), it would look like the Sunday dinners of his childhood. These were big formal meals, held at 2 p.m. every Sunday (and on Christmas and Thanksgiving), which were sometimes the only meals at which he and his mother and brothers would be joined by his father.
Mr. Carroll’s father, who worked at the Pentagon, was “a typical absent father,” he said. “He was never home at 5:30 on a weeknight when we had dinner. There were five of us boys, and mealtimes were chaotic. But Sunday dinner was a realm apart. There were tablecloths, the good dishes, roast beef.” Mr. Carroll’s father’s presence at the dinner table was “how we knew it was Sunday,” he said. “That began a kind of family time that would extend into the evening, when we would all watch ‘Disneyland’ or ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ ”
Mr. Carroll went to Mass in the morning, as did his father. He thought of that as the religious part of the day. Looking back, though, he now thinks the Sabbatarian part of Sunday was dinner. “Its roots are religious,” he said. “As Christians, we have completely lost the sense of the origin of the Mass, which is the Eucharist, which is a meal. If Jesus were to visit us, it would have been the Sunday dinner he would have insisted on being a part of, not the worship service at the church.”
SO what does Mr. Carroll do now to keep the Sabbath? He walks to church, which takes him through Boston Common, where his children grew up playing Little League and wading in the pond, and as he walks, he feels “a certain tug of melancholy. I feel alone.”
He and his wife and children used to have Sunday dinner, but stopped when the children became teenagers. He wonders if his parents would have had Sunday dinners today, given that his mother was a “compulsive shopper” and might have preferred to frequent the mall, had it been open back then.
To judge from what Lauren Winner calls “a bumper crop” of books on the Christian Sabbath published in the last decade, you’d think that the day was making a comeback. But, said Ms. Winner, an assistant professor at the Duke University divinity school who wrote one of these books (“Mudhouse Sabbath,” 2003), “it’s unclear to me that many people are implementing them.” The problem for Christians is that if they want to keep the Sabbath, they do so alone. “There’s just no communal framework,” Ms. Winner said. The talk of Sabbath among Christians tends to be about incorporating spots of mindfulness and quiet into everyday life, she added, not with recreating a collective Sunday experience.
Ms. Winner herself stopped shopping on Sunday a long time ago, and recently began keeping a sort of electronic Sabbath as well — she tries to stay off e-mail and to keep her cellphone turned off. She doesn’t eat out on Sunday, either, because she doesn’t want to benefit from what she considers the exploitation of the labor of the underpaid immigrants who staff the local restaurants. And, she said, “I make a pain of myself at church” by pestering her pastor not to schedule committee meetings on Sunday.
But she is not optimistic about the future of Sabbath-keeping in America. “There is this enormous hunger,” she said, “but it is like a collective action problem. The barriers feel so high and people feel so overwhelmed. There isn’t, in North American Protestantism, any sense of an imperative about this.”
OUR BRAIN ON COMPUTERS
More Americans Sense a Downside to an Always Plugged-In Existence
Published: June 6, 2010
While most Americans say devices like smartphones, cellphones and personal computers have made their lives better and their jobs easier, some say they have been intrusive, increased their levels of stress and made it difficult to concentrate, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
Younger people are particularly affected: almost 30 percent of those under 45 said the use of these devices made it harder to focus, while less than 10 percent of older users agreed.
Neil Erickson of Akron, Ohio, blames his lack of focus on his cellphone. “It’s distracting, but you never know if something is going to be important,” he said in a follow-up interview. Mr. Erickson, who is 28 and studying computer engineering, added, “I suppose I could cut down on checking e-mail and phone use, but I probably won’t.”
Technology has simplified life in many ways for Liz Clark, 49, a Realtor from Rye, N.Y., by allowing her to shop online, stay in touch with friends and keep tabs on her three children. “I can text them, and they get back to me immediately,” Ms. Clark said.
But while mobile devices and PCs have eased stress for some, just about as many said the devices had heightened the amount of stress they felt.
“Every single electronic device absolutely causes some stress,” said Warren Gerhard, 55, of Cape May, N.J. Because Mr. Gerhard, a retired member of the Coast Guard, is a volunteer E.M.T. worker, he cannot turn his cellphone off.
People seem to find it hard to shut down after work. Almost 40 percent check work e-mail after hours or on vacation.
Some people can’t imagine living without their computers. About a third of those polled said they couldn’t, while 65 percent said they either probably or definitely could get along without their PCs. The people who are most computer-dependent tend to be better educated and more affluent.
While most said the use of devices had no effect on the amount of time they spent with their family, a few were concerned. One in seven married respondents said the use of these devices was causing them to see less of their spouses. And 1 in 10 said they spent less time with their children under 18.
The nationwide poll was conducted May 6-9, using both land-line phones and cellphones. Interviews were conducted with 855 adults, of whom 726 said they used a personal computer or had a smartphone. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults and 4 percentage points for computer and smartphone users. Complete results and methodology are available at nytimes.com/polls.
Donald Miller is in a room of 500 or 600 people, all waiting for him to speak. But as he steps behind the podium and begins, his voice seems more suited to a small group of five or six.
“Okay,” he starts, “what are some of your favorite movies?”
A murmur of response—”Come on!” Miller encourages—and then people start shouting out titles.The Matrix! A Beautiful Mind! The Straight Story! Finding Nemo! The audience oohs and aahs at each other’s choices. Little Women! Napoleon Dynamite! It’s a Wonderful Life! The shouting goes on for a while; they forget this is a workshop.
“Okay, great,” Miller says, bringing attention front and center. “Now, call out your favorite parts of the Nicene Creed.”
Awkward giggles throughout the room—they know they’ve been had. Then one man pipes up: “It’s a wonderful life!”
Miller laughs along with, maybe louder than, everyone in the room. He’s enjoying that his point was made for him: We know our movies better than we know our creeds. And now self-help banalities—Your life can be wonderful—compete for our attention with the classic truths of the Christian story.
In the next half hour, Miller delivers a variation on a theme ascendant in evangelical Christianity: Truth is rooted in story, not in rational systems. The Christian mission is not well served when we speak in terms of spiritual laws or rational formulas. Propositional truths, when extracted from a narrative context, lack meaning. “The chief role of a Christian,” he says, “is to tell a better story.”
In keeping with the movie theme, Miller quotes at length from Robert McKee, the Hollywood screenwriting guru whose book Story (1997) is at once a detailed guide to the principles of narrative and a primer on the principles of meaning. Miller says that the criteria McKee instructs writers to use in editing their stories—Is there conflict here? Does my protagonist have a purpose?—are the same criteria we can use to edit our understanding of our lives and the Christian faith.
The Donald Miller speaking at this conference workshop—casual, yes, but also focused, deliberate—is perhaps not the Donald Miller people expected to see. Best known for Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, a youthful, angsty collection of personal essays that has sold more than 800,000 copies since its publication in 2003, Miller has refined his craft and his range of interests. At 35, he is a maturing youth—freshly shaven with short hair, plain blue jeans, and a beige sweater over a white button-down shirt. He has no pretense of hipster chic, or much pretense of any kind. When bumping into old conference circuit acquaintances or making new ones, he likes to talk of music and film but also college basketball and Hey, how is your wife feeling these days?
Miller, often described as “irreverent” or “bohemian,” is a frequent speaker at mainstream evangelical events just like this one: a mid-winter conference at the Hines Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay, a gathering of evangelical church and parachurch workers in New England, with the usual buzz of platform speakers and ministry workshops. Miller is comfortable here, which, apart from his book sales within the Christian industry, doesn’t seem quite right, given his countercultural evangelical image. Other recent gigs for Miller include the Women of Faith national conference and a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) convention. He is likely the only speaker at such events who has launched an online literary journal, the Burnside Writers Collective, and whose book site includes links to politically liberal organizations such as MoveOn.org and Greenpeace.
But he manages to fit in just fine. He is not an evangelical interloper. He is an evangelical insider. “They love him,” explains Jim Chaffee, Miller’s booking agent. “He’s progressive but not pissed.”
He is also neither irreverent nor bohemian—at least, not much. But for mainstream evangelicals today, Miller is a bridge to an irreverent, bohemian world. His work is framed with bohemia—a road trip, a pint of beer, an occasional curse word—but filled with explicit longing for Jesus. He never takes on basic Christian tenets or evangelical priorities such as biblical authority and spreading the gospel, but he asks just enough questions, with just enough gravity, to attract readers who have similar reservations about their faith culture. He’s a sotto voce critic of evangelicalism, telling anxious audiences that it’s okay to question the faith, yet keep it.
At the conference in Boston, attendees hear from a lineup of evangelical celebrity teachers: George Barna, Henry Cloud, Bill Hybels, Jack Hayford, Joni Eareckson Tada, Sheila Walsh, and more. Topics range from “Your Role in Jesus’ ‘Dream Church'” to “How to Lead a Person to Christ: The Simple Basics.”
Miller’s talks—a morning keynote address to about 4,000 people, plus the afternoon workshop—are short on how-to’s and long on critique. During the keynote session, he takes the crowd through a history of paradigms for church ministry. He objects to overconfidence among evangelicals. “If your mind is not constantly being changed,” he says, “you’re not following Christ.” Miller believes sharing the gospel should be like setting someone up on a blind date, not like explaining propositions. He takes aim at the corporatization of evangelicalism, detectable through such evangelicalisms as, “Be profitable for the kingdom of God.” He lampoons teaching series with titles like “Three Keys to a Biblical Marriage.”
“It seems to me there are a million keys to marriage,” Miller teases, “and they change depending on what kind of mood she’s in.” The joke kills. All his jokes kill. Miller is embraced every bit as enthusiastically as his celebrity speaker elders. Or more so. “Yours is the only talk so far where people stood around and talked afterward,” one woman tells him. “So refreshing. So real.”
At the book-signing table after his keynote address, Miller is handed copy after copy of each of his four titles: Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What (2004), Through Painted Deserts (2005; a reissue of his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance), and To Own a Dragon(2006). But mostly, he is handed copy after copy of Blue Like Jazz and offered testimonials about the book’s effect:
“I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years, and I’ve never been so excited about a book.”
“Your book was the only thing that got my daughter through college.”
“I love Blue Like Jazz because it’s, like, a Christian book, but it doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.”
A 40-something woman approaches Miller with two plastic grocery bags filled with copies of his books. “I’ve already bought Blue Like Jazz 13 times,” she gushes. “But I gotta have all these to give to people. I’m a Jesus girl, but I also like to go out and do tequila shots with my friends. This is a book I can give to those friends.”
At the end of the day, Miller and I walk through the February chill to a pub and grill in Boston’s South End. He tells me that comments like the ones at the signing table are par for the course when he speaks at events like these. He feels he must be meeting some great need that exists for evangelicals today. “You feel confident because you know that this is actually a refreshing message for people,” he says. “They don’t feel accused. They don’t feel hurt or offended by what you’re saying. There’s a sense of, ‘Hey, we have lost meaning, haven’t we?’ “
He compares his experience to Paul speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill. Paul understood Greek culture, he was winsome, and he could make an appeal for truth in a way that Greeks would receive. I point out that in that scenario, Don Miller is Paul, and evangelicals are the Greeks.
Miller nods. “I actually believe that I’m setting people free from something that is frustrating them.”
The Greater Trouble
It’s easy to see why Miller believes he is setting people free: His fans sound like the liberated. And if he critiques evangelical culture, it’s always with care for evangelicals. Many evangelicals are critics of evangelical culture because they are concerned with what is being communicated to non-Christians. Miller, on the other hand, is critical of evangelical culture because he worries about what evangelicals are communicating to themselves.
In Searching for God Knows What, Miller writes about the “Four Spiritual Laws” approach to witnessing:
Millions, perhaps, have come to know Jesus through these efficient presentations of the gospel. But I did begin to wonder if there were better ways of explaining it than these pamphlets. After all, the pamphlets have been around for only the last fifty years or so (along with our formulaic presentation of the gospel), and the church has shrunk, not grown, in Western countries in which these tools have been used. But the greater trouble with these reduced ideas is that modern evangelical culture is so accustomed to this summation that it is difficult for us to see the gospel as anything other than a list of true statements with which a person must agree.
“The greater trouble” with these approaches, Miller takes pains to say, is the trouble causedevangelicals. Throughout Searching and Blue Like Jazz, especially, Miller is pastoral in his concern that evangelicals shed whatever cultural baggage might be causing confusion in their lives of faith and return to a relational understanding of God.
In one of his talks in Boston, Miller offers a parable about evangelical witness: A husband decides to woo his wife, so he takes her out to dinner and gives her a list of the things he loves about her. “All those things are true. Do you see that?” The wife nods. “Well, then, you know I love you.” The wife doesn’t swoon. “But everything on this list is true! If you believe the items on this list, then you should be able to accept that I love you!”
The Parable of the Foolish Husband prompts mmms and claps and knowing headshakes. Miller does not make anyone feel bad about harboring formulaic versions of God or of the gospel. He relates to feeling bad about those versions and asks, “Why don’t we try another way?”
It’s a truism of sales that products do well when they meet felt needs. Blue Like Jazz sold just over 20,000 copies in its first year, but word of mouth (and a seeding effort through Campus Crusade for Christ, which placed the book in packets passed out to college freshmen) moved the title slowly but surely onto the bestseller list. Greg Stielstra, vice president of marketing for Thomas Nelson Publishers, says the book is now—four years later—seeing an increase in units sold per week.
Blue Like Jazz takes its title from the notion that jazz music does not resolve, which Miller sees as a metaphor for the ambiguities of the life of faith in God. But if anything, Blue resolves its beefs with evangelicalism succinctly and consistently, with chapters that are more like the 3-minute condensations of pop rock than the lingering improvisations of jazz. The book is a tour through sites of frustration for evangelicals, especially young evangelicals. Chapter titles include “Belief,” “Church,” “Romance,” “Community,” “Money,” “Worship,” and “Love.” On each subject, Miller begins by describing a well-known problem with slight insolence, but ends by offering, well, a resolution. In “Church,” he writes, “I don’t like institutionalized anything,” listing beefs with churches he’s attended. But within a few pages, he tells the story of his current church in Portland, Oregon, and writes, “So one of the things I had to do after God provided a church for me was to let go of any bad attitude I had against other churches I’d gone to. In the end, I was just different, you know. It wasn’t that they were bad; they just didn’t do it for me.”
Miller says fans of Blue are “people who don’t want to be in evangelical culture but don’t want to reject it either.” He gives voice to their cultural hang-ups and agrees there is a problem—Yeah, Christianity can be lame that way—but quickly suggests they move on.
Like Reading My Own Diary
Miller pledges that his writing style will change significantly with his next book, A Map of Eden, which debuts in 2008. He says he learned the most about himself from writing his most recent book,To Own a Dragon, which chronicles Miller’s experience of growing up without a father and offers lessons he gleaned from a mentoring relationship with photographer John MacMurray. It is also his most focused, consistently well-written book. But Miller says that as he wrote Dragon, he found his heavily personalized writing style was not challenging anymore—it lacked the thrill of creative discovery. (He’s rediscovered the thrill with a screenplay version of Blue Like Jazz, co-written with Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson. And he has plans to create a television show, set in the famed Powell’s bookstore in Portland.)
To date, Miller’s writing style has been casual, even lackadaisical. Most chapters in his books take the form of mini-essays, but they’re more like long e-mails written to a friend than prose intended for mass consumption. Like most authors, Miller writes in a style he admires: “The books I like are the ones that get you feeling like you are with a person, hanging out with a person who is being quite vulnerable, telling you all sorts of stuff that is personal,” he writes in Searching. He says he got that feeling from Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and credits that book with giving shape to his voice.
But Miller represents a new kind of casual. Published writing is generally a step removed from everyday speech, but Miller’s style quotes the quotidian. Consider a sample from Blue Like Jazz, chosen at random:
My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove he doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove he does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.
Read it aloud, and it sounds like speech. Which is precisely what Miller’s fans like about him. “You write like you talk; you talk like you write,” a young woman in Boston said to Miller, and her comment was both an observation and a compliment.
Miller’s fans like his writing not just because it sounds like his speech, but because it sounds like speech, period. His thoughts on paper “sound” like thoughts—anyone’s thoughts. Miller’s essays on faith are exciting for fans because reading him is like having themselves explained to themselves. “It was like reading my own diary,” said another fan in Boston.
On the first page of Blue Like Jazz, we learn that Miller was raised without a father, that his family was poor, and that an undersized bladder caused him to wet the bed until he was ten. Such details, frankly delivered, litter his writing. Later in Blue, we see Miller yelling at a roommate whose motorcycle wakes him each morning and slowly waking to the realization that he is not giving money to his local church. He tells his version of a multitude of problems most every evangelical has experienced and offers lessons learned. His writing feels like a friend constantly calling to say, “Man, I realized something bad about myself today, but I think I’ve got it figured out now.”
The Language of Spirituality
Miller’s words are a mirror for his fans, and they love what they see—so could his popularity be read as (yet another) indication of our culture’s deep narcissism? It’s a fair critique in an age when people document the minutiae of their lives in written and visual media—blogs, YouTube, cell-phone pictures sent at every passing moment. Such self-expression is not testimony; it’s not a profession of anything but self. It is public without being communal.
The danger for Miller is that fans would see themselves in his writing, be comforted that those selves are as they should be, and believe that there is no conflict between loving Jesus and, say, doing tequila shots with your friends.
But to read Miller that way is to miss the upshot of his low style. His adventures in evangelicalism have more to do with classic Christian experience than contemporary narcissism. His style is not an exercise in self-aggrandizement, but in self-exploration. Miller is helping readers address certain frustrations in evangelical culture because his writing is related to a pillar of the evangelical experience: spirituality.
In Blue Like Jazz, Miller makes a point of distinguishing between Christianity, the religion, and Christianity, the spirituality. Some readers (like this one) may have a hard time appreciating the difference at first blush, because spirituality is a catchword and a trend both within Christianity and without it. Evangelicals are drawn to the spirituality of Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Henri Nouwen, even as they flinch at the spirituality of Joan Borysenko and Deepak Chopra. Spirituality sounds nice, but is it sufficiently theological?
Bruce Hindmarsh, a professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver and the author of The Evangelical Conversion Narrative (2005), warns that the imprecision of the termspirituality affords those who employ it the benefit of insight without having to be insightful. But Hindmarsh argues that the word, used biblically, is fecund with theological and practical content. “You could almost capitalize every use of it in the Pauline letters,” he says. Spirituality is “life in the Holy Spirit, or life in Christ in the Holy Spirit.”
Spirituality is dialectical: It denotes that which animates (enlivens the self), but also that which integrates (the self with others). Spirituality is about a closely examined life of faith. It is about the self, but it contains a check against self-absorption by calling the self into relationship with Christ and people.
Evangelicals who emphasize spirituality are recovering the classical roots not just of Christianity in general, but of evangelicalism in particular, a faith movement that is “at its core a spirituality movement,” says Hindmarsh. “The historical roots of evangelicalism are about awakening to interiority.” Hindmarsh’s research has led him to the journals of Christians from the early modern period—both giants of the faith like George Whitefield and John Wesley and laypersons who are forgotten to history but whose journals recount their personal stories of faith. These accounts are “embodied theology,” says Hindmarsh, “theology that is taken up into someone’s life in real time.”
Spirituality combines deep self-examination—;Who am I, and how am I living?—with a call to integrate with the world outside the self. True spirituality is never merely about the self, but about the experience of the self in the world with God.
This true spirituality is what readers respond to in Donald Miller. His essays are personal, yes, but not solipsistic. They may resolve too quickly, but to their credit, they often do so by calling readers to greater sympathy with others, deeper faith in the love of God, and more patience during trials of discipleship. They tell of the self in the interest of community concerns. They are ultra-casual in tone, filled with the clutter of informal conversation. But that very style and tone draws evangelicals who can relate to Miller’s story of faith.
Miller’s books describe the experience of being evangelical in a manner that echoes the feelings and thoughts of thousands of evangelicals today. And because he is careful not to reject the faith, he helps readers—especially culturally conflicted young evangelicals—recover it. His books encourage a certain amount of Christian navel-gazing, but only long enough to get the fuzz out.
Patton Dodd is Protestant editor for Beliefnet and a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Miller created the Belmont Foundation, which “seeks to effectively respond to the American crisis of fatherlessness by equipping the faith community.”
Christianity Today articles by and about Donald Miller include:
Guys and Dads | Elephants in puberty are like men without fathers, says Donald Miller. (June 13, 2006)
Finding a Family | A man needs a dad. I found mine when I moved in with a friend. (Excerpt from To Own a Dragon, June 13, 2006)
The Campus Confession Booth | What I considered a horrible idea turned into a moment of transformation. (Leadership, July 1, 2005)
Learning to Love Moses | The difference between meaning and truth. (An excerpt fromSearching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller, November 1, 2004)
The Dick Staub Interview: Why God Is Like Jazz | “Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, talks about why Christians need writers who honestly deal with their faults and why penguin sex is an apt metaphor for believing in Christ” (August 1, 2003)
Tying the Clouds Together
Rob Bell’s metaphors and references make his listeners stretch, but his wisdom for preachers is down to earth.
Tying the Clouds Together
Rob Bell’s metaphors and references make his listeners stretch, but his wisdom for preachers is down to earth.
Monday, February 1, 2010
He once planted a church by teaching through Leviticus. He can use a rabbit carved from a bar of soap to illustrate the nature of suffering. Google his name and the term “Sex God” will appear among the top entries.
Rob Bell is the most interesting preacher in the world.
Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but his reputation as an innovative communicator came largely through his video teaching series, NOOMA. Since launching Mars Hill in 1999, Bell’s ministry has expanded into books, DVDs, and live tours, but he is still committed to shepherding his community at Mars Hill through preaching.
Leadership managing editor Skye Jethani sat down with Bell to discuss his approach to communicating, the state of preaching in the church, and the risks the pulpit presents to a pastor’s soul.
Your sermons are known for pulling from unexpected sources—everything from art history to quantum physics. Why?
When Jacob woke up after his vision of angels ascending and descending on the ladder, he declared, “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” And Jesus says, “My Father is always at work even to this very day.” Jesus lives with an awareness, an assumption that God is here and he’s at work. Dallas Willard calls this “the God-bathed world.” This has deeply shaped me.
My assumption is that God can be found in all of the interesting things buzzing around us all the time. So we can take something from here and something from there and bring them together. A friend of mine calls it “tying the clouds together.”
What’s an example?
In high-end quantum physics they believe matter isn’t stable. The atoms in a chair are connected in a pattern of relationships. And the Bible begins with a triune God—a relationship of loving, giving, creative energy. Ah ha, there’s something there.
Drops Like Stars began when I realized that basic art theory has all of these connections with suffering. And so it generally starts with some odd moment of connection. And then from there it’s just the hard work of hunting things down, digging things up, becoming aware of all that’s going on around us all the time. I have journals filled with fragments, and over time they grow.
How is that different from how you were originally trained to preach?
A lot of pastors were trained to read the verse and then read the commentaries. But after a while the two are just talking to each other. One’s focus can actually become smaller and smaller until everything is funneled into the particular text. The movement then becomes in rather than out. So it’s Tuesday afternoon and a pastor is sitting in the office reading James 2 and four or five commentaries hoping to find that little nugget. When all the while there’s a huge world of insight and implication and ideas out there.
Rather than shrinking our vision, the text should become a pair of eyes with which we are able to see even more. There’s a great big world out there with quantum physics, and architecture, and economic theory, and the thread count of clothing, and the fact that refrigerators in Europe are smaller—all of these seemingly random events and occurrences and happenings are all connected and help us see how this really is God’s world.
That covers content, but what about the sermon structure?
There’s a whole world of screenwriting wisdom that we can tap into as preachers. There are storytelling insights about arc, tension, narrative, perspective, point of view—these things aren’t taught in most seminaries, but they’re essential to understanding how stories work, which means they’re incredibly helpful in understanding the Bible.
Imagine a pastor on Thursday staring at this obscure passage in the life of David trying to figure out where the sermon is. One playwright says, “When in doubt, just have a different character give the line.” And suddenly it clicks—do the sermon from the perspective of Uriah. Boom! Just one little adjustment and all of a sudden the whole thing works. My experience has been that the modern preaching, teaching, training system doesn’t tap people into all this. The imagination involved in the art of the sermon can end up being stifled.
There’s a lot of emphasis today on practical preaching, helping people address their felt-needs, and giving direct application. Is that foremost in your mind when you prepare a message?
When I prepare to teach a text there are a few questions I always ask. First, “What’s the thing behind the thing?” and “What’s the truth behind the truth?” So if we’re talking about tithing, we’re really talking about generosity and participation. And if we’re talking about generosity and participation, then we’re really talking about whether you view the world as a scarcity or as a world governed by a Trinitarian God. Is the universe at its core a sliced-up pie where you grab your slice and then protect and defend it? Or do you believe that at the core there is an endlessly self-giving, loving community of God we are invited to step into?
So you can talk about tithing—giving your 10 percent. Or you can wrestle with a scarcity versus a Trinitarian view of the universe with tithing perhaps being an implication at the end of the message.
So you’re trying to help people see a larger view of reality, through the lens of the gospel, rather than just giving them practical application.
Yes, exactly. I call it the truth behind the truth; the mystery behind the mystery; reality behind the reality. If you say we’re going to do a series on marriage for the next five weeks, there’s a chance that people who’s aren’t married, who are single, or who are divorced are going to think,Well, I guess I don’t have to show up for five weeks.
Another way to approach the subject is to see marriage as one of the applications of the truth behind the truth. The truth behind the truth would lead you to preach one week on being honest, the next on apologizing, and the next on serving others. Those truths apply to everyone. And then each week you might include a point on how it applies to marriage.
Does our inability to find the truth behind the truth explain why we ignore large sections of the Bible in our preaching? We just don’t see much practical how-to in Obadiah?
It’s interesting you bring this up because when our church started, I spent the first year and a half preaching through Leviticus verse by verse. But now it’s a part of our church’s DNA to assume that every text has something for us—even ones that make no sense the first time you read them.
It may be my own warped sense of humor, but it was always the odd places in the Bible that I found most compelling. It’s God’s inspired Word, and it’s all useful. But to really believe that—that’s when things get interesting. I’d rather trust God, jump into those texts, and discover what God has for us.
I really like the idea of throwing yourself at its mercy. I’m just assuming there will be things here. Last year we did Philippians verse by verse. It took the whole year. I always begin with the assumption that there is way more going on in the text than we see on the first reading.
With more familiar texts, like Philippians, you have a different challenge. How do you bring forward new insights without deteriorating into novelty?
We use phrases like “historic orthodox Christian faith” a lot, and we ask how Christians before us have understood the text. What did the church fathers say about this? For example, we did Lamentations for Lent. For thousands of years Christians have taken the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday for reflection.
We frame many things like that. Here are ways people have thought about this, understood this, expressed this over the years.
So you’re not just trying to be different or innovative, you’re trying to be rooted?
Right. We’re interested in the way of Jesus and being true to the way of Jesus. If what we dig up is rattling or provocative or surprising, great, but setting out to be shocking or controversial, that’s not a goal God honors.
What else have you found unhelpful when preaching?
Focusing too much on something in the text that is an issue of hairsplitting debate among theologians. You are assuming that people care as much about the debate as you do. Somebody may be sitting there thinking, “Dude, I’m a plumber. I didn’t know that was a debate, and I didn’t know that it needed to be resolved. I’m just trying to figure out life with God and you spent sixteen minutes letting me know that you understood the origins of this particular Greek word.” Some things just aren’t helpful.
Why do we get sucked into those unhelpful debates?
In some sense we are justifying our existence. We want to appear smart and authoritative. We want to display what we know and prove that we deserve to be up here on the stage rather than humbly receiving the role as a gift.
I have definitely been guilty of trying to show people how much I know about a verse, and that’s different than allowing them to see how the truth of it has impacted my life and can transform theirs. When we put language on our experience with a text, then it becomes life-giving preaching.
So for legitimacy as leaders we rely on our intelligence rather than our intimacy with Christ.
Right. It’s about walking with God. As a pastor it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that is isolating, and in a weird way “Church, Inc.” becomes your sphere of life. Before you know it, as pastor you’re out of touch with what other people are really struggling with.
How has your role at Mars Hill changed?
A few years ago I felt like I was on a treadmill and the dial just kept getting turned up faster and faster. Three services, elder meetings, staff meetings, weddings, traveling, writing. And then some very wise elders realized it wasn’t healthy. They said, “Okay, here’s the deal. You’re a part of Mars Hill, and you’ll always be a part of it. But we are going to arrange things so that it doesn’t kill you and it doesn’t kill us.”
It’s been a long, long process, but over the past year it’s been working really well. There aren’t any models for this kind of thing, so it took a lot of discussion, sweat, blood, and prayer. But it’s working. I preach a little less than half the Sundays at our church, and then I write and tour and make films and the leaders of our church invite me in to issues and meetings only when it’s proper and makes sense.
How has sitting in the seats and watching others teach regularly impacted you as a preacher? Has your perspective shifted?
I’ve realized how much of my energy and headspace in the past was used trying to get people to do things. I would get all worked up: Why can’t we care more about the earth, the poor, the needy, literacy, people who are suicidal? But sitting and listening to other teachers has been such a gift. They’ve shown me new things. And I’ve realized how easy it is to make people feel guilty, to tell them they should do something. But through these other teachers, I wasn’t being told what I was supposed to be doing. I was being invited to consider what might be true and then act out of that. It’s been so freeing. A real gift.
Your NOOMA video series has been popular. What do you think about the increasing number of preachers and churches using video technology to expand their reach?
It’s powerful but there’s also a dark side. Video is not church. You put images and music on a screen, and people will listen. But it’s also dangerous. You’re playing with fire. I think video technology deserves to be scrutinized heavily.
Go a little deeper. What makes video dangerous?
I don’t think we know yet what the long-term impact will be on disciple-making. In 10 years we may discover what particular kind of Christ follower is formed by video preaching. I see warning lights on my dashboard. It’s unclear what video may do to the ways we conceive of life together.
In the New Testament, there are 43 “one another” passages, and during a Sunday morning service you might be able to practice three or four of them. And as the service gets large, you can probably do fewer. A massive group setting is also dangerous. You can come, sit, listen, and go home and think, I’ve been to church, even if you haven’t practiced any “one anothers.” And with video that only gets more intense. I’m not sure that’s the direction we want to be heading.
We want to be calling people to deep bonds of solidarity with one another. We may gather in a massive group, but from the stage I often say, “This is just a church service. Church is actually about caring for one another, and serving one another, and speaking truth to one another in love. Don’t get the two confused.”
The evidence suggests that video can have a fast and broad impact. So what’s the alternative?
There is something more powerful than simply beaming yourself into other locations, and that is raising up disciples. Over time that will go farther and faster, but right now it will be more work and slower. With technology today it’s easy to spend all of your energies reproducing your own voice, but there is a longer view that says, what if instead of beaming video to those ten locations, we train ten people who can go there and lead? That’s a very basic question that should be in the mix somewhere.
Is developing other leaders part of your calling now?
That’s the reason we recently did “The Poets, Prophets, and Preachers” seminar, and it’s why I’ve got seminary students I meet with regularly. Meeting with them also changes my thinking because they ask great questions. There’s a reason Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs—everyone learns.
What do you teach these students about the spiritual side of preaching?
First, the public nature of preaching exposes you to a wide spectrum of feedback—from the really good compliments to really venomous criticism. Both can be dangerous because they lead to either pride or pain. We need to work at becoming the kind of person who is so deeply grounded in who we are, the work we are called to do, and the words we are called to speak, that the ambient hype that surrounds the preaching event doesn’t get the best of us.
It’s important to create a circle of trusting, loving people around you who will tell you the truth no matter what. They can help you think rightly about the criticism and keep you balanced. Preaching isn’t just about the sermon, it’s about becoming the kind of person who can actually handle the role. It’s like a Ferrari. If you don’t know how to drive the thing, you’re going to crash into a tree.
Based on your metaphor, I imagine you’ve hit some bumps on the road.
Oh, for sure. Preaching will inevitably reveal all sorts of stuff residing in your soul. The stage is like a magnet, and any little shards of insecurity, pride, fear, or greed in you will eventually be pulled to the surface. So you have to go down a journey toward becoming a particular kind of person or it will consume you.
What does that journey involve?
If you’re going to preach long term and do it with more hope, more joy, more passion, and more wisdom, then you’ve got to be willing to dig down into your own soul and psyche and history. How do you seek approval? What messages did your parents send you? What voices do you hear on your shoulders?
The other part is sustainability. That’s an important word for me. Some pastors think about how to survive the next five years. The better question to ask is, how are we going to thrive? How do we construct a rhythm and pace of life that ensures five years from now we’ll have more passion, more energy, and we will be filled with new and fresh ideas about life in God’s world?
Go into any church office and ask the leaders, “Is this sustainable? Are you more passionate, more expectant, more rested and ready to go than you were a year ago, or is this thing gradually killing you?”
Just this week I asked a seminary student, “What day of the week do you not answer email? When do you take a Sabbath to remind yourself that you’re not a machine, you’re a human?” And he said, “I don’t know if I can do that right now.” I was like, “Well, if you can’t do it now in seminary, what happens when you have real responsibility?”
How do you balance the church’s expectations and what’s actually sustainable?
There is a thick church culture that consumes pastors and spits them out. But the pastors also allow themselves to be consumed. So it goes both ways. Both sides need to reevaluate things. The first people a pastor must have this discussion with is his or her family. If you’re married, start with a spouse. Then have this discussion with the church’s leadership. Start with the people you report to, and assume that these people have “hired” you to give your very best. Explore together how your life can be set up in such a way that you can give your very best in these tasks.
One of my problems was that I didn’t understand how to properly bring the leaders of our church into this exploration process. But as we learned how to do it, everything changed.
I don’t know any elder in the church who wants the pastor to be burned out. No one wants crappy sermons. No one wants you dragging yourself to meetings with no ideas. So, that’s where to start. Tell the leaders, “You have brought me here to serve you well. Let’s figure out how I can give to my family first and then give my best to the church.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Rob Bell is one of the hottest names in contemporary evangelical life. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., but is better known for his books, and especially, for his road show, which combines preaching with performance art. He is much talk about among folks trying to discern what’s next for American evangelicalism. Bell is currently touring in conjunction with a book, “Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering,’’ and last weekend he appeared at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. I caught up with Bell by telephone in Ottawa to ask him what he’s up to.
Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?
A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.
Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?
A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.
Q. Do you preach, or perform?
A. I came up through your standard go-to-seminary path, served as an apprentice pastor, did weddings and funerals and hospital visits, but I always veered toward creating things. I was always setting stuff on fire, building things, bringing in piles of dirt. And I started to realize that there’s a dimension to the sermon in which it’s a kind of performance art. Over the years, I’ve realized that I have as much in common with the performance artist, the standup comedian, the screenwriter, as I do with the theologian. I’m in an odd world where I make things and share them with people.
Q. I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you.
A. I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity