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FIRST: Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith by Glenn Packiam

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Glenn Packiam is an Associate Worship Pastor at New Life Church and the Director of New Life School of Worship in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was one of the founding worship leaders and songwriters for the Desperation Band. Glenn’s worship songs, like “Your Name”, “Everyone (Praises)”, “My Savior Lives”, and “We Lift You Up”, are being sung in churches all over the world. Glenn is the author of Butterfly in Brazil. Glenn and his wife, Holly, and their two adorable daughters, Sophia and Norah, live in Colorado Springs.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143476639X
ISBN-13: 978-1434766397

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Thursday

Life couldn’t have been any better. We had been in our new house for just over a year, and it was almost time to start decorating for the holidays. Winter’s frost was just blowing in over the Rocky Mountains. These were days of sipping hot chocolate and looking back over a year of steady church growth, rapidly expanding influence, and a company of close friends to enjoy it with. On top of all that, my wife, Holly, and I were expecting our second child, another girl. Life was good and there was no end in sight.

And then it was Thursday.

Everyone was distracted at work. There were meetings going on, first upstairs and then off campus, and later on campus in an impromptu staff meeting. Internet clips kept us glued to the screen as we tried desperately to decipher truth, accuracy, and some reason to believe the best. But as Thursday soldiered on, doubt was sitting lower and more heavily inside me.

I remember the feeling when I got home. My heart was kicking against my chest with frantic irregularity as I ran up the stairs to our room. The sinking, tightening knot in my stomach seemed to sink with each step. I opened our bedroom door, and with breathless shock sputtered, “Babe, some of it’s true.”

I had just returned from an elders’ meeting where I learned that the seemingly absurd accusations leveled against our beloved pastor had enough truth in them to warrant his removal from office. On Friday, we learned that he would never be allowed back. By Sunday, we were sitting in church with hot tears racing down our faces, listening to letters that told us words we never thought we would hear. Our pastor had been a prominent national figure because of his role as president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He had been featured on Barbara Walters and other major news shows, had been called the most influential pastor in America. It was the biggest religious debacle in my lifetime. And it happened at my church. My church.

Thursday came and everything changed; my unshakeable “good life” became a nightmare of uncertainty. Would the church implode? Would everyone leave? Would I have a job next week? Could I ever get hired in ministry again? The songs, the influence, the success, the notoriety—it all became foolishly irrelevant.

Slowly, I replayed the past. The preceding years had been heady times. Our pastor’s meteoric rise to the evangelical papacy paralleled the growing muscle of a conservative Christian movement now beginning to flex in the public square. The young men who had helped build our church, myself included, now found themselves swimming in much bigger circles of influence. We were talking to the press, traveling to Washington DC, and dropping more names than Old Testament genealogy. We had become powerful by association. And it was intoxicating. We were like the eager young men in Tobias Wolff’s fictitious memoir of an elite prep school on the Eastern Seaboard, full of idealism and world-changing dreams.

It was a good dream and we tried to live it out, even while knowing that we were actors in a play, and that outside the theater was a world we would have to reckon with when the curtain closed and the doors were flung open.1

On Thursday, the theater doors flung open. The dream was over now. There was no thought of making an impact or changing the world. It was now about survival. How could we help our church stay intact?

As the days became weeks, it became clear that our church was made up of strong families who truly were connected to each other. It is a community akin to a small Midwestern town. So what if the mayor is gone? We’re all still here. I watched men and women rally together in a heroic display of Christ-like love.

It wasn’t long before the shock of scandal gave way to the discomfort of introspection. This was ultimately not about a fallen pastor; it was about fallen nature, a nature we all have lurking within us. It became less about the worst being true about him, and more about the worst being true about us. We began to allow the Lord to turn His spotlight, one more piercing than the light of any cameras, on our own hearts. Secret sins, recurring temptations, hidden pride all looked sinister in His light. There was no such thing as a little white anything. Every weakness was now a dangerous monster with the potential of ruining our lives. Couples began to have difficult conversations with each other, friends became more vulnerable than they had ever been. Honest was the new normal. That sounds so strange to say.

But far beyond discussions and confessions, one question, one I never thought I would have trouble answering, relentlessly worked its way to my core. It surfaced from the pages of Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus. Nouwen had been an influential theology professor at Harvard, living at what most would have considered the apex of his career. But something was wrong.

After twenty years in the academic world as a teacher of pastoral psychology, pastoral theology, and Christian spirituality, I began to experience a deep inner threat. As I entered into my fifties …I came face to face with the simple question, “Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?” After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues.2

But Nouwen’s inner wrestling was largely unnoticed by those around him, which made it more difficult for him to accurately gage the condition of his heart.

Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger. I began to ask myself whether my lack of contemplative prayer, my loneliness, and my constantly changing involvement in what seemed most urgent were signs that the Spirit was gradually being suppressed … I was living in a very dark place and … the term “burnout” was a convenient psychological translation for spiritual death.3

Haunted by the emptiness of his own spiritual walk, Nouwen started on a journey that eventually led to his resignation from Harvard. He took a position as a chaplain at Le Arche, a care facility for the handicapped. There he learned what it meant to live out a life of love and servanthood, to live as Christ among the broken, to truly “lead in the name of Jesus.” I had read his profound and honest reflections years before, but as I reread them in the wake of the scandal, I found myself convicted. Nouwen’s question dealt with something deeper than sin; it was about the essence of the Christian life, the thing we must have above all else.

I remember sitting with a few friends in my living room on New Year’s Eve, reflecting on how insane 2006 had been. We decided to have a little dessert and ponder the year that was now in its closing hours. Each couple took turns reviewing highs and lows of the year. For the most part, it had been a good year. Bigger and better opportunities, unexpected financial success, the births of healthy children, and the accelerated elimination of debt were some of the items on the good list. But we had also experienced Thursday, and “bigger and better” now seemed as days long ago, auld lang syne. The events of that day in November now overshadowed everything the next year might hold. Everything was good now, but how long would it continue? Would the things that had gone awry last year create repercussions that would undermine all the things we had held so dearly? For some, the fear of losing the jobs they loved was becoming a distinct possibility. The reality of how suddenly a curve in the road can appear was sobering us.

And then I raised The Question: Did we—did I—know Christ more as a result of the passing of another year? Were we any closer to God? It was not the sort of question to answer out loud. I wrestled with it in silence. It was a question of my own relationship with Christ.

I have been a Christian since I was a young boy. I spent my high school years sitting in on the Old Testament history classes my mom taught at our church’s Bible college, listening to sermon tapes, and praying and planning with my dad as he and my mom planted a church. My youth was defined by long quiet times, meaningful journal entries, and leadership roles in our youth group. I was a theology major in college and had been in full-time, vocational ministry for six years. Yet in the wake of Thursday, none of this mattered. Did I truly know God … today? Was my knowledge of Him active and alive, or stale and sentimental?

There was no easy or succinct way to answer that question. But as I allowed it to burrow its way in my heart, I began to see something. I had long lived subconsciously believing that God was a sort of cosmic agent, working to get me bigger contracts and better deals while saving me from scammers and opportunists. God was my Jerry Maguire, my ambassador of quan, and my prayers were spiritually cloaked versions of asking Him to “show me the money.” Not necessarily literal money—just comfort, success, good friends, an enjoyably smooth road, an unmitigated path to the peak of my game.

If you had suggested that theology to me, I would have condemned it, criticized it, and denied three times that I even knew of it. It wasn’t until Thursday came and went that I saw what was lurking inside. I had slowly bought the suburban rumors of God. My house was an evidence of His blessing. Our growing church was an indication of God’s pleasure. Things were going to get better and better while I kept my life on cruise control. Never mind that I had struggled—mostly unsuccessfully—to have consistent time alone with God. Forget that I had hardly spent time worshipping God offstage.

The more my wife and I searched our own souls, the more we realized we had become passive, complacent, at times even indifferent about our own knowledge of God. We had been lulled to sleep by our own apparent success, numbed into coasting by our spiritual Midas touch.

What began in the days after Thursday was a journey, a road of uncovering and discovering, of stripping away what thoughts of God we now knew were rumors and finding again the face of Christ.

These were not rumors that came from one man, one pastor. In fact, it’s hard to say that any of them did. Any search for the headwaters would be misguided anyway. Because that’s not the point. It’s not where the rumors came from; it’s why they came at all.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Rumors grow in the absence of revelation. Every time we keep God at arm’s length, declining an active, living knowledge of Him, we become vulnerable to rumors. Lulled by false comfort and half-truths about God, we—in Keith Green’s famous words—fall asleep in the light.

What the Heck is Going On?

Until life comes to a screeching halt.

There are moments when time stands still. Our old vision of the world, like a scrim on a giant set, rolls up out of sight, leaving us with a jagged, stark picture of reality, its edges sharp, rough, and bare. Everything looks different, feels different. Things that once peppered our lives with meaning are now completely irrelevant and vain. Things we had ignored and overlooked are now incredibly clear, almost stunning in the forefront. The football team whose games you would never miss now seems horridly trivial. The powerful boss you were trying to impress, you now scorn and dismiss. The child you once wished would

just go to sleep, you now run to hold in your arms.

A death of a loved one, the finality of divorce, the weight of debt crushing into bankruptcy—these are the moments that shake us, that wake us up and make us numb all at the same time. My moment is not that tragic in light of others. I think of a friend whose wife is facing a medically incurable disease. Or another friend whose wife decided married life was overrated and the party scene was where she belonged. I know a father who can’t escape the grief of losing a child years ago. Sorrow covers him like a cape and time offers no oxygen. There is no way to compare tragic moments. The game of my-moment-is-worse-than-your-moment, while possible, is seldom profitable. Pain is acutely real to those who are breaking under its weight.

These are the “what the heck?” moments. The moments where everything stops except you, as you slowly look around. Examining. Reflecting. Puzzled. Bewildered. The silence is broken by a bellow from deep inside: “What the heck is going on?” Or some less sanitized version of the same. How could this be? And what’s more, how could this be while God is with me?

The psalmists understood this feeling well. Fully two-thirds of Psalms are laments, an old-fashioned term for a “what the heck?” moment prayer. Imagine these words being prayed at church:

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Ps. 10:1)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Ps. 22:1–2)

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:3)

These were covenant people, people to whom God had made an unbreakable promise, a promise to bless them, protect them, and make their days go well. So why on earth were they being pursued by enemies, losing their belongings, and getting depressed—all while watching the wicked flourish? It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t lining up with the covenant—or at least their understanding of it. And so they took their complaint up with God.

What’s interesting is that for the most part, we don’t find out how God specifically responded. There are “Psalms of Thanksgiving,” where the psalmist restates his lament in the past tense—recounting how he was in trouble—and then gives thanks to God for delivering him. But the “lament psalms” grossly outnumber the “thanksgiving psalms.” We don’t know if all became well on earth all the time. But we are told two crucial things: the consistent character of God—good, just, faithful, loving—and the characteristic response of the psalmists—the choice, the vow, to praise. In one of the psalms quoted earlier, the words of lament are followed by these words of praise:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. (Ps. 22:3)

Maybe in some ways, the Bible is written the way the Oracle in The Matrix prophesies: It only tells us what we need to know. It does not tell us all there is to know, only what we need for life and godliness. Here is the lesson of the psalmists: All of our experiences and emotions can become a springboard to find God and see Him for ourselves. God is present on every scene, waiting, wanting us to seek Him, believe in Him, and worship Him with every ounce of our existence.

Our discussion here is not first about suffering. The question of whether God causes it, allows it, or has nothing to do with it, has been voiced since the days in the garden. Our discussion here is simply that these moments—whether they come from our free will, the Devil’s evil schemes, or God’s strange providence—present us with an opportunity. Regardless of your theology, these two things are common to mankind: We all experience a measure of suffering, and every experience can be redeemed.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”4

Crumbs of Rumor

Too often, we walk through life with our hands fixed firmly over our eyes and ears, ignoring and avoiding the living presence of Christ with us—maybe from fear or guilt or simple apathy. But every once in awhile, our hands are pried off our face, our eyes are almost forcibly opened, our ears are unplugged. We catch a glimpse for ourselves, a glimpse that will be our undoing. And our salvation. In that moment, we are ruined and redeemed by that little glimpse.

Job had that experience.

He never auditioned for the role, never signed up for the part.God chose him. He chose him, we are often told, to prove a point to the Devil. But I’m beginning to wonder if God chose him to show Himself to Job, to save Job from the stiff, straight lines he had drawn around God. Think about it. The story doesn’t end with the Devil returning to heaven and saying, “Okay, God, you win. You were right. Job didn’t curse you. He does indeed serve you for nothing.” If that were the central tension in the story, there is a glaring

lack of resolution.

A series of ridiculously unfortunate events befalls Job in a very short span of time. What takes place in the lengthy remainder of the book is a dialogue between Job, three of his friends, and a presumptuously precocious young man named Elihu. After sitting silently for seven days, the three friends can’t bear to hold in their wisdom. One by one they present their cases to Job, trying to explain why he is suffering and what he should do about it. They generally agree that things have gone so poorly for Job because of some hidden sin in his life. They plead with him to go before God, repent, rid himself of his sins, and make peace with the Almighty. Job refuses. He insists on his innocence and laments to God with words that are

uncomfortably honest.

Then Elihu speaks. He dismisses the elders’ wisdom, preferring his own fresh insight. He is less willing to condemn Job for sin, but not as reluctant to rebuke him for pride. He hints at God’s sovereignty and our inability to fully understand His ways. But he, too, echoes the familiar refrain that obedience will lead to a prosperous, pleasant life, and that disobedience will lead to tragedy and sorrow.

As arrogant and simpleminded as Job’s friends may seem to us, as hard as it is to imagine ourselves saying something like that to a friend who has just lost everything, remember that they are simply

articulating the prevailing wisdom of the day. It was their misguided understanding of the covenant that gave them this simple premise: Obey God, and all will be well; disobey, and you will suffer.

That formulaic and faulty view of the covenant may be the reason the book of Job is included in Hebrew Wisdom Literature. It may be that the purpose for the book of Job is to counter an overly black-and-white view of life. Perhaps God understood that humans would take the rich, profoundly unique covenant that He had made with His people and reduce it to simplistic, pithy phrases. Maybe God knows our propensity to redact the living words of relationship into rumors that spread like fire—and that sooner or later, we will get burned.

What if the book of Job is not all about some intergalactic dispute between God and the Devil? What if it’s really about revelation and relationship with mortals?

At the end of the story, after Job asks God over and over with the nagging persistence of a two-year-old why he has suffered, God responds. Not with answers, but with questions—questions that bring Job to his knees. Finally Job cries:

I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor. (Job 42:5–6 MSG)

This is the climax of the book of Job. It’s the way this incredibly moving story of suffering resolves. The mention of God restoring to Job more than what he lost is sort of an afterthought, a footnote to the story. It comes after Job finds firsthand knowledge of God. The story of Job is first and foremost a salvation story: God saved Job from small, narrow, rumor-laden views of Himself. And then Job lived holy-ever-after. It’s what happens when rumors give way to revelation.

I have come to the uncomfortable realization that I have believed rumors about God that have kept me from Him, kept me from really knowing Him. I suspect I am not alone. This book is about some of the more popular rumors, and the path to finding the truth. What you read here is not intended to be the basis for your view of God. Instead, this book is an attempt to jog your mind, stir your heart, provoke your questions, and whet your appetite for the quest, for the journey that only you can take. The journey that Job took. A journey that is not necessarily one of suffering, but one that by design means eye-opening, paradigm-shattering discovery. So yes, in some sense it hurts. It’s a journey that begins with your fist to the sky and can end with your knees on the earth. A journey that begins with questions and ends with speechless worship.

Mine began on a Thursday.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. What are some of your “what the heck?” moments?

2. Do you think your knowledge of Christ is active and alive or stale and

sentimental?

3. What are you looking for God to do in your heart as you read this

book?

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FIRST: The Postpartum Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Postpartum Depression by Paul Meier

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Postpartum Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Postpartum Depression

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Paul Meier, M.D., is a nationally recognized psychiatrist and founder of the Meier Clinics. He is also the best-selling author or coauthor of more than 70 books, including Love Is a Choice, Happiness Is a Choice, Mood Swings, and Love Hunger. He holds an M.D. degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine and completed his psychiatric residency at Duke University. He also holds advanced degrees in human physiology and biblical studies. Dr. Meier was one of the original founding members of the Focus on the Family Physicians Resource Council (PRC).

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414312830
ISBN-13: 978-1414312835

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Learning the Basics: An Overview of Postpartum Depression

You’ve seen the Hallmark cards, the television commercials, and the magazine ads. Beautiful, glowing, rested women gaze adoringly at their tiny new babies. Babies who are never crying,

never need clothing changes because of a diaper blowout, and never spit up. Mothers who look perfectly fulfilled after spending a whole day alone in the house with a little being who is constantly needy and who communicates virtually no gratitude or affection. Mothers whose houses are still surprisingly immaculate. Parents whose every dream is complete now that they have their new bundle of joy.

Those are the ideals, and certainly there’s some truth to them. Having a baby does fulfill a desire for many people, and it’s enriching and includes moments of genuine, heart-filling joy. But as in every area in life, perfect doesn’t exist. Parenting will bring challenges, messiness, and exhaustion. And while most experienced parents will tell you that eventually the joy overcomes

the challenges, in the first few months of adjustment—months in which your baby perhaps needs you more than he or she will at any other time—challenges are significant. Some amount of ambivalence about these huge life changes is perfectly normal—but many women are ashamed of having any negative feelings.

That’s why it’s no surprise to us that up to 80 percent of postpartum women develop some level of depression.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Thankfully, the majority of postpartum depressions are mild “baby blues” that only last a few weeks. And there is good news about all of the postpartum mood disorders: they are almost 100 percent treatable. Researchers and physicians are learning more about why they happen, who’s at risk, and how to better treat them (all subjects we’ll cover in this book). People in this country and across the world are also becoming more aware of and educated about postpartum disorders. We see more people coming for treatment. We have learned from our years of experience practicing psychiatry that many women will suffer silently for years without asking for help, but will seek treatment at a friend or family member’s prompting.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to psychiatric problems. Many people continue to view them as character weaknesses rather than medical problems. This keeps many mothers from admitting that they need help, because they’re afraid that getting help means they are weak. In addition, many mothers blame themselves for their feelings. This only worsens their guilt and intensifies the downward spiral.

The more anger and the more guilt a person experiences, whether or not those emotions are justified, the more serotonin dumps out of the brain, causing depression. If the depression reaches a severe enough level, dopamine also kicks in, and the depressed person eventually breaks into delusions and hallucinations.

Every week we see patients who feel isolated. They think they are the only people in the world who feel the way they do, and therefore no one else could understand them or help them.

You can see the weight of a thousand pounds lifted off of their shoulders when they realize we do understand and can help. Their despair turns into hope, which in itself brings new life. Counseling or medical treatment from a professional is confidential, caring, and corrects the problem in almost 100 percent of cases.

The six months following delivery of a newborn baby is the highest period of risk in a woman’s life for developing mood symptoms. The added danger is that not only is a mother at risk, but so is a helpless infant. Unfortunately mood symptoms in pregnancy and the postpartum period are frequently overlooked or downplayed by family members and caregivers.

There is nothing so tragic as a young mother or infant whose life is cut short due to a condition that could have been treated. While suicide and infanticide from postpartum problems are rare, they happen. We have also seen postpartum problems contribute to divorce, financial ruin, and the long-term health issues of mothers and children. It does not have to be this way. All three of us have treated hundreds of women who could have had tragedies had they not come for immediate help when they sensed that they were “losing their minds.” Often a person can sense it before it happens.

That’s why we are writing this book. The more we can get the word out, the more mothers will realize that it’s not their fault and there’s no shame in asking for help.

A few years ago, a public feud broke out between two movie stars, Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise. Brooke Shields was vulnerable and publicly admitted taking an antidepressant for a severe bout of postpartum depression. It took a lot for her to do that, because so many women feel falsely guilty for having this problem. She gave women permission not only to be human but to do whatever it takes to restore joy to their lives, even if medications are required in some circumstances. Tom Cruise, on the other hand, essentially told the world of women that they should work out their postpartum depression on their own, without medication. Based on his status and influence, this probably discouraged many women from getting the help they needed, or made those who did turn to medication feel guilty for doing so.

Most bouts of depression, whether postpartum or not, can be worked out without meds. But some people run out of “happy juice”—the hormone serotonin—in their brains because of genetic factors, low thyroid, lack of sleep, too much alcohol or marijuana, viral illnesses, or even the stress of having a baby.

Your brain runs on serotonin just like your car runs on gasoline. What would Tom Cruise do if his car ran out of gas? Would he coast to the side of the road and think positive thoughts until the car ran without gasoline? Or would he get up and walk to the nearest gas station to bring back a can of gas to make his car operate normally again? Probably the latter. If a new mom’s serotonin depletion is mild, positive thinking and counseling may be enough to get her out of it. But if it is severe, meds are needed to fill up her gas tank of happiness and straight thinking.

A Historical Overview

Postpartum depression has been documented for centuries. We would venture to guess that it has been around for millennia—ever since women began giving birth. Postpartum depression is a normal, natural occurrence, but unfortunately, over the generations it has been misunderstood, ignored, or denied, and therefore remained untreated.

Historians have credited Hippocrates as the first physician to describe postpartum depression—more than four hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Hippocrates and the ancient

Greek philosophers knew about the existence of depression but misunderstood its roots. The condition was referred to as “melancholy” and was thought to stem from the overproduction of “black bile” by the spleen, which led to dark and somber moods. Physicians believed that the planet Saturn somehow influenced the spleen’s functioning and that black bile overproduction usually occurred in the autumn. They also thought that some emotional reactions of women were due to a “wandering uterus.” Have you ever heard anyone say, “She was really hysterical”? The root of the word hysterical is actually “wandering uterus”! We may laugh at the ancient Greeks’ guesses, but actually, they were not as far off as we think. Lots of postpartum depression comes from “wandering hormone shifts” that stem from changes in the ovaries and brain.

What Hippocrates actually described was a state of “insanity” common in ancient times after the delivery of an infant. The mother often did not recover and died shortly after the emergence of her bizarre behavior. What he was most likely describing was a state of delirium associated with a post-delivery infection.

Until the late 1800s, women commonly died during or soon after a delivery. It was not until Louis Pasteur proved the existence of germs and their role in infections only a couple of centuries

ago that the death rate of new mothers plummeted. This was in large part due to the simple action of health care workers washing their hands between patients and sterilizing the medical equipment! In the mid-1800s Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis insisted on this practice in the delivery room and was locked up in an insane asylum for having obvious “delusions” about germs.

It was not until the 1960s, when the term maternal blues was coined, that physicians finally began investigating this phenomenon. We see women today in our practice who tell us their mothers and grandmothers experienced the symptoms of postpartum depression years ago, but when they told their doctors about it they were labeled hypochondriacs and told to quit worrying and stop whining. Sadly, many of these godly women who were humiliated and misunderstood by the overwhelmingly male-dominated medical society of that generation never came forward again.

The knowledge and understanding of postpartum psychiatric problems lags way behind our understanding of other disorders in the medical and spiritual community. Sadly, some physicians and pastors today even refuse to acknowledge that depression is real.

In this modern computer age, with billions of dollars spent annually on scientific research, medical knowledge is doubling every five years. Most of the awesome medications we prescribe for patients today did not even exist five years ago. But unfortunately, because of attitudes toward women throughout history, gains in the area of women’s health and hormones tend to lag far behind other areas of medicine that are exploding with new discoveries. We intend to do something about that, and we hope you will too, by voting, by volunteering, by giving out books like this one, or even by becoming a researcher yourself to make the needed breakthroughs.

Roberta: Diary of postpartum depression and recovery

As we mentioned in the introduction, throughout the book we will be including case studies of women who have experienced postpartum depression. This first case study is different from most of the others in that it’s in the patient’s own words. Roberta kept a diary during her spiral down into postpartum depression and then during her recovery. It’s a beautiful, moving account of one woman’s experience.

I am realizing how seldom people talk about postpartum depression. It’s a stigma. I have it myself right now but have not told a soul except God. How can a woman give birth to a child and not love it? I do love my beautiful baby boy, but I also feel like killing myself. How can it be that the maternal instincts don’t just kick in? Why do I want to throw up every time I hear him cry? I can’t even care for my own baby that I desperately wanted all my life.

I feel guilty that I may not be taking good enough care of my baby. My husband is having to miss work. My friends and relatives are calling me to congratulate me and to check on me, but I don’t even answer the phone.They leave messages, but I don’t even call them back, and I feel horribly guilty about this but still don’t have the energy to do it. I am too sad to hide my sadness. If I talk to them, they may be able to tell my secret: that I am so depressed I feel like killing myself. My parents are really stressed. I just know in my heart that I will never get over this depression. Death is around the corner. I don’t think God will deliver me.

I am scared my husband will become too tired to help me and I will have to care for my baby all alone. I’m afraid that if I stay alive I may have even more children that I cannot take care of. I am afraid that I may turn into a mean and abusive mother like my mom was to me. Becoming like my mom is one of my greatest fears. I would kill myself for sure if I became as verbally and physically abusive with my kids as my mother was with me all my growing-up years. Why do I feel like I have made the biggest mistake of my life by having a baby?

Day 1. I decided to keep a diary of my experience having a baby, to share with my children someday. My baby boy, Joseph, was born at 2:00 in the afternoon today. Visitors came and went all day. I breast-fed and it went well. I feel happy. I am all worn out, though, and will go to sleep now, because the nurse will bring little Joseph back to me in the middle of the night to feed again.

Day 2. I looked forward to breast-feeding little Joseph during the night, but it did not go well. I had problems getting him any milk, and then I worried about my failure and I got no more sleep.

Day 3. This morning the pediatrician came into our room with the news that the baby has lost too much weight and may have to stay in the hospital. I immediately began crying. I had just spent hours again last night trying to breast-feed—trying to do what so many people told me was best for my baby, and I failed. I was still sobbing when the doctor returned again with even more bad news—my baby needs to be evaluated by a cardiologist. There may be something wrong with baby Joseph. She offered no reassurance that everything would be fine. I cried the entire day.

Day 4. (No entry)

Day 5. My husband, Jose, and I were able to take our son, Joseph, home today.

Day 6. Dear Joseph,

If I die before you grow up, then I hope you will read this someday so you will know how much I loved you and that I did not want to leave you without a mother. I am trying to stay alive for you. Your daddy and I love you very much. You are the most beautiful little boy I have ever seen. Everyone who has met you agrees. I don’t deserve you, and I don’t know why I’ve already let you down. My pregnancy with you was the most amazing experience of my life until your birth—then that became the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. I felt great the whole time. Not one day of morning sickness, no swollen legs or muscle cramps. Just a huge belly. I read every single magazine, book, and Web article I could find to prepare to be a good mother for you. Your dad and I laughed and cried with joy and excitement as we painted and decorated your room. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and I always knew that a baby would make me so happy.

But being a mother is much harder than I expected. No amount of reading could prepare me for taking care of you. As soon as I saw you, I knew I couldn’t let you down. And yet, as hard as I tried to be the perfect mom, I just seemed to be having one failure after another, even with your dad helping me. I was constantly worried that you would die. I stayed awake three nights in a row to make sure you didn’t smother or stop breathing. I became exhausted and soon was praying that God would let me die. Your poor dad would run from one end of the house to the other because you and I were usually getting pretty hysterical at the same time. He didn’t know who to run to first.

Your grandma (Daddy’s mom) insisted on coming and spending the night. I still couldn’t sleep because I could still hear you crying across the house. I couldn’t stop crying. I was terrified your dad and grandma would leave me alone with you and I would not be able to take good enough care of you. I am sorry, Joseph. I love you.

Day 7. Dear Joseph,

I went to see a counselor today who told me and my family I needed to go into the hospital. Even though you were well cared for by your dad and grandma, I felt I was depriving you. I just can’t seem to bond with you; you don’t feel like you’re mine. I know it is not your fault. You are a wonderful baby boy. I am just not a good enough mother. I know in my head that this depression melts me down and isn’t your fault. I can’t help resenting you, though, but only because having you showed me how inadequate I am. I mean, you just aren’t the bundle of joy I thought you would be. You are a bundle of joy, but I have a mothering defect, so there is no joy for me. You exposed the worst in me. The failure that I can’t breast-feed or even function with a baby. My mothering light switch just won’t turn on.

Day 8. Dear Joseph,

You’ve exposed that I am lazy and unreliable. You’ve exposed that I can’t just forgive and forget ten years of my life as a child that were filled with rejection and loneliness. You’ve exposed that no matter how much I

swore never to become like my mother, I still did. Underneath all the work I’ve done and the ways God has changed me and healed my heart, still my basic instincts are defective, because I was robbed of them. Without saying one single word, you have ripped off my happy mask. I liked my life before you came. I was happy, and my life was predictable. I had fun with friends and your dad. You changed all that. You did not ask to be born. Your dad and I wanted to have you. And I am sure that God wanted you to be born. You are a wonderful baby. You have not ruined my life. My mother defect has ruined my life, and bonding with you seems like such a remote possibility.

Day 9. Dear Joseph,

Dr. Paul Meier admitted me today to his day hospital in Richardson Texas. He told me that most women get depressed when they have a baby, especially their first baby. He said my depression was pretty severe, wanting to die and all, but I promised him I would stay alive. He said everybody gets over depression with help if they cooperate. I hope he is not lying to me. I have a little bit of hope, though. People say he is an honest man and a good psychiatrist. He started me on an antidepressant to take every morning and a tranquilizer to help me sleep every night, since I was getting further and further behind in my sleep. He also gave me some vitamins to take every day, and he says when the chemicals in my brain build back up, I will be able to be a good mother and bond with you and even learn to like myself. I have never been able to do that.

Day 10. It took me three hours just to fill out the psychological tests. Then I had to go to a lab and get blood drawn so Dr. Meier can see if I have any medical problems causing my depression, like thyroid hormones or my female hormones. Then I had to sit in front of five other strangers who are also patients at the hospital and share all our problems with each other. It was a hard day all around, but I will do whatever it takes to make this horrible pain go away. Dr. Meier said I will probably feel much better within three weeks—almost for sure. If I don’t, I may kill myself after I leave. I would drive my car in front of the train that comes near my house every day, so it would look like an accident.

Day 11. I went on the Internet today to read about train wrecks. I want to be sure that if I do it, I will die without killing anybody else. I know that the driver will feel bad, and I feel bad to do that to him. But hopefully I may not need to kill myself if I get better. The people in the group turned out to be really nice, educated, loving people, so I feel relieved about that. And the staff here is extremely loving and smart, and they dig stuff out of me that I never knew was there.

Day 12. Dr. Meier asked me if I had any dreams last night, and I told him the truth. In my dream my mother was driving a car and I was the age I am now, but somehow still living with her like a young child. I was in the backseat, and she was yelling at me and slapping me in the face. When she turned around to tell me how horrible I am and to slap me, she had a wreck and ran into a tree. Then I woke up in a panic attack, not knowing if either of us lived or died in the dream.

Dr. Meier said that my unconscious writes my dreams like writing a movie script, and that whatever I dream about I should talk about in therapy. He quoted a Bible verse that says God speaks to us in the night seasons, in our dreams.1 He said he thinks the dream means that I am still basing my self-worth on lies my mom taught me. That is why I do not feel in control of my life. My mother is still in control of my life—driving the car that represents my life right now. I am only in the backseat in my life, with my mom’s negative messages running through my head. I believe her negativity, and that is why I am depressed. He said I am a good mom but just think I am a bad one.

Day 13. Today my counselor made me put an empty chair in front of me during our private one-hour session. She made me pretend my mom was sitting in the chair. I had to look her straight in the face and tell her how

I feel about all the mean things she did and said to me all my life. I refused at first, but the counselor insisted. So I started to tell the counselor more about my mother, but she made me stop and look my mom in the eye in the empty chair and tell her, not the counselor, how I really felt. She told me to get out my emotions. I was shaking at first, but after a minute or two I burst out weeping and even screaming sometimes. I told her how furious I am that she has hurt me so bad and now it was hurting my own baby who I love. Then my counselor asked me to turn vengeance over to God and to release my mom from my life. Not to condone her, but to forgive her so she won’t keep eating away at my joy all my life. I felt greatly relieved after I got my sadness and grief out in the open and wept and told my mom off, even though it was an empty chair.

Day 14. I can tell Dr. Meier was not lying to me. I feel better already, and I don’t know if it is from the meds, the sleep, the vitamins, the prayer, or the digging out of my root problems. My group therapist said it is from all of those things. He said that in James 5:16, the apostle James writes that if we admit our faults and problems to each other, we will be healed. And that is exactly what we do here seven hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks or so. We all share secrets we have never told anybody. It feels really good to know that other people have been through the same things and have felt the same way, and to see them recover too.

Day 15. I was able to hold Joseph in my arms tonight and feel deep love for him for the first time since he was born. Oh, I loved him even when depressed, but not anything like the awesome feeling I had tonight. Then Jose held me close and we had a family hug. Even our dog jumped into my lap and wanted to be in on it, licking Jose and me both in the face when we were kissing each other.

Day 16. I had a setback today. Mom called me and I took her call, and when she asked how I was doing, I told her I was feeling much better. When she asked how I was getting so much better at the Meier Clinics, I made the mistake of telling her that talking about all my anger toward her for yelling at me, and all my anger at myself for not being “good enough” to please her—that talking about all this and forgiving her was one of the main reasons I was doing better. She got so mad at me that she yelled that she was a perfect mom and that she had to hit me sometimes because I was such a bad little girl. Then she hung up on me. I got really depressed and felt like killing myself again for the first time in several days.

Day 17. The people in the group all told me that I was still believing my mom. That I must still want her to change and become a good mom and love me, and that I think I need that to feel okay about myself. They reminded me that I do not really need my mom at all, any more than I needed their moms. Dr. Meier showed me a verse in Psalm 68 that says that God loves abandoned people and takes the lonely and places us in families.2 He said that God wants me to love and be loved by new mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers from my church and my friends and siblings, not my mean mom. So today I gave up on my mom ever changing, and I felt relieved. If she ever does get better, that will be a bonus, but I do not need that anymore.

Day 18. Today Dr. Meier asked me to write something in my Bible or some other place where I won’t lose it. I told him about my diary, and he said I could write it here—so here goes:

Dear Roberta,

I am writing this letter to myself to promise myself that from this day forward I will be my own best friend. I will quit saying the horrible and nasty things I was saying about myself every day. I will never again say anything negative to myself that I would not tell my best friend or Jose if they did the same thing. What would I say to my best friend if she could not breast-feed, for example? Would I yell at her in rage and tell her she deserved to die in a train wreck for being such a horrible mother? Of course not. And yet that is what I have been doing to you, Roberta, and I promise to quit. I will be your best friend from now on and love you like God loves you. And I promise to build a nice support group of friends that I can share with the rest of my life like I have learned to share my innermost feelings here in group therapy at the Meier Clinics. Sincerely, me.

Day 19. The day program staff had what they call “staffing” today. That means they sat around in a long meeting talking about me today, and about each of the clients here, to design a unique plan of attack for each of us depending on our needs and all. Then my counselor met with me this afternoon and told me what a good job I was doing of admitting my faults and talking about painful things and getting everything out in the open. They even decided I could go home a week early, after only two weeks, and just see the counselor once a week until I feel great two or three months in a row. I will see Dr. Meier for a medicine check in a month or so, and he says by then I should be feeling as good as I ever felt. If so, he will see me for fifteen minutes once every three months as long as I stay on meds. He said that if I am not feeling absolutely great, then he will adjust my meds or change something until we get it right, but that it will almost certainly do the trick this time.

Day 20. My counselor wants Jose to come in for a marital session before I leave the program. They said he seems like a wonderful husband, but that sometimes he can be a little too controlling or critical like my mother—but only a little bit compared to her. They want to be sure to talk to him about that. They want to help me to be stronger and to have boundaries to protect myself from not only my mother, but from anyone who tries to verbally abuse me or manipulate me through false guilt like Mom did.

Day 21. Jose and I met with the counselor together today. He is such an awesome husband. Totally nicer than my mom or my dad, too. When we pointed it out nicely to him, he saw that he was too controlling and critical sometimes, and he cried right in front of the counselor and apologized to me. That was very hard for him to do because he is a macho man and was embarrassed, but he said he loves me and little Joseph so much that he would do anything to give us a happy life together.

Day 22. Dear God,

I was so mad at you. I thought you did not like me. I thought you could not possibly accept me. I thought you were off at a distance and did not really care about me except when you got mad at me. But now I realize that when I learned to pray as a little girl to my heavenly Father, I was thinking, Dear heavenly version of my earthly father and mother . . . I am so sorry for being so prejudiced against you. Now I am learning to see you as you really say you are in the Bible. You said in Psalm 139 that you designed me in my mother’s womb, and did the same for Joseph. You said you think about me so many times every day that I cannot even count them. You said that you are always hugging me with one arm while bringing circumstances into my life and leading me with your other arm. Thank you for leading me to therapy to find out the truth about you and about myself. The truth has set me free from the pain of believing lies all my life about you and me. I love you more than I ever have, and I finally feel on the inside like you truly do love me unconditionally. I believe what you said in Romans 8:1 about there being no condemnation for me, so all the guilt that I carry around with me is either false guilt, or true guilt that has already been forgiven and forgotten by you. Thank you for giving me a son who is a miracle from you. Thank you that even though I will make many mistakes the rest of my life as a mother and otherwise, that is just part of being human. You will help me to learn from my mistakes and get better and better at being a mother and a wife and a friend. Amen.

Day 23. I was discharged from the day program today after only two weeks instead of the usual three. Everyone in my group therapy went around the room and told me wonderful things that they saw in me. I cried and cried with joy, and also with sadness that I have to leave. I did not really want to come when I came, and I do not really want to leave now that I have tasted how awesome it is to share with other loving human beings and to learn to love and be loved in spite of all my faults. I knew Dr. Meier was writing a book on postpartum depression with Dr. Clements and Nurse Lynne, so I gave him a copy of this diary and asked him if he would put it in his book. He promised he would, but that he would just change our names. I can hardly wait for his book to come out. I hope and pray that the horrible pain I went through helps other postpartum women to get over their depressions and see that it is not only possible, but also nearly certain that they will if they get the right kind of help and cooperate.

Sincerely, Roberta

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Book Review of -The Shack

729230: The Shack The Shack

By William Paul Young / Windblown Media

“Mack” Philips took his three children on a family camping trip while his wife visited her sister. Just as they were about to leave the campsite, the two older kids decided to take a last canoe ride before heading home. As their canoe overturned, and Mack went to help them, his back was turned and the unspeakable happened. Mack’s youngest daughter,Missy, was abducted by a known child predator. After a massive search, evidence of Missy showed up at an abandoned cabin. Although they never found her body, everyone knew the worst had happened. For the next four years “a great sadness” fell over Mack and his family, until a note from God showed up in his mailbox. What happens next will move you to a greater understanding of God’s unfailing love for us all.

My Thoughts:

I finished The Shack today and I must tell you that I enjoyed it thoroughly. I knew from the start that there were controversial issues  between Christians about this work of fiction and I understand their concern whole heartily. People must come into reading this book knowing that is a work of fiction and know not to solely base their theological beliefs on it alone.

I quite enjoyed this book and I feel even more compelled to jump into a deeper relationship with God after reading it.  This story answered questions and shed light on some misconceptions that I had in my own life. Through the pages of this book, I found compassion, true brokenness, forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy. What a challenge this is to my own personal walk with God and I am sure it would be for other as well. I encourage everyone to read this inspiring work of fiction. I’m looking forward to discussing this with my husband after he reads it!

A book I recommend reading after The Shack is the book ” Finding God in The Shack” By: Randal Rauser. This book provides helpful information for a better realization of the theological aspects found in The Shack. This book would be a helping stepping stone to the setting up a discussion group or to just enhance your reading of this book.

I don’t want to say much more than that because I don’t want to give the story away. Pick up a copy and see for yourself what you’ve been missing!

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Silver Dolphin Books Review & Giveaway

sdb

I indulge in the opportunity to read wonderful books. So, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I learn about new places to purchase great books for me and for my children. I nearly jumped with joy when I learned about Silver Dolphin Books.

They are worth the look see, hands down. Silver Dolphin Books publishes activity, novelty, and educational nonfiction books for preschoolers to 12-year-olds.  Silver Dolphin Books is an award winning company. Several of their books have won the Parent’s Choice awards. (You can click here to see the extensive list)

Melody ( 12.5 months old) reading.

Melody ( 12.5 months old) reading.

Out of Silver Dolphin’s generosity, we were able to review the Nursery Rhymes (A Nursery Collection Book) by Susie Lacome & Beth Harwood and the book Amazing Baby Go, Baby, Go! by Beth Harwood, Emma Dodd, Jonathan Lambert.

The Amazing Baby Go, Baby, Go book comes from their popular Amazing Baby series. This series has 28 titles to date its one of the largest series by Silver Dolphin for babies. My daughter enjoyed me reading this  book to her. She smiled and giggled back at the brightly colored graphics and baby pictures in the book with each turning page. I as mommy loved that this book is an indestructible board book with makes it safe for reading time if I want to let her browse through the pages alone.  I like also that this book is not to wordy, I’ve other baby books and my daughter loses interest quickly because I’m not turning the page quick enough when trying to read through.  What makes this book fun is that at the end, there is a heart shaped photo frame where you can insert your very own picture of your Amazing Baby!

The Nursery Collection book, I can see myself pulling off the shelf for years and years to come. This book is beautifully illustrated with it’s soft pastel colored embossed pages and images. One added decorative feature I like is the ribbon tie that you can make into a bow to close the book. This book is filled with well loved nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and lullabies that we all grew up with. When reading through, I couldn’t help but remember when my mom read to me out of our own family nursery rhyme book. I’d been looking for a nursery rhyme book to add to my home library and now my search is over because this is in my mind the perfect in every way I can imagine.

Other books I’d love to add to my collection are various titles from the Wonders Inside, History in Action, and the Fine Art Studio Series!  I’d really love to own all of the books they offer, I have to remind myself that money doesn’t grow on trees though all of their books are reasonably priced! Check them out for yourself at: http://www.silverdolphinbooks.com/

How would you like to win any book of choice from Silver Dolphin Books?

Please visit their site and let me know what book you would choose if you won.

For additional entries:

1. Add me on twitter and retweet this:
@erinlowmaster WIN: Any Silver Dolphin Book of your choice! – http://bit.ly/c2f9u
(Daily Extras are Available)
2.  Follow Silver Dolphin Books on twitter @silverdolphin – 2 entries
3. Post this at a giveaway listing site and leave the link- 3 extra entries

Please leave separate comments for each additional entry, i.e.: if you blog about it leave 2 separate comments. Winners will be notified shortly afterward by email. Please respond within 48 hours or you forfeit your prize to another participant. Contest ends July 7th, 2009

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FIRST: Scared by Tom Davis

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tom Davis is the accomplished author of Red Letters and Fields of the Fatherless. He also serves as a trainer in leadership development. He holds a Business and Pastoral Ministry degree from Dallas Baptist University and a Master’s Degree in Theology from The Criswell College. He is the president of Children’s HopeChest (www.hopechest.org), a Christian-based child advocacy organization helping orphans in Eastern Europe and Africa. Tom and his wife, Emily, have five children.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1589191021
ISBN-13: 978-1589191020

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa, 1998

Ten years ago I was a dead man.

It all began when Lou, my broker from Alpha Agency, said, “Stuart, how would you feel about heading to The Congo? Time is putting together a crew and needs a hot photographer.”

He asked; I went. That’s how I got paid then. It’s how I get paid now.

My job was to cover a breaking story on a rebel uprising that would soon turn into genocide. Unfortunately, neither Lou nor any of us were privy to that valuable information at the time. We should have seen it coming. The frightening tribal patterns resembled the bloodbath between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. We knew what happened there had spilled over to the DRC – but we ignored it.

Our job was to focus on the story of the moment, whatever we might find. But this was more than a search for journalistic truth. It was an opportunity to win a round of a most dangerous game – the chase for a prize-winning picture.

The plane landed in the capital city of Kinshasa. A man in combat fatigues stood near a large black government car. He was flanked by six armed guards toting fully automatic rifles.

“That must be the mayor and his six closest comrades,” I said to our writer, Mike, as I swung my heavy neon orange bag over my shoulder. “Welcome to a world where you are not in control.” This was Mike’s first international assignment. I swear his knees buckled.

Our team consisted of me; Mike, shipped in from Holland (a lower executive from Time who was looking for a thrill and trying to escape his adulterous wife for a few weeks); and Tommy, the Grip, whose job it was to carry our gear.

“Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am Mayor Mobutu.” We introduced ourselves, exchanging the traditional French niceties.

“Bonjour Monsieur.”

“I must go and attend to some urgent matters, but there is a car waiting for you. These guards will take you out to Rutshuru, North Kivu.”

He pointed to a Land Cruiser near the airport building. The mayor’s face carried the scars of a rough life. His right cheek looked as if someone tried to carve a “Z” into it. His left eye was slightly lazy, giving you the feeling he was looking over your shoulder, even when you were face to face.

He turned to me. “You know how dangerous it is here. You are taking your life into your own hands, and we will not be responsible. We keep telling reporters this, but you never listen!” He started to walk away, but turned one more time and wagged his finger at each one us as if we were children. “Pay attention to what these guards tell you, and do not put yourself in the middle of conflict.”

Nobody ever won a Pulitzer by standing at arms length.

“Thank you for welcoming us, sir, and for your words,” I said. “We will keep them in mind.” The guards nodded for us to follow, and we made a solemn line into the Land Cruiser.

It was the rainy season, and on cue an afternoon storm whipped and lashed across the landscape like an angry mob. As we drove in silence, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. We arrived at the village that would serve as our headquarters. Amid the familiar routines of a small community that seemed oblivious to the dangers surrounding them, people who were displaced by violence congregated in huddles hoping for safety.

I snapped off pictures of the scene. Once the children noticed my camera, school was over. They surrounded me like ants on a Popsicle. I had come prepared. I handed out candy as fast as I could, then got back to the business of capturing images of this unsettling normalcy.

The sun hid behind the trees, and darkness enveloped the thatched huts and makeshift refugee camp, swallowing them whole. Our armed guards escorted us into a separate compound meant to keep us safe from any danger lurking in the nearby jungles.

We took a seat on concrete blocks to enjoy a traditional African meal of corn and beans and we laughed about the monkeys we had seen on the road hurling bananas at our Land Cruiser. It was funnier than it ought to have been.

And then it happened.

The crisp pop of bullets battered our eardrums. The sounds ripped through the jungle night and into the village. Then the screams began. Screams that boiled the blood inside my ears.

I dropped, crawled on my belly to the window and slid up along the front wall, craning my neck so I could see outside. A guard across the room mirrored my actions at another window. Everyone else was flat against the ground. As I peered through the rusty barred window, flashes of light pounded bright fists against the sky, the road, and the trees.

Buildings exploded with fire and a woman cried out in terror. Shadows flickered, black phantoms haunting the night. I made out five or six soldiers beating a woman with their boots and the butts of their guns.

She quit screaming, quit moving, and then they ripped the clothes from her broken body. They began raping her. She came to and started to scream again, pleading for help, and they hit her until her screams choked on her blood.

She couldn’t have been more than sixteen.

I turned my head.

The horror of this night was no act of God. No earthquake or tsunami. This was the act of men. Evil men. Demons in the guise of men.

The uncertainty of what might happen next hovered at the edge of an inhaled breath.

The armed guards screamed for us to lay prostrate on the dirt floor as bullets flew through the walls and widows, scattering plaster and glass. I wiped away salty sweat burning my eyes. But the sweat was thicker than it should have been. I tasted it.

Blood.

Fear strangled the air. Shallow breaths and rapid heartbeats echoed throughout the tiny room. I thought about my last conversation with Whitney.

My last conversation.

Was it my last?

Mike’s hand slid up next to me. His whisper turned my head. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, man.”

Mike shoved his glasses back onto his oversized, pock-marked nose. “This happened to one of my closest friends in Northern Uganda. The rebel militia mutilated everyone and everything in sight. No one made it out alive. No one. These monsters believe in a kind of Old Testament extermination of anything that moves.”

“Thanks for the encouraging words.”

“I always knew I’d die young.”

He reached in his pocked and pulled out a string of wooden rosary beads.

“These were my mother’s.”

“I’m not Catholic.”

“Neither was I. Until now….”

“Shut up!” one of the guards hissed.

Rivers of sweat baptized our faces, our necks, our chests.

Death, real and suffocating, pressed in, driven by the wailing of dying babies, the yelps of slaughtered animals, the screams women being beaten and raped.

My heart raced in rapid-fire panic.

I peered through a hole between a cinder block and a broken windowsill. Rebel troops swarmed like locusts, devouring every living thing in their path.

Mike elbowed me in the thigh. “Remember that story about an African militia group that raped a bunch of Americans? Men, women, children – they weren’t choosy.”

“You have to be quiet,” whispered a guard. He got to one knee, steadying his gun. “Now shut up or I’ll kill you myself.”

A rebel commander yelled something just outside the door. Another shot, and the guard who had just spoken fell dead right on top of me. His blood flowed over my neck and right arm staining my band of brothers ring crimson. The screaming intensified, people ran, yelled, and died.

I scooted against the wall, huddled next to Mike as shots continued to shriek overhead. Plaster exploded and covered us. We tried to make ourselves invisible, curling into the fetal position, wrapping our arms over our heads.

A bullet whined by my ear, missing by centimeters. I crawled face down to the other side of the room, trying to get out of the line of fire.

Then, sudden, deafening silence.

Nobody moved for what seemed like hours. My thoughts milled with the ants of fear, waiting as the silence thickened, punctuated by a moan or a sob. We waited and waited, wondering when it would be safe to stand, wondering if it would ever be safe.

Finally, I gazed out the window, my eyes searching for rebel soldiers in the yellow-orange gloom of smoke. No figures or movement.

“I’m going out,” I whispered to Mike.

He didn’t respond

“Hey, listen. Let’s go man.”

I elbowed him in the ribs.

“Mike!” I grabbed his jacket to turn him toward me. There was a pinpoint crimson stain on the front of his light blue shirt. His eyes stared through me.

I was paralyzed for a moment, not knowing what to do. Then I pulled my camera out of my bag. I picked up Mike’s gear and slung it around my neck.

Outside, the air burned of flesh. Some shadows moved in the distance, but the streets were barren. A few jerking and twitching heaps lined the road and quivered beside the buildings.

Oh, God. Oh, God.

I walked toward the flames. Everything was silent except for a sour ringing in my ears. Something compelled me to enter the destruction, to get closer.

Severed body parts lay before me in a display of such horror I began to heave. A young, pregnant mother crumpled over, lying dead next to a burning haystack. She barely looked human. One leg lay at a right angle, an arm hung loosely from her shoulder, held there by a single, stringy tendon. Her stomach had been sliced wide open, the worm-like contents spilled in front of her, still moving.

There was nothing I could do to help her. Nothing.

I lifted the camera to my left eye. Snap. Snap. Snap. The lens clicked open and closed.

I stepped closer to capture the look on her face. Steam rose from her insides. More pictures. Through the blood and mucus by her midsection I made out a face, a tiny face with eyes closed.

Voices rose over the roofs. Something was happening at the end of the village. Without thought, I raced through the corpses and debris toward the commotion.

The rebel troops had gathered the bodies of all the men they had slain. They were stacking them together in the shape of a pyramid.

As each body was thrown on top of the others, the rebels jeered, spit on the dead, and drank from a whiskey bottle, relishing in their triumph. They shot their guns into the air. Fire flashed around the perimeter. It was a scene from hell.

A man climbed on the roof above the bodies, unzipped his pants and urinated all over the dead. The men slapped each other on the back and laughed.

Another rebel poured some liquid over the bodies.

I adjusted the camera settings and snapped a series of shots as fast as my fingers could click. The fire ignited, a pyramid pyre, and I continued to shoot. I snapped pictures of the dead – men I had seen earlier that day caring for their families – as their faces melted like candle wax. I snapped pictures of the rebels’ ugly glee. And I felt like retching again.

I turned and walked, faster and faster, until I was running.

Each step I took pounded the question: Why? Why? Why?

I raced to the edge of the compound and saw Tommy hanging out the window of our car, frantically motioning me to come. We sped off, the remaining guard driving like a bat out of hell, for it was indeed hell we were escaping. As I turn to look out the back window, I saw Mike’s body crumpled in the seat behind me. Like a rotted rubber band, something inside me snapped. My whole body shook. Sobs came without tears. I only could muster one coherent thought: If we get out of here alive, at least we can send Mike back to his family.

Back to his cheating wife.


My Thoughts:

This book promises to be a real page turner with it’s the raw emotion and realism. I also wanted to mention that this book is not for the faint of heart as it portrays a reality that is graphic and truly heartbreaking.

I’ll let you see for yourself but I am sure in reading this book that you’ll become stirred up with the reality and the reasoning to do something in the world around you.

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FIRST:The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Seven Faith Tribes

BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

George Barna is the author or coauthor of more than forty books, including best sellers such as The Frog in the Kettle, The Power of Vision, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Revolution, and Pagan Christianity. He has had more than one hundred articles published in magazines and other periodicals and writes the bimonthly report The Barna Update, which is read by more than a million people each year.

He is the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a company that provides primary research and resources related to cultural analysis, faith dynamics, and transformation. Through The Barna Group, he has served hundreds of clients as varied as the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, CBN, the Walt Disney Company, Ford Motor Company, Visa USA, and the United States Navy.

He has taught at several universities and seminaries and has served as the teaching pastor of a large, multiethnic church. Barna currently leads a house church. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College and has graduate degrees from Rutgers University and Dallas Baptist University.

He has been married to his wife, Nancy, since 1978, and they live with their three daughters in southern California.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324049
ISBN-13: 978-1414324043

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

America Is on the Path to Self-Destruction

PERHAPS you have had the heart-wrenching experience of watching helplessly as a loved one—a parent, grandparent, sibling, or close friend—has wasted away due to a debilitating disease or accident. Maybe you have worked for a company that was once vibrant, profitable, and charging into the future—only to lose its way and go out of business.

The United States is in one of those moments. Unless we, the people, can rally to restore health to this once proud and mighty nation, we have a long and disturbing decline to look forward to.

Does it surprise you to hear that our greatest enemy is not al Qaeda or the oil cartel, but America itself? Such an audacious argument is possible, however, because we have steadily and incrementally abandoned what made us a great nation.

The elements that combined to establish the United States as perhaps the most unique and enviable nation in modern history can be restored—but only if we are wise enough, collectively,

to focus on pursuing the good of society, not mere individual self-interest. It is this widespread drive to elevate self over community that has triggered our decline.

Some historians have examined the United States and concluded that it rose to prominence because of its world-class statesmen, foresighted Constitution, military might, abundant natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit. Indisputably, such factors have significantly contributed to the establishment of a great nation. But such elements, alone, could never sustain it—especially for two-hundred-plus years!

A democracy, such as that in the United States, achieves greatness and retains its strength on the basis of the values and beliefs that fuel people’s choices. Every society adopts a body of principles that defines the national ethos and fosters its ability to withstand various challenges. Only those nations that have moral and spiritual depth, clarity of purpose and process, and nobility of heart and mind are able to persevere and triumph.1

Achieving a state of internal equilibrium that generates forward movement is no small task. It has certainly eluded hundreds upon hundreds of nations and cultures over the course of time. A walk through world history underscores the difficulty of building and sustaining national greatness. Whether we examine the stories of ancient Rome and Greece, more modern examples such as the Soviet Union, Red China, the British Empire, and post-British India, or fascist experiments such as those in Germany and Italy, the outcomes are identical. After initial excitement and cooperation, each of these nations staggered into a dramatic decline, lacking the moral and spiritual fortitude to right themselves.

Among the lessons we learn from observing the demise of formidable countries and cultures are that a nation self-destructs when

• its people cannot hold a civil conversation over matters of disagreement because they are overly possessive of their values and beliefs and too unyielding of their preferences;

• public officials and cultural leaders insist upon positioning and posturing at the expense of their opponents after the exchange of competing ideas—even though those opponents are fellow citizens with an assumed similar interest in sustaining the health of the nation;

• the public cannot agree on what constitutes goodness, morality, generosity, kindness, ethics, or beauty;

• a significant share of the electorate refuses to support legally elected officials who are faithfully upholding the Constitution and diligently pursuing the best interests of the nation;

• people lose respect for others and refuse to grant them the measure of dignity that every human being innately deserves;

• the population embraces the notion that citizens are accountable solely to themselves for their moral and ethical choices because there are no universal standards and moral leaders.

Do these descriptions strike fear in your heart? They should. Increasingly, these are attributes of twenty-first-century America. Such qualities have pushed the world’s greatest democracy to the precipice of self-annihilation. No amount of global trade or technological innovation will compensate for the loss of common vision and values that are required to bolster a mighty nation.

The dominant lifestyle patterns of Americans are a direct outgrowth of our beliefs. Operating within the boundaries of our self-determined cultural parameters, Americans live in ways that are the natural and tangible applications of what we believe to be true, appropriate, right, and valuable.

Therefore, we may not be pleased, but we ought not be surprised by the cultural chaos and moral disintegration we see and experience every day. Such conditions are the inevitable outcomes of the choices we have made that are designed to satisfy our self-interest instead of our shared interests.

For instance, when we abandon sound financial principles and take on personal debt in order to satisfy our desires for more material goods, we undermine society’s best interests. When we allow our children to absorb countless hours of morally promiscuous media content rather than limit their exposure and insist on better programming, we fail to protect our children and society’s best interests. When we create a burgeoning industry of assisted living for our elderly relatives we don’t have the time or inclination to care for, we redefine family and negate a fundamental strength of our society. When we donate less than 3 percent of our income to causes that enhance the quality and sustainability of life, our lack of generosity affects the future of our society. When we permit the blogosphere to become a rat hole of deceit, rudeness, and visual garbage, we forfeit part of the soul of our culture. When we allow “no fault” divorce to become the law of the land, as if nobody had any responsibilities in the demise of a marriage, we foster the demise of our society. When we choose to place our children in day care and prekindergarten programs for more hours than we share with them, we have made a definitive statement about what matters in our world.

Do we need to continue citing examples? Realize that all of those choices, and hundreds of others, reflect our true beliefs—not necessarily the beliefs to which we give lip service, but those to which we give behavioral support. And as we experience the hardships of a culture in transition from strength to weakness, we are merely reaping the harvest of our choices.

What has redirected us from what could be a pleasant and stable existence to one that produces widespread stress and flirts with the edge of disaster from day to day?

INSTITUTIONAL RECALIBRATION

A country as large and complex as the United States relies upon the development of various institutions to help make sense of reality and maintain a semblance of order and purpose. For many decades, our institutions served us well. They operated in synchronization, helping to keep balance in our society while advancing our common ends.

But during the past half century many of our pivotal institutions have reeled from the effects of dramatic change. Briefly, consider the following.

• The family unit has always been the fundamental building block of American society. But the family has been severely challenged by divorce (the United States has the highest divorce rate in the developed world); cohabitation (resulting in a decline in marriage, a rise in divorce, extramarital sexual episodes, extensive physical abuse, and heightened numbers of births outside of marriage); abortions; increasing numbers of unwed mothers; and challenges to the very definition of family and marriage brought about by the demands of the homosexual population and the involvement of activist judges.

• The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American society. But research shows that churches have very limited impact on people’s lives these days.2 The loss of influence can be attributed to the confluence of many factors. These include the erosion of public confidence due to moral crises (e.g., sex scandals among Catholic priests, financial failings among TV preachers); the paucity of vision-driven leadership; growing doubts about the veracity and reliability of the Bible; a nearly universal reliance upon vacuous indicators of ministry impact (i.e., attendance, fundraising, breadth of programs, number of employees, size of buildings and facilities); ministry methods and models that hinder effective learning and interpersonal connections; innocuous and irregular calls to action; and counterproductive competition among churches as well as parachurch ministries. Fewer and fewer Americans think of themselves as members of a churchbased faith community, as followers of a specific deity or faith, or as fully committed to being models of the faith they embrace.

• Public schools have transitioned from training children to possess good character and strong academic skills to producing young people who score well on standardized achievement tests and thereby satisfy government funding criteria. In the process, we have been exposed to values-free education, values-clarification training, and other educational approaches that promote a group of divergent worldviews as if they all possessed equal merit. In the meantime, our students have lost out on learning how to communicate effectively, and they consistently trail students from other countries in academic fundamentals such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

• Government agencies have facilitated the acceleration of cultural dissonance. An example is the values-neutral admittance of millions of immigrants. Historically, immigration has been one of the greatest reflections of the openness of America to embrace and work alongside people who share the fundamental ideals of our democracy and are eager to assimilate into the dominant American culture. Over the past quarter century, however, a larger share of the immigrants seeking to make the United States their homeland has come ashore with a different agenda: living a more comfortable and secure life without having to surrender their native culture (e.g., language, values, beliefs, customs, relationships, or behaviors). Rather than adopting the fundamentals that made America strong as part of their assimilation and naturalization process, growing numbers of them expect America to accept their desire to retain that which they personally feel most comfortable with, even though it is at odds with the mainstream experience that produced the nation to which they were attracted.3

Our institutions have been further challenged by other cultural realities. For instance, digital technology—computers, mobile phones, the Internet, digital cameras, video recorders, and the like—has created an opinionated population that has become more narrow-minded and isolated even in the midst of an avalanche of information and relational connections.4 That same technology has fostered an unprecedented degree of global awareness and interactivity within generations, while at the same time birthing new forms of discrimination and marginalization.

Even the nation’s economic transformation, moving from a world-class manufacturing nation to a country that consumes imported products and demands personal services, has altered our self-perceptions, national agenda, and global role.

ENTER THE NEW VALUES

The weakening of our institutions has freed the public to seize upon a revised assortment of values. An examination of the entire cluster gives a pretty sobering perspective on the new American mentality. As you will quickly realize, most of the elements in the emerging values set lead to the new focal point for America: self.

Consider the values transitions described below, along with the shifts in behavior that accompany the newly embraced perspectives, and ask yourself if any of them ring true.

From voluntary accountability to belligerent autonomy

Freedom traditionally implied that we were responsible to those whom we placed in authority—although we still had abundant opportunities to express our views and concerns, and to replace those whose leadership failed to live up to our expectations. In recent years, however, our perspectives on authority and accountability have changed to the point where many of us consider ourselves to be free agents, responsible only to ourselves. We resent others—individuals, family, public officials, organizations, society—who place restrictions and limitations upon us, no matter how reasonable or necessary they may be. When people agree to be held accountable these days, such interaction is not so much about being held to predetermined standards as it is about providing explanations and justifications for the behavior in question, in order to produce absolution. Anyone who gets in the way of our autonomy runs the risk of being called out for such audacity and being cited for offenses such as censorship, fundamentalism, prudishness, narrow-mindedness, or intolerance.

From responsibilities to rights

From the earliest days of the republic, our nation’s leaders accepted the notion that the freedom we fought for in the establishment of the nation could only be maintained if people were willing to accept the responsibilities and duties required to extend such freedom. Consequently, for many decades Americans have carried out the obligations of good citizens: obeying the law, supporting social institutions and leaders, mutually sacrificing, committing to the common good, exercising personal virtue and morality, and the like. To advance freedom, the health of the society must supersede the desires of the individual. But things have changed dramatically. People’s concern these days is ensuring

that they receive the benefits of the rights they perceive to be theirs. Standing in the way of such rights brings on threats of legal action; a lawsuit is now the default response to conditions that limit one’s experiences. Ensuring the exercise of personal rights is the primary concern; exercising and protecting community rights are of secondary consideration.

From respect and dignity to incivility and arrogance

Historically, we have maintained that every person is worthy of respect and dignity. In contrast, increasing numbers of Americans these days are more likely to treat people with suspicion, indifference,

or impatience. Americans have long had an international reputation for rudeness, but our levels of impolite behavior have escalated substantially in recent years. Beyond discourtesy, we have become a society that is frequently and quickly critical of others. Rather than searching for the goodness in people, we are quick to point out their flaws and weaknesses. We have little patience with those who fail to live up to our expectations, and we have no hesitation in expressing our disapproval, regardless of the circumstances.

From discernment to tolerance

One of the most undesirable labels in our society is that of being judgmental. To avoid that critique, we have moved to the opposite extreme, allowing people to do whatever they please, as long as their choices do not put us directly in harm’s way. In essence, we have abandoned discernment in favor of a self-protective permissiveness.

This practice, of course, pushes us to the brink of anarchy, made all the more possible by our adoption of belligerent autonomy.

From pride in production to the joy of consumption

For decades, American citizens derived great satisfaction from the fruit of their labors and extolled the virtues of productivity. However, the source of pride now is in what we own or lease—the material goods that define our station in life and reflect our capacity to consume. In the past, a job was something that allowed us to add value to society and to participate in the work of a unified team. Now, growing numbers of people perceive their job to be a necessary evil, little more than a means to the end of acquiring the tangible items that may bring pleasure or prestige. As a result, the quality of our work efforts is seen as being less important than the rewards generated by those efforts. The hallowed concept of excellence has been left in the dust in our haste to embrace “adequacy” as the new standard for performance.

From contribution and sacrifice to comfort and fulfillment

Most Americans now perceive the ultimate purpose of life to be enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while possessing a positive self image and a sense of fulfillment. The nature of one’s contribution to society—i.e., what we do to advance the good of society—is thought of as a bonus, if any such contribution is made at all.

People rarely consider it necessary—or even the mark of a good citizen—to sacrifice personal benefits or resources for the good of their community or nation, whether that is practiced through political involvement, environmentalism, financial responsibility, child-rearing practices, or other means. Unless such practices produce personal comfort and fulfillment, they are considered strictly optional behavior.

From trust to skepticism

Knowing that truth is not always considered a virtue and that truth is now widely assumed to be whatever the speaker defines it to be—regardless of the facts—Americans are more cautious and caustic these days. What used to be called healthy skepticism has now blossomed into full-blown doubt. Incapable of placing complete confidence in what we are told, we are reticent to trust others. Their motives (selfish) and words (misleading) must now be run through a filter that prevents us from taking

things at face value, resulting in constant tension about who and what to believe. Rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, the default position is to reserve our right to remain skeptical. That same degree of mistrust has even diminished our willingness to believe religious teachings, whether from “reliable sources” such as the Bible or from other authorities.

From intellect and character to fame and image

Who were the heroes in years past? Often they were people whose intellect and commitment to improving the human condition produced value for our society: scientists, engineers, theorists,

doctors, professors, and the like. Those people introduced lifechanging innovations and solutions to our culture. They were joined in the winner’s circle by parents, who were celebrated for their commitment to raising moral children and honorable citizens whose firm foundations of goodness would ensure the

strength of the nation for years to come. Today these heroes have been unceremoniously replaced by a revolving door of simpleminded celebrities whose partying exploits, marital failures, materialistic excesses, relational squabbles, and fashion faux pas capture the attention of the tabloids and paparazzi.

We have traded substance for superficiality, intelligence for style, and hard work for merely showing up at hip locations. Celebrities hire image consultants to ensure that the appeal of their public personae extends their fifteen minutes of fame. They influence the gullible public to pursue unreasonable body shapes

and expensive clothing, use incorrect or inappropriate language, and embrace dubious ideas about life. In the process, edginess, extravagance, and national recognition have trumped the values of character and intelligence.

From moral absolutes to moral relativism

Apparently, when Jesus Christ told people to “let your ‘ Yes’ be ‘ Yes,’ and your ‘ No,’ ‘No,’ ”5 that was not what He really meant—at least, according to contemporary Americans. During the past quarter century there has been a massive shift away from the acceptance of moral absolutes (i.e., things are right or wrong, regardless of the situation) to acceptance of moral relativism (i.e., there are no absolute moral standards, so everything depends on what we each decide is right or wrong based on our own personal convictions and current situations). This has affected judicial decisions, government policies, business strategies, personal relationships, financial dealings—in short, everything imaginable. There are fewer and fewer situations in which conventional morality prevails. Life is now more anxiety ridden

because there is no predictability or consistency regarding right and wrong.

Remember, we act out what we believe. Values form the core of our actionable perspectives. The evolution of American society is thus a reflection of this morphing of our values, changing everything about what we believe to be acceptable, valuable, desirable, and even holy.

THE NEW GOALS

This movement in our thinking and behavior has even affected our aspirations. As we dream of the future we will pursue, we’ve adopted a new set of life goals.

As recently as the 1970s, Americans were dedicated to becoming good citizens; raising children with proper character and morals; knowing and living according to accepted moral truths; experiencing and appreciating beauty in art and nature; living with integrity; supporting family members in all dimensions of life; and performing all tasks and responsibilities with excellence. The notion of living the good life centered on fitting into one’s world as a productive, reliable member of a caring society.6

If that profile seems anachronistic to you, it’s because our notion of the good life received a serious makeover. The dominant goals of Americans these days are achieving a comfortable lifestyle; having as many exciting or unique experiences as possible; feeling good about oneself; having ample options from which to choose in all dimensions of life; being able to participate in everything that is personally meaningful or appealing; developing and maintaining a positive public image; and avoiding

pain or sacrifice.

You don’t need an advanced degree to notice that the focus of our goals has taken a 180-degree turn. We are less interested in the good of society than in the promotion and protection of self. We are not as committed to making a societal contribution as we are to ensuring personal comfort and satisfaction. We would like to do well at our assigned or necessary tasks, but we are more committed to having great experiences and adventures than to fulfilling our responsibilities with certifiable excellence.

If you doubt the reality of this shift, talk to anyone who has owned a business for the past thirty years about the change in the dedication and quality standards of the workforce. Or you could speak to veteran teachers about the motivations of students. Try questioning marriage counselors about the nature of the conversations they have with adults whose marriages are on the rocks. Professionals whose work gives them insight into the nature of our culture will confirm the data that describe the reshaping of the mind and heart of America.

Another vantage point regarding who we have become—and are still becoming—is offered by people outside of the American experience. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see it clearly; more objective perceptions are best provided by observers who are more physically removed from the situation. That’s exactly what is provided by global surveys of attitudes. Several recent international research projects provided an outsider’s view of American society. While the views of such people include various biases and assumptions—e.g., predispositions about Americans, our government, and our cultural preferences, all filtered through the survey respondent’s own predispositions and preferences—the perceived decline in America’s character comes through loud and clear. Europeans, South Americans, Asians, and Africans generally see us as insensitive, materialistic, self-absorbed, and superficially religious.7

THE WORLDVIEW REVOLUTION

Certainly, we have changed in meaningful ways. But no cultural transformation happens in a vacuum, and it is implausible that a national redefinition of this magnitude could have happened without some foundations being monumentally altered. In this case, the floodgates of our cultural transformation were pried open by our willingness to entertain—and eventually to adopt—alternative worldviews.

A worldview is simply the mental and emotional filter that each person embraces and uses to make sense of and respond to the world. Everyone has a worldview. Few have thought much about it

or where it comes from, and even fewer can articulate the contents of their own worldview. But every person’s life is a result of his or her worldview. And every nation’s character is a product of the cumulative worldviews possessed and incarnated by its people.

In the 1950s and earlier, the dominant worldview in the United States might be characterized as Judeo-Christian. Most of the moral standards of the nation were based on Judeo-Christian principles

regarding matters such as purpose, fairness, justice, value, goodness, beauty, relationships, family, generosity, evil, authority, compassion, and faith. While our nation has always had a multitude of faith groups and life philosophies resident within its shores, the past forty years in particular have seen the influx and acceptance of a variety of worldviews that are at odds with the historical foundations on which the country was built.

Because our worldviews direct our words and actions, this national transformation of our worldviews has changed life as we know it. Or, more correctly, knew it.

With the social upheaval that was ushered in during the sixties, everything was up for grabs—including the national sense of morality, spirituality, values, traditions, and lifestyle habits. To this day we are still experimenting and tinkering with our worldview: it remains a work in progress. But enough change has occurred that we can now see—and every day we encounter—the implications of this seismic shift in how we experience, interpret, and react to our world.

The bottom line is simply this: the substitution of alternative worldviews for the traditional Judeo-Christian version is responsible for America incrementally destroying itself. Gone are the

days in which consensus was respected or personal views were maintained within the context of a different dominant worldview. Increasingly, we demand that the world embrace the worldview we possess or we respond in hostile ways: public criticism, nasty blogs and text messages, lawsuits, angry letters to public officials or professional associations, confrontational letters to the editor, damage to property, or other means of retaliation.

The element that facilitated a stable, consensual worldview in the past was the consistency of the religious beliefs of Americans. For more than two centuries, Americans generally held to some form of a Judeo-Christian perspective. Those who did not share such a perspective understood that while they could hold their divergent worldviews, theirs would remain a respected minority view. There was a recognized cultural accommodation in which the majority and minority allowed each other their space and respective social and political standing.

But even though four out of five Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, the prevailing accommodation has been scrapped as the proponents of each alternative worldview have battled for supremacy. Our long-held worldview moorings have been assaulted and have lost ground to alternative perspectives. The problem is not that a general lack of faith or absence of personal theology has undermined the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The underlying issue is that those who normally would have defended and advanced the predominant worldview have succumbed to the lure of alternative perspectives that promise greater freedom and fewer restrictions.

This nation’s spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and morphing. At this moment in time, the fundamental beliefs on which the nation was founded are no longer the central tenets on which our country operates.8 As we will see in subsequent chapters, basic ideals about God have been radically challenged, to the point where people no longer know what to believe and are warned not to speak in public about “Him/Her/Them/It.” The idea of something being sacred—whether it be in reference to books (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon), beings (e.g., Jesus, Buddha), or places (e.g., Jerusalem, Mecca)—has been reduced from the extraordinary to the ordinary. The importance of following through on spiritual commitments, whether to God or to one’s faith community, typically takes a backseat to other, more pressing commitments.

THE FAITH MIX: SEVEN TRIBES

To get a good understanding of the existing and evolving worldview mosaic, we must take a serious look at the dominant spiritual groups in America. I will refer to these as our faith tribes, based on the fact that the religious history of most Americans—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons—describes the various segments of each faith as tribes. A tribe, after all, is a group of people who are united by common beliefs, customs, and traditions; who follow a common leader; and who consider themselves to be a community based on these shared realities.

Religious beliefs and convictions provide the central spectrum of ideas from which our worldview is developed. Getting inside the mind and heart of the major faith tribes will provide the necessary insight into how our existing worldviews came about, why we cling to them, and where they are headed.

Based on extensive segmentation analysis of the spiritual beliefs and practices of more than thirty thousand U.S. adults whom The Barna Group interviewed, we concluded that the United States is home to more than two hundred different religious faiths and denominations but is dominated by seven faith tribes. Naturally, each tribe has distinct segments within it that deviate from the dominant ways of thinking and acting, but these tribes, by and large, are cohesive masses. They range in size from several million to tens of millions of people.

A large majority of Americans are Casual Christians. These are people who profess to be Christian but are notably lax in their beliefs and practices. Casuals represent two-thirds of all American adults. There are variations within this sizable spiritual class, but overall the segment is surprisingly consistent in numerous dimensions of spirituality and in their attitudes and lifestyle choices.

Their counterpart are the Captive Christians—those whose consistently biblical beliefs and Christlike behavior validate their commitment to being followers of Christ. Captives constitute one-sixth of the adult population. They are characterized by a deeper, more intentional devotion to the principles and practices they embrace from the Bible. They are the segment within Christianity that is most likely to be caricatured by the media and by politicians, two groups that greatly misunderstand the motivations and objectives of Captives.

The rest of the nation is divided into five other faith tribes. Jewish people make up roughly 2 percent of the adult public. The percentage of Mormons is slightly smaller than that, though its adherents are strikingly unified in their ideology and practice. Pantheists—a combination of adherents to Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.), along with those who have adopted the American hybrid we think of as New Age beliefs—are also slightly less than 2 percent of the public. Muslims, while growing in number, make up considerably less than one percent of the American population, but they represent a significant, if controversial, point of view on the faith spectrum. That leaves the largest of the non-Christian tribes: the Skeptics. These folks, nearly 11 percent strong, are atheists or agnostics. They are, in essence, religiously irreligious.

We will explore each of these tribes in relation to key dimensions—demographics, religious beliefs and behaviors, self-image, attitudes and perceptions, lifestyle routines, morals, family realities, and political perspectives and patterns. These insights will enable us to delve into the various worldviews that Americans possess and then discuss how we can restore health to our republic. The required solutions are not political or economic. We need spiritual wisdom backed by a mutual commitment to live up to the chief aims of our respective faith perspectives.

BEYOND THE BEHEMOTH

You may be wondering what there is to talk about if one tribe alone—the Casual Christians—represents two out of every three Americans. By dwarfing all other tribes, isn’t a book about the effect of faith in America really just a book about the Casuals?

Yes and no.

By sheer weight of numbers, the Casuals define the status quo. This group is, in a very real sense, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla that establishes the standards of the moral and spiritual life of the United States. In every respect, until something happens to intentionally alter matters, theirs is the default condition for the country.

To use a more familiar analogy, the Casuals are akin to the place of the Caucasian population in the United States. Each currently represents two-thirds of the population. Both groups are so numerous and familiar to everyone that they largely go unnoticed, but their significance is felt every moment of every day, whether we are conscious of it or not.

But in keeping with this analogy, recognize that they also represent a moving target for the smaller segments whose demographics, dreams, and desires are different from those of the behemoth. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other ethnic and racial populations may be

dwarfed by the Caucasian constituency, but they are never rendered irrelevant or powerless simply by being outnumbered. They simply have to try harder to get recognition, power, and favor in a country where they are minorities. And as our history shows, that is difficult but doable.

Is it truly possible for tribes that represent as little as one half of one percent of this massive country (i.e., Muslims) to overcome the standing of the group that encompasses 66 percent of the public? Absolutely! There are four significant reasons why small tribes have the potential to do so.

First, in a true democracy, everyone has a say. Sometimes even the tiniest voice speaks truths that others resonate with. With the prolific access to vehicles of communication in this country, and given the energetic defense of the freedom to express one’s views, every tribe has the opportunity to make its case.

Second, influence is often magnified through dynamic partnerships in which multiple minor players coordinate their efforts to exert impact that transcends their numbers. The mosaic of our population is increasingly characterized by connections across lines—racial, political, economic, religious, and geographic. It is common these days to see coalitions of groups that have never before worked together to break through preexisting barriers to jointly pursue outcomes that are important to all of them.

Third, one of the most powerful ways of influencing today’s population is through modeling. People learn by example. Habits and predispositions are challenged by example. Trends are ignited by a relative handful of people who do something that grabs attention and generates interest.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, never underestimate the power of passion. Groups pursuing outcomes that they are willing to fight for with every resource they can muster often generate

results far beyond the expectations of those who observe their battle with indifference or amusement.

For example, if it were up to the white majority during the middle of the last century, the African American community would still be living in segregated neighborhoods and dealing with a network of isolated social institutions, working for substandard pay in untenable conditions. During the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies, the African American population was a mere one out of every ten Americans. In terms of raw numbers, they had little hope of changing the mores of this nation.

But because the United States is a democracy whose Constitution promises all people specific rights that give them a place at the table and the right to pursue their dreams, African Americans had a chance to change the larger social context. Through the strategic deployment of various legal means—such as peaceful demonstrations, political lobbying, media influence, boycotts, and prayer—they were able to make their case to the public and to work through the political system. They created viable partnerships with a broad coalition of external groups—churches, other minority populations, various political groups, and associations—to advance their cause. And they were able to defeat overwhelming odds, and endure great injustices en route, to gain ground. African Americans stood firmly behind their

leaders and refused to back down, even when it meant physical pain or other personal hardships. Their unflagging passion, directed by brilliant leaders and channeled through the sacrificial participation of a relative handful of African American people, enabled them to rewrite the well-established norms of a

global superpower.

A current example of how a minuscule group can have a big voice in a cacophonous society is the experience of the gay community. Although gay people are no more than 3 percent to 5 per cent of the adult population, the nation is in tumult over their demands for marriage rights and other changes in policies that affect their lives. Taking a page from the playbook of the civil rights movement, the gay population has used the freedoms and rights provided by the Constitution to its advantage, enabling its members to get the public’s attention and persuade an increasingly sympathetic society to see things their way. Tens of millions of Americans who will never engage in or even consider embracing homosexual behaviors are nevertheless leaning toward or fully supportive of an array of new laws and policies that will satisfy the desires of the gay movement.

Sometimes the giant is vulnerable to the midget. The giant takes such great comfort in its size that it ignores or dismisses things that will eventually return to haunt it. And sometimes the same magnitude that has given the giant reason for comfort becomes the very attribute that disables the behemoth from responding in a timely, strategic, or otherwise effective manner.

THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

An inescapable fact of our society is that the vast majority of Americans are connected to Christianity to some degree. And yet, as further testimony to the fact that size is not everything, one of the disturbing conditions in present-day America is that no tribe—not even the Casual or Captive Christians—is allowed to freely pursue its faith without undue interference.

Like all faith tribes, Christian-based tribes must satisfy certain cultural requirements in order to live in a Christlike manner, which is their core spiritual mandate. Among those are to consistently worship their God, to obey His commands as outlined in the Bible, to serve God and people in meaningful ways, and to generously give and receive love. The nation’s democracy was supposed to provide such opportunities to the Christians who sacrificed so much to establish the United States. The desire to experience such freedoms was one of the precipitating motivations for establishing independence from British rule.

Some readers will be surprised to hear that the Christian based tribes in the United States do not currently have those freedoms and abilities. Similarly, in a country that is predicated upon delivering specified rights and their attendant freedoms to all of its citizens, other faith tribes suffer the indignity and injustice of being prevented from exercising those rights as their faith would lead them to.

If you doubt this, please read the biology textbooks used in many government-funded (i.e., public) schools, which make no bones about critiquing Christianity, eliminating faith-based views in favor of science-based explanations, or promoting “safe sex” rather than the biblical alternative of sexual abstinence. Consider the implications of laws that diminish the value of human life or redefine the biblical standard of marriage. Take note of government threats to, or restrictions on, families that homeschool their children for moral or religious reasons. Think about the implication of laws requiring Christian ministries to hire employees who reject their beliefs or who practice lifestyles that visibly and unapologetically conflict with the moral convictions of the ministry. Talk to Christian graduate students around the nation and discover how many of them jeopardize their advanced degrees or scholarly careers if they admit to believing in creationism. How many high school graduation speeches were altered this year by laws preventing students from incorporating their religious beliefs into their remarks? In certain states, Bibles are not allowed in the public school classroom.

These are but a handful of the incendiary examples of how the religious freedoms of just one of the tribes are trampled in the alleged interest of freedom. How we handle these issues has consistently divided the tribes within our country.

NOT SEEKING A THEOCRACY

Please do not miss where I’m headed with this argument. America was not meant to be a theocracy—that is, ruled by a given religious tribe. The dominant spiritual classes in our society should neither possess nor expect to have the final say on all legal and moral matters. In fact, our research consistently shows that Christians in America appreciate their neighbors who belong to other faith tribes; they simply do not want their own ability to serve their God limited by the discomfort or desires of those other tribes any more than the minority tribes want their freedoms to be limited or negated by the larger tribal groups.

In an odd way we have reached a stalemate. Significantly, our research indicates that the United States is presently a nation in which

• none of our faith tribes feel they are able to freely practice their faith without breaking laws or upsetting members of other tribes;

• each tribe feels that the other tribes do not understand what their faith is about and that they cannot get other tribes to give them a fair hearing;

• the freedoms of tribes to practice their faith and hold their particular beliefs are being eliminated by whichever tribe outmaneuvers the others within the political and legal arenas;

• tribal leadership has become more about political prowess exercised in the public domain than about the provision of spiritual and moral guidance within the confines of the tribe;

• people’s inability to experience the religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution is causing them to feel as if the nation is losing its heart and soul, and along with that, its greatness.

The problem facing America is not the presence of divergent faith tribes. For many years, the United States has had a diverse spiritual palette—and has been one of the most revered and successful

nations on earth because of it. The experience of other nations further confirms that being home to multiple faith tribes is not necessarily an issue. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that it is healthy to have a variety of faith perspectives resident in the same marketplace of ideas and lifestyles.

Faith tribes need not be adversarial; religious conflict is not so much an inevitable product of the differing principles of each tribe as it is a reflection of other values and factors driving the mother culture.

As we witness the deterioration of America, we have to ask the tough questions regarding why a once proud, stable, mighty country is now succumbing to shrill internecine battles over matters that could be creatively and amicably resolved. Based on an extensive examination of data and other cultural information, I’d like to offer a perspective for your consideration.

WORLDVIEWS AND VALUES

Everyone has some type of religious faith. That faith shapes our worldviews. Those worldviews dictate the values we embrace. These values influence the choices we make and the lives we lead.

The United States is a land in which there are competing worldviews and values, which produce diverse lifestyles and expectations. The breadth of worldviews and values that reside within the nation are partly responsible for the variety that has enabled the country to continue to play a major role on the world stage.

But that variety can sometimes create a gulf between what makes for a strong and cohesive nation and one that is satisfied simply to feel good in the moment. America is faced with this dilemma today: should we demonstrate restraint and invest in cross-tribal relationships in order to remain a strong and vibrant nation over the long run, or should we give in to our desire to take the road that demands less now but will likely lead to our demise in the future?

Human history shows that sometimes we forget that what is possible and what is fruitful are two different things. America appears to be at a juncture in history where we have to clarify the shared values that are advantageous and the divergent viewpoints that could ultimately harm the nation.

A WORD ABOUT THE RESEARCH

This book addresses what some of my friends have characterized as a “big idea.” I want you to know that it is not simply a thought that has germinated in my mind for a while before I decided to commit

it to paper. The concepts presented in these pages were borne from more than one million dollars’ worth of research.

For the past quarter century, I have been studying the role of faith in American society. From the nationwide surveys investigating people’s faith that my company regularly conducts with representative samples of one thousand or more adults, I have developed an extensive sense of what makes Americans tick. Each of our surveys includes a standard battery of theolographic questions—inquiries regarding what they believe, how they practice their faith, the role of faith, how it becomes integrated into their daily experience, and so forth.

For this book, I combined the results from a number of surveys, using the common theolographic questions as the foundation through which to filter a very wide range of attitudes, behaviors, values, and perceptions expressed in the various surveys. In total, I had the opportunity to slice and dice the population in relation to more than 500 different measurement criteria (576 distinct variables, to be exact). Using various statistical techniques, I found that Americans’ faith can be categorized into a series of segments, which we will refer to as the seven tribes. And it is on the basis

of the information related to each tribe that I will be describing what is happening in our society today. Please note that this is not a book of personal opinions but a compilation of thousands of opinions culled from the people being profiled. I realize that not every member of any tribe thinks or behaves in exactly the same way. However, by providing an overview of each faith group, I believe we can come to a better understanding of what unites us. (For more information about the procedures used, read appendix 4, which describes our research methodology.)

ROAD MAP

Having made the argument that America is on a crash course for self-destruction, we can either sit back and watch, complicit in the collapse, or we can strategically attempt to revitalize the nation. Toward the latter course of action, let’s take a strategic journey into the following areas.

Stage one

Identify and study the faith tribes: who they are, what they believe, how they live, and what they are passionate about. From this exploration we will be able to better identify and understand the core values that drive the nation—and may serve as the route to a better future.

Stage two

Identify and examine the prevalent worldviews that America’s faith tribes embrace and determine what each body of beliefs and convictions adds to the American condition. Given our philosophical

leanings, we can then identify common values and principles that satisfy the views of the seven tribes. Acknowledging and pursuing those shared values can facilitate the healing and restoration of our nation. The necessary dialogue that must occur could revolve around our shared commitment to these ideals.

Stage three

Explore the reasons behind the failure of American leaders and institutions—political, religious, and family—to unite the nation around a set of shared values and goals. Consider why they’ve been unable to maintain a healthy and robust dialogue around the critical dimensions of modern life. Beyond such analysis, though, we will consider action steps that each of those critical entities could take to move America toward restoration.

Stage four

Americans are fighting wars on many fronts: financial, moral, religious, educational, military, familial, and so forth. We will end this journey with a challenge to adopt a common view of where we, as a nation, can go in unison. Accepting and mastering the challenge will then allow us to become better world citizens. The United States will face continued crises and challenges, but if the people of this republic can learn to share a set of values and goals that resonate with our most deeply held convictions, we will be better equipped to handle the trials and exploit the opportunities that arise.

THERE IS NO TIME TO LOSE

Hundreds of once-great societies have risen and collapsed in the face of similar challenges. From history, we can learn how to sidestep the tribulations that led to their demise. It is a multifaceted challenge that requires everyone, not just our best and our brightest, to participate in the solution. Greatness never comes by the government or charismatic leaders coercing the people to get in line. Cultural endurance is not the result of endless experimentation and self-indulgence. A satisfied citizenry does not emerge from being pampered and spared the hard work of investing in and sustaining democratic principles and practices.

If the United States is to enter its fourth century as a strong and enduring nation, it must embrace and embody the selfless values that carried the country through its first two-plus centuries of freedom and fulfillment. We are indeed a resilient nation, but if we insist on shedding communal sensibilities in favor of personal liberty and self-satisfaction, we will experience an agonizing demise. If, however, we remember that there is a greater good, indeed a higher calling, that we can collectively achieve, we can effectively contribute to making our nation and the entire world a better place.

Faith, shared values, compassionate and empathetic dialogue, visionary leadership, healthy families—these are the components of restoration that must be harnessed for the common good. We have the capacity. Will we use it?

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