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Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs [2 CD 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition]Albums in the 60’s could be frustrating. Everyone seemed in search of the hit single, not developing strong albums of strong songs. So, when I think of the albums produced by the Yardbirds and Cream (and the Kinks), I think of some great songs that Clapton played on. But not necessarily albums that stood out to me.

For Clapton, that changed (for me) with Derek and the Dominos one and only release, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Eric had spent time touring America with Blind Faith and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was the opening act. Some of those friends joined him to form Derek and the Dominos: Bobby Whitlock (keys & vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums).

Clapton’s sound had shifted. With the Yardbirds, the focus was on R&B, and with Cream it was blues rock. His time with Delaney & Bonnie seems to have moved him in more of a southern blues rock direction which would take up most of the 70’s. He also grew weary of fame, which may be a reason for “becoming” Derek.

Derek and the Dominos.pngThis album sounds like Clapton joined the Allman Brothers, and not just because Duane Allman played some slide guitar on this album. Other guests included Dave Mason (actually a member of the band for about a year, playing some live shows with them) and George Harrison. Mason grew weary of Clapton’s focus on helping George instead of them working full time as a band.

We owe the success of this album as much to Harrison as to Delaney & Bonnie. Derek and the Dominos formed during sessions for his All Things Must Pass Album. They had been jamming and writing songs before those sessions, but didn’t seem to have had much of a plan beyond the moment. The persona of Derek allowed Eric to sing about his unrequited love for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. George was his best friend, so this internal conflict was more encouragement to get stoned, and play guitar. It wasn’t just Layla that expressed this, but a number of the songs deal with love gone sideways and feeling like you’re going to die. For instance, Bell Bottom Blues which is probably one of my favorite Clapton songs:

Bell bottom blues, you made me cry.
I don’t want to lose this feeling.
And if I could choose a place to die
It would be in your arms.
Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I’d gladly do it because
I don’t want to fade away.
Give me one more day, please.
I don’t want to fade away.
In your heart I want to stay.
It’s all wrong, but it’s all right.
The way that you treat me baby.
Once I was strong but I lost the fight.
You won’t find a better loser.
The double album is a collection of original songs and covers of older blues standards and a tribute to Hendrix in Little Wing.
The album begins with I Looked Away, which is credited Clapton & Whitlock. We see the lost love theme right away.
She took my hand
And tried to make me understand
That she would always be there,
But I looked away
And she ran away from me today;
I’m such a lonely man.
It came as no surprise to me
That she’d leave me in misery.
It seemed like only yesterday
She made a vow that she’d never walk away.And if it seemed a sin
To love another man’s woman, baby,
I guess I’ll keep on sinning
Loving her, Lord, till my very last day.
But I looked away
And she ran away from me today;
I’m such a lonely man.

Related imageClapton’s voice cracks at times. The slide guitar chirps and Whitlock adds some background vocals. This is a short song, a mere 3:04, on an album dominated by songs 5 minutes or longer. But it sets the tone both musically and thematically.
Then it is 5 minutes of blissful agony with Bell Bottomed Blues (BBB). This is such a great song, written by Clapton and Whitlock. Clapton alternates his vocals and lead runs perfectly. The pain is seemingly evident in the whole song.
Keep On Growing doesn’t hit the heights of BBB, but it is a good song. It is about a young man who learns he has much to learn about love. It has plenty of instrumental sections to fill its 6 minutes.
Next we have the first cover, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out by Jimmy Cox. It is more of a straight blues song about a man who has lost it all and finds himself friendless.
Next Clapton used much of the Persian poem The Story of Layla and Majnun by Nizmai as the lyrics for I Am Yours. It is a song with more space than others on the album. Some acoustic guitar, organ and simple lead along with the lyrics seem to dominate. The repeated lines of “I am yours, however distant you may be” continue the theme of the album.
Anyday returns to the sound similar to the rest of the album, and Allman’s slide guitar. While touching on the rejection, it hangs on to hope that anyday now she will smile and receive him.
You were talking and I thought I heard you say
“Please leave me alone
Nothing in this world can make me stay
I’d rather go back, I’d rather go back home”
But if you believed in me like I believe in you
We could have a love so true, we would go on endlessly
And I know anyday, anyday, I will see you smile
Any way, any way, only for a little while
Well someday baby, I know you’re gonna need me
When this old world has got you down
I’ll be right here, so woman call me
And I’ll never ever let you down
Key to the Highway is another old blues standard written by Charles Seger, William Lee and Conley Broonzy. Eric would later play this on his album with B.B. King as well. In this song, he is leaving her. While there is one last kiss, there is no time to waste in heading for the border.
Back to their own compositions with Tell the Truth, about who’s been fooling who. This song doesn’t really stand out.
More upbeat southern blues rock with Why Does Love Got to Be so Sad?. The chorus is repetitive. He’s like a moth to the flame, however. He’s aware she’ll break his heart, but still there’s a song in that heart.
Stop running away;
I’ve got a better game to play,
You know I can’t go on living without you.
Have You Ever Loved a Woman is a song by Billy Myles. A blues song with plenty of good licks. We see why it is on this album when we look at the lyrics:
Have you ever loved a woman
So much you tremble in pain?
Have you ever loved a woman
So much you tremble in pain?And all the time you know, yeah
She bears another man’s name

But you just love that woman
So much it’s a shame and a sin
You just love that woman, yes
So much it’s a shame and a sin

But all the time you know, yes you know
She belongs to your very best friend

All this makes on wonder what it was like to hang out with Eric and George during this time.
Little Wing is by Hendrix and would also be covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Hendrix notes it is about the women you sometimes meet who flit in and out of your life but leave their mark. They leave sadness because they seem so far above us. Hendrix died tragically 8 days after they recorded this track which was devastating to Eric (and many others).
It’s Too Late is a cover of an Animal’s song. The reason it is too late is she’s gone.
Layla takes its name from the aforementioned Persian love poem. It is, of course, the best known song from this album and a staple on classic rock radio. Fittingly. The instrumental is a bit too long for some people. Not for me. Last night I learned that Clapton played a Les Paul rather than his Strat for this song. Layla is obviously Pattie. And Eric is obviously a mess.
I tried to give you consolation
When your old man had let you down.
Like a fool, I fell in love with you,
Turned my whole world upside down.
Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.
Layla, I’m begging, darling please.
Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind.
Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.
Please don’t say I’ll never find a way
And tell me all my love’s in vain.
It is strange to find a popular song so deep into an album. This is the 13th track! But it ended up on the Top 10 in 1971.
The album closes with Thorn Tree in the Garden. It is under 3 minutes. Bobby sings to acoustic guitar. It was written by him about the only girl he ever loved, and still misses. Musically, it doesn’t quite fit on this album. But it is the last song, and it is short so who really cares.
The band only survived this album. Perhaps they were done in by the drugs. But it was also the realization that it was fake, they were hiding and this was Clapton singing about trying to steal his friend’s wife. The album itself was not warmly received at first, by critics and the public. This fueled Clapton’s depression and addiction. Tragedy followed the members. Allman would die in an accident a year later. Radle’s drug and alcohol abuse lead to kidney problems that caused his death in 1980. Jim Gordon’s schizophrenia was not diagnosed (drug induced?) and he killed his mother with a hammer. He’s been institutionalized since 1984.
While initially not a success, it would chart in 1972 and again in 1982. It is known as one of the high marks of Clapton’s career. Sometimes the things that seem our biggest failures end up defining us, in a good way. The pain behind this album is obvious but it also seemed to bring out the best in Slowhand, producing music which touches the soul.
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As a former Particular Baptist, as they used to be called, I had an appreciation for Charles Spurgeon. While in seminary I did a paper in one of my history classes examining his sermons during the revival of 1859 to see how the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) were prominent and therefore consistent with revival.

I’ve found Michael Reeves’ books, Delighting in the Trinity and Rejoicing in Christ, to be engaging and informative. The former helped (re)shape my grasp of missions (including a critique/weakness of Christopher Wright’s tome, in other words, where is the love?).

So, imagine my pleasure in seeing that Reeves wrote the new book Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ. I decided I would read it during my vacation ritual this summer.

Reeves had no easy task in trying to put this together. The vast majority of Spurgeon’s writing are the transcriptions of his sermons. Not quite something you can easily read and grasp a comprehensive understanding of how he understood the Christian life. He is an unenviable position as he writes this book.

One of the interesting things about this series is that often the volume is written by someone outside of the subject’s tradition. Trueman, a Presbyterian, wrote the volume on Luther. Here Reeves, an Anglican, writes about the Calvinistic Baptist.

The sections cover the themes of Christ the Center, The New Birth and The New Life. As you might imagine, regeneration seems to be the central motif in Spurgeon’s view of the Christian life as understood by Reeves. We must become new people with new passions and all of that happens in Christ. Or thru Christ since the focus is not quite union with Christ. Explicitly, anyway.

He begins with a very brief biography of Spurgeon. He was a man of great passion, who felt greatly. He was known for a great sense of humor. While he used some humor in the pulpit, he was not a comedian as some pastors seem to think of themselves. Like Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon loved creation and allusions and illustration to trees, flowers, animals and more filled his sermons. Spurgeon also grew up reading the books in his grandfather’s library. Many of these were Puritan books, and he developed a great fondness for Bunyan, particularly Pilgrim’s Progress.

Christ the Center

He viewed the Bible as the Word of Christ about Christ. As a result, the Bible did not compete with Christ for our affections, but is the revelation of Christ for us to know Christ. To not love the Bible is to not love Christ. The Bible is living and active as a result. Jesus changes lives through the Bible.

In terms of translations, he held the KJV in high esteem, but not without criticism. There were times the translation frustrated him (as happens with me concerning other translations at times).

Spurgeon affirmed that not only did the OT point us toward Christ, but that OT saints are our brothers and sisters. We shared the same faith. We just know more of the faith. Christ is the center of our faith, and all doctrines find their proper orbit around Christ.

“A Christless gospel is no gospel and a Christless discourse is the cause of merriment to devils.”

He was fully Trinitarian. But we must remember that Christ alone is the Mediator between God and man. It was Christ who became human, obeyed, died and was raised for our salvation. We come to the Father thru the Son, so Spurgeon preached Christ.

As I mentioned before, he grew up reading Puritans. His theology was Puritan. Aside from the issue of baptism (and the ecclesiology that flowed from that)he was “Reformed”. He had a great appreciation for Calvin and understood Calvinism to be a shorthand for the gospel. He understood them as they were intended to be: Christ-centered.

Though he was a Baptist, he affirmed (and perhaps exceeded) the WCF concerning elect infants dying in infancy being saved by the work of Christ. In one place he extended this to all infants dying in infancy. I’m not sure we have biblical warrant for this extension, though I’d like it to be true.

Spurgeon was not dogmatic about Calvinism however (not a Gnostic Calvinist). He would affirm other preachers as long as they preached Christ. Reeves noted a sermon Spurgeon heard by a priest in Belgium. The priest preached Christ, much to Spurgeon’s delight.

Preaching was more than informing people about Christ. He saw his goal to draw people to Christ. While you have content, the target is the heart. This, in some strange way I’d love to talk to him about, was why he discourage sermon series. I was scratching my head. Sermon series can’t be used by God to transform lives?

The New Birth

Spurgeon was baptized as an infant. Like many new converts today, he read the Bible and believed he should be baptized after he believed. Spurgeon held on to his baptistic convictions despite the fact that many of the theologians he loved and respected practiced infant baptism. Reeves places this within the context of baptismal regeneration and a return to Roman Catholicism. Reformed paedobaptists don’t hold to baptismal regeneration. But it seems the fear of Roman Catholicism was strong in Spurgeon (I once was there too).

We see there the disconnect, or at least I do. He held that we are brothers and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and the rest. The covenantal principle seen in the sign of circumcision is that children receive the sign and seal of “righteousness by faith” (Rom. 4). Abraham had the faith, and the sign called his children to the faith. But Spurgeon breaks faith, so to speak, on this principle. He viewed baptism as a sign of our faith, not God’s promise. At times he warned of the baptismal font being a rival of Christ’s for paedobaptists. The same could be said for many of the credobaptists I’ve heard. So there seems to be another inconsistency.

I mentioned about the covenantal principle of visible and invisible church in the OT (and NT). Rather, he holds to the impossible prospect of the “pure church”. Credobaptism doesn’t create a regenerate church, as the rolls of many baptist churches indicate. Baptism doesn’t mean one possesses the reality to which the sign points, whether one holds to paedobaptism or credobaptism. The promise of the new covenant is isolated from how the NT actually speaks about the church (wheat & tares, for instance).

The new birth is necessitated by human sinfulness. We are not merely weakened by sin, but dead in sin and trespasses. We are hostile to Christ and the law in the unregenerate state. People are not neutral. God must grant new life for people to believe. Regeneration is a grace we receive, not because we’ve met any conditions but in order that we may believe. The Spirit uses the Word to give us this new life. He enlightens our minds; He shines His light into our hearts.

Without the cross, there is no regeneration. There is no salvation apart from atonement, by Christ. His focus on Christ’s death meant that he advocated for weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The message that saves is Christ crucified. It is also about the mortification of our sin in the present. Jesus aims to mortify our sin and give life to graces.

The New Life

The new birth necessarily creates a new life. The Spirit doesn’t give us new life and walk away. We are increasingly drawn to Christ and away from the sin that so easily entangles.

Another aspect of our new life is prayer as an expression of our union with Christ. Our communion with Christ doesn’t pull us out of the world but calls us into the world just as Christ went into the world.

“… nobody mixed with sinners more than our Lord.”

Reeves then returns to sanctification. Spurgeon held to the blood of Christ as the “double cure”: free from sin’s guilt and power. Christ’s blood removes our guilt, but in Christ we also died to sin. Saved by grace thru faith, we also begin to walk in the good works prepared for us. This new life is a gift, but we live it. The Spirit isn’t living for us.

Spurgeon made much of joy. It reveals that we serve a great Savior. It is the strength for our service to Him. Complaining and despondency rob us of joy, strength and vitality. But Spurgeon knew this first hand, as Reeves points out later.

As we grow into Christ, we increasingly hate our sin. And increasingly see our sinfulness. We become more sensitive to sin and recognize our sinful motives and not simply actions.

“As the man loves God more, and becomes more like Christ, he takes greater delight in prayer.”

Reeves then returns to prayer with its own chapter. Spurgeon saw prayer as essential, not only to the Christian life, but to ministry. The Monday Prayer meeting was attended by over a thousand people each week. He saw it as the engine of the ministry. It is the battlefield between faith and unbelief. Spurgeon, who didn’t like planned out sermon series, also didn’t like planned out prayers either. He preferred spontaneity. I think this is a more a matter of preference and personality instead of principle.

Reeves then shifts to Bunyan’s influence. We are pilgrims. But we are not solitary pilgrims. We are a community of pilgrims. But we are engaged in warfare- an army of pilgrims. The warfare motif wasn’t reserved for sermons, but Reeves shows that it influenced his private prayer journals. His was an active faith. Spurgeon oversaw “the Pastor’s College, the Stockwell Orphanage, seventeen almshouses for poor and elderly women, the Colportage Association, and a day school for children.” This was just the tip of the iceberg. He didn’t expect the government to solve his society’s problems. He expected the church engage them, and led the charge.

But life is not all flowers and sunshine. Afflictions come and spirits falter. Depression can come home to roost whether by circumstance or medical conditions. Spurgeon fought with depression. The incident in Surrey Gardens, a “joke” that panicked the crowd resulting in 7 dead and 28 severely injured, resulted in clinical depression. Spurgeon also suffered from “a burning kidney inflammation called Bright’s Disease, as well as gout, rheumatism, and neuritis.” At times he would be unable to preach for extended periods of time.

One reason we suffer is that Jesus suffered. The cross comes before the crown for us too, according to Paul. It is a sign of our adoption and union with Christ. We also learn to depend on Christ rather than ourselves. God also prepares us for greater ministry thru humility and empathy.

He wraps up with the hope of glory. This is not our best life now. Spurgeon likely was a premillenialist, but clearly not a dispensationalist. He was not into speculation. He was into focusing on Christ.

Summing Up

Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I finished the book thinking “That’s it?”. At no point was I stopping to ponder something more fully. This is the first volume in the series that disappointed me. This is not a volume I would be inclined to recommend to anyone (my favorite remains the volume on John Newton). This was more theoretical and geared toward the pastor, in my opinion. It also seemed to skim the surface.

As I mentioned above, the source material is so vast but due to his habit of not systematically preaching through the Scriptures. It is seemingly impossible to sort through and “systemize” the material. This is still unfortunate.

 

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While the world generally sees extroverts as making the best leaders, truth is that introverts also have leadership skills. They can be leaders too, and often are. How they lead will differ from how extroverts lead. This is the question Adam McHugh addresses in the next chapter of Introverts in the Church.

He begins with Moses arguing with God, as many prophets did, about being called by Him. McHugh may be guilty of some eisegesis here since I don’t think he’s essentially saying, “Look, don’t you know I’m an introvert.” He does rightly point out the theme of hiding found in the early chapters of Exodus. He was hidden as an infant so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill him. Hidden in the reeds of the Nile until Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. Moses hid the body of the Egyptian he killed. Moses hid from Pharaoh in the mountains of Midian. Now Moses is trying to hide from God’s call.

Most sane people do, initially. Shepherding people is harder than shepherding sheep. Not many people choose this for themselves. I didn’t. I love it now, but resisted my sense of calling initially.

This is particularly true of introverts. The social demands of ministry are draining. So are the expectations others place on us, particularly in a smaller church where there are no additional staff to help. Being in ministry is about people and involves people.

“Just because we lose energy doing something does not necessarily indicate we are not a good fit for it. I am convinced that calling, not personality type, is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader.”

As a Christian, we should recognize that God doesn’t promise that leadership will be easy, or feel natural. It takes place within the context of a world of sinners, including yourself. There is also the reality that His strength is made perfect in weakness. God promises to be with us, and strengthen us. It is not intended to be pursued by the powerful and highly competent. Christian leadership is not about you so much as about Him.

Thriving in ministry requires a few things. The first he mentions is self-care. In caring for others we cannot forget our own needs. Because introverts tend to internalize everything, dealing with failure (real or perceived) and disappointment can be constantly draining. We can carry the burden for everything and end up crashing and burning.

Moses, McHugh notes, was frequently on the brink; exasperated with the Israelites complaining and rebellion. They were often complaining about him. He tried to judge Israel all on his own, a long line of issues to be resolved piling up outside the Tent of Meeting. It all culminated when he struck the rock he was supposed to speak to in a fit of anger. This was why he never entered the Promised Land (an earthly, not eternal, consequence).

People in caring professions, like pastoral ministry, can experience compassion fatigue. They can become either depressed with the unending needs of others, or become callous to those needs. Self-care has internal and external dimensions. Internally, we tend to our own spiritual and emotional health. We pursue Christ, resting in His promises. We make use of the spiritual disciplines to enjoy healthy and health-giving communion with Christ. Feeding on the promises fights our typical internal pull toward despair and catastrophic thinking. We need to regularly hear His voice (in the Word) to combat the pessimism of our own (as well as the world’s & the devil’s). Additionally, some pastors take periodic personal retreats.

There must also be an outward dimension. He must have a support system, other people who encourage and listen. They help us to normalize our experiences so we aren’t catastrophizing. McHugh goes so far as to think therapy or spiritual direction should be mandatory for introverted leaders (I suppose it should also be mandatory for extroverts who lack self-understanding). I’d say it can be helpful for many. A good wife and a few good friends fulfill that need for many people.

In addition to self-care, introverted leaders learn how to monitor their energy levels through scheduling. Make sure to schedule time in the office, alone. This helps to reduce the compassion fatigue. After particularly busy seasons, I may take comp days, which is really taking an afternoon for a movie or a hike. I also work out after work most days. It deals with the stress, keeps me healthy, and prepares me to be home with the pressing needs there.

He then moves to ways in which we direct people toward God. He begins with preaching. Many introverted pastors feel quite comfortable preaching. It is a controlled environment (in most churches) and you prepare for it all week. You know what you will say, approximately how long you’ll say it, and there will be no questions requiring you to think on your feet. He then notes a number of ways to let your introversion shine in your preaching. Use pauses to “add gravity and contemplativeness”. You don’t have to fill every second. Modulate your voice (wisely) to maintain interest and indicate the important material. Use stories to make the abstract accessible. Use sermons as an opportunity to share something of yourself with them, so they can know you better. It is a way of building your relationship with the people that often doesn’t happen in small talk opportunities for introverts.

We also share our lives, investing in others. Let people into your home instead of treating it like the fortress of solitude. As a young Christian, the most important relationships with older men were forged by hanging out at their homes helping them with projects. Sadly, for them, I wasn’t much help. But we talked while working on roofs, replacing toilets and that kind of thing.

Lead by writing. Think out loud, so to speak, by blogging. Let people see or hear what you are thinking. I blog on a number of things particularly for the people I lead. The rest of you are welcome to eves drop.

We lead by spiritual direction, helping people to grasp what God may be up to in the patterns and rhythms of life. Much of that is listening and assessing. I wish more people came to me for this. But since many of them are introverts, they are already thinking about their lives. They are probably more self-reflective and don’t need me to help them reflect. At least this is what I tell myself as I ponder it.

He then shifts to what introverted leadership looks like. We will tend to impact fewer people, but often more deeply. This is like Jesus with the three. Introverts tend to invest in a few. I do this, in part because I can’t invest in everyone. Trouble is matching up those I want to invest in with those who want me to invest in them. Some people want more attention. Attention, not really investment.

Introverted leaders are more likely to equip others to do the work of ministry instead of trying to do the work of ministry themselves. Yeah, we can struggle with control too. I found in my previous pastorate that I was reluctant to let the worship team plan the music. Part of it was the friendship- I enjoyed those meetings as we often laughed together. But I had to trust them to do well to free myself up to do other things. In this pastorate I quickly realized they knew what they were doing and after a year let them doing on their own. Perhaps I need to pop in periodically to invest in those relationships, but they do a good job.

Introverted leaders are more likely to build leadership teams, not simply a group of ‘yes’ men. I want to collaborate even as I want to be in control. That joyful battle between the Spirit and the flesh. Perhaps it is hiding behind them, but I want us to do things together. We share responsibility for better or worse. Things move slower than I’d like at times (okay, most of the time) but that probably saves the church from my impulsiveness. I’ve seen too many pastors with dictator powers continually shifting the direction of the church instead of slowly moving in the same direction. One of the important lessons is that you need to make decisions as if you’ll have to living with them the rest of your life (instead of leaving them for the next guy because you’ve moved on to ‘greener’ pastures).

Finding y0ur place can be tough. I’m 7 years into this pastorate and still trying to find my place in Presbytery. I was thrust into my place when I was in FL. People saw gifts in me and put me in places of responsibility. Here? Not so much. Then there is the internal battle between being a faithful steward of the grace I’ve received and selfish ambition. In FL I didn’t seek those positions. I don’t want to seek them now. Maybe I should, but I am leery of my prideful heart. McHugh notes that many introverts actually thrive in larger churches. This is because people don’t expect pastors to be accessible. I want our church to be larger for a number of reasons. One is the gospel impact; I want more people to hear (and then share) the gospel in our area. One is being able to limit my responsibilities because there are other staff to do other things. I recently preached at a much larger church. It was great not having to lead liturgy and play guitar. All I had to do was preach and offer the benediction. It was refreshing. It would be great to invest in young men in ministry. In the past I’ve mentored younger men working at other churches in the same town. I miss that. I wish we were big enough to have interns, associate pastors etc. People who are there all day so we can talk and learn together.

McHugh then talks about leading different types of people. Leading extroverts is difficult because “they can view this internalizing tendency with suspicion.” I’ve seen that! Since we are processing things internally, instead of acting, they can perceive us as apathetic or indecisive. We will need to communicate more with the extroverts. There are certain people I clue in on what I’m thinking so they know their concerns and dreams aren’t being ignored even though nothing dramatic is happening. They can learn that progress is happening behind the scenes. You also make time to listen to their input.

This means I “over-communicate” for our introverts. Too many emails they think. But we need to repeat things, use body language, for our extroverted friends.

In leading introverts we need to give them space to speak. You have to wait them out in small groups, Session meetings etc. The extroverts will speak quickly, but the introverts will wait. If you move too quickly, you won’t hear from them. When I’m in a class, not teaching, I’ll often wait to see if someone else says something. But might wait too long for that teacher who moves on. Give people time to process their thoughts and gather the courage to express them.

Many of the things in this chapter were things I learned the hard way. Perhaps this chapter will help others to learn them the easy way.

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This weekend I read Zack Eswine’s short (140+ pages) book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. I wasn’t depressed, but I was preaching on Psalm 42-3 on Sunday. I had been meaning to read this book earlier, but other volumes always seemed to jump to the front of the queue. So, with a long weekend, the time was now.

I had already done much of my preparation and even written the sermon when I started the book. I added a few things as a result of the reading I’d done by Saturday night. I also changed my introduction.

“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Charles Spurgeon

What I discovered is that many people have never heard a sermon on depression. That is depressing. Just about everyone struggles with depression at some point, but for some it is commonplace and debilitating. The Psalm in question is one of the places where we learn that godly people can be downcast. It is no sin, but a manifestation of living in a fallen world.

Eswine’s book is written, or seems to be, with the depressed in mind. The chapters are short since often their attention spans are short. This is no tome, but meant to encourage people and let them know they are not alone in suffering from this malady. He also points us to Jesus who knew such negative emotions as the Sin-Bearer.

“Broken hearted one, Jesus Christ knows all your troubles, for similar troubles were his portion.” Charles Spurgeon

There are three main sections of the book: Trying to Understand Depression, Learning to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression, and Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.

Old SpurgeonThe first section helps some to name their experience. That may sound strange, but let me explain. For years I would get bad headaches and would want to sleep. These were different from what I was used to. One day someone told me they were migraines. I never would have imagined that I had migraines. Other people get those, not me. This is how many think of depression- that’s for other people. Eswine takes some of the mystery out of depression by reminding us how common it can be, and various ways depression is experienced (just as the Psalmist seems to do).

He brings us often to Spurgeon who struggled with depression all of his adult life. This is important for us to see that being depressed itself is not a sin and that real Christians can and do get depressed. There are also a variety of causes of depression: body chemistry, spiritual problems and circumstances. These interact with one another, and all are traced back to Adam’s sin in Eden. We are embodied spirits, so there is interaction between physical and spiritual realities. Not every depression is caused by spiritual problem, but every depression will have spiritual consequences. Because some have a genetic predisposition to depression means that they have a weakness, not that they are weak people. We all have weaknesses. But we don’t want to point a finger and condemn those who suffer as weak.

“Our misery has poisoned us with a tragic arrogance. Our pains have deluded our reasoning.”

In the second section he notes that diagnosis is not the same as a cure. There is no magic bullet for depression. It doesn’t take away the struggle, but helps us to understand some of the dynamics of depression. We can start to analyze ourselves and say “That’s the depression talking.” Depression obscures reality. It even lies to us (“It will never get better.”) and we struggle to sort out fact and fiction, like Peeta in The Mockingjay we have to ask “Real? Not real?”

He reminds us that not all who seek to help are helpful. Sincere people can do harm while they seek to help. We are also reminded of the Man of Sorrows who is able to help because He has experienced these cruel realities.

The third section is largely about coping with depression. He discusses feeding hope, one of the spiritual realities depression robs us of. Pouring out our soul, and filling it with truth is important. But it isn’t a cure-all. He mentions other ways we can care for ourselves in depression: rest, laughter, medication etc. Taking medication doesn’t make you weak or weird. You are not a 2nd class kind of Christian. It is the use of appropriate means, particularly when combined with other means like counseling. The medication helps you to function so you can talk, work and relate to others. I recommend keeping DVDs and books that make you laugh. They can serve as another life preserver when you feel like you are sinking down. These things are not substitutes for Jesus unless you use them to avoid Jesus.

“Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us.”

There is also the dark reality of suicidal thoughts. Many in deep depression consider ending the deep, unending pain they feel. It doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians. It just means their suffering is incredibly profound. Eswine handles this wisely.

There are benefits that come from such sorrow. These are not reasons to choose depression, but the good God works out of our depression which we might not experience any other way. We are able to exhibit more empathy with those who suffer. We are also better able to understand our weakness and profound need for Christ in all things.

“Perhaps, nothing in life reminds us that we are not God, and that this earth is not heaven, like an indescribable distress that sometimes defies cause and had no immediate cure, or no cure at all.”

I would recommend Zack Eswine’s book to pastors and counselors. It is not technical but is written quite simply so the former can understand depression if they haven’t experienced, and helps the latter to communicate about it simply. It is also a good book for those who suffer. They will remember they are not alone, but always upheld by One who was acquainted with sorrows. He draws much from the words of Spurgeon, as well as William Cowper and others.  It is not an academic treatment, but a very heart-felt one.

P.S. If you leave a comment about how depression is demonic, I will delete it.

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I recently picked up a book in an attempt to understand one of my children better so I can parent better. It is a book on the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I heard about the book from a congregant who thought I was a HSP. As I read some of the book this morning, thinking both of my child and my self, I found both confusion and clarity.

My Presuppositions: We are all broken, though in different places and to different degrees. As a result of Adam’s sin, we are not only sinners but we are also affected physically and emotionally. We are a mess, and while Jesus doesn’t keep us as messy we don’t always understand the mess. Is that messy? Some aspects of our brokenness are there from the beginning of our lives. They are genetic. The author mentions this with regard to HSPs. She sees them as “naturally occurring” on the spectrum of sensitivity. There are some, I gather she’d say, who look like HSPs but aren’t: they’ve been traumatized by something. Their increased sensitivity would not be innate, but picked up from their environment or circumstances. Some of our brokenness comes at the hands of others after birth: parents, friends, strangers. It is hard for us, much of the time, to tell which it is.

The Problem of Pop Psychology: Often times symptoms overlap. A condition is describe in such terms that too many people see themselves there. If you read too many books, you can think you’ve got everything. Or just the wrong thing.

Years ago I read Driven to Distraction on the recommendation of a friend who struggled with ADD and saw a similar struggle in me. Don’t confuse ADD with ADHD. I never saw myself as hyperactive, but I struggle to remain focused. I am easily distracted and have a hard time in environments like airplanes for anything much longer than an hour. I get restless leg syndrome, I can’t read anything more engaging than a novel and end up fairly miserable.

But do I have ADD? I can check enough boxes in the self-test to say ‘yes.’ But not only are we a mess, but a mysterious mess. Our symptoms could be explained by other things. For instance, the author of the book on HSPs distinguishes it from ADD (this was helpful!). They differ, apparently on where the blood flows more in their brains.

“Children with ADD probably have very active go-for-it systems and relatively inactive pause-to-check systems. … But ADD is a disorder because it indicates a general lack of adequate ‘executive functions,’ such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment. For whatever reason (the cause is not known), children with ADD find it difficult to learn to prioritize, to return their attention to what they are doing once they have glanced outside or know the teacher is not talking to them personally. … another reason HSCs can be misdiagnosed as having ADD is because, if the distractions are numerous or prolonged, or they are emotionally upset and thus overstimulated already from within, they may very well become overwhelmed by outer distractions and behave as if agitated or ‘spacey.'” Elaine Aron (The Highly Sensitive Child)

I can prioritize, reflect on outcomes and have a pause-to-check system. I am not a big risk taker. I am thoughtful. But I may be easily overwhelmed by data or sensory input. I can study to music and TV, but not to talking. Or apparently with an internet connection at hand. I may be distracted, but for different reasons.

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Theirs was an amazing friendship marked by triumph and tragedy. It was a friendship that produced the most famous, well-loved hymn of all time, and one of my favorite hymns.

After years of seeking a call to a church, and ordination, John Newton was called to pastor the church at Olney. He would become an increasingly influential figure in 18th century England. When they met for the first time in 1767, Cowper (sounds like Cooper) was a troubled young man. He was unstable and unemployed. They shared some common experiences, and helped each other reach greater heights than they could have if they had not met. God, in his providence, brought them together in order to give the church many good gifts..

William Cowper

Cowper was born in a well-established family that was well-connected in image conscious England. There were many expectations upon William. He grandfather, Spencer Cowper, was England’s Lord Chief Justice. Spenser’s brother Earl was Lord Chancellor.  William’s mother Ann was a descendent of John Donne, the 17th century poet and Dean of St. Paul’s. His father was a pastor and a fellow of Merton College Oxford.

William, like John, lost his mother when he was six. Where this seemed to harden John it appears to have broken William.

William studied law and a cousin had gotten him an appointment in the office of the Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords. First he had to make a preliminary before the bar of the House to answer some formal questions. Fear of this exam put him into an emotional tailspin that resulted in 3 attempts at suicide. He would be institutionalized for 2 years as a result.

Leaving the asylum, Cowper moved in with Rev. Unwin and his wife in Huntingdon. He stayed with them for 2 years, receiving instruction from the Rev. Unwin. In 1767, Morley Unwin was thrown from his horse and died. In God’s providence, Newton was visiting Huntingdon at the time. He planned on meeting the Unwins, carrying a letter of introduction for that purpose. Arriving in the midst of the tragedy, Newton comforted the grieving widow and her “adopted son” William. They shared an evangelical faith, and a love for long walks, good books and discussing topics of interest. After learning they would have to leave Huntingdon, Newton offered to help them find a place to live in Olney.

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It is always difficult to share the story of a personal tragedy.  It can easily come across as narcissistic.  We live in a culture of people who love to share their pain.

Sometimes your pain is incredibly public.  But it doesn’t go away when the cameras leave your driveway.  You and your family continue in pain, and many continue to wonder how you’re doing.  Sometimes you realize that others may find help and healing from your story.  You see that some of the good that God brings of the evil is to help others who suffer similar loss.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  2 Corinthians 1

Mary Beth Chapman opens the door on their private lives and pain in Choosing to See: A Journey of Struggle and Hope.  She walks the tightrope, but pretty much remains on track.  She shares her struggles before Maria’s tragic death and following that horrible day.  She is honest but not ‘graphic’; she does not delve into unnecessary detail.  For instance, she shares that she was sexually assaulted (date rape?).  She does not focus on the event, but the ways it affected her.

She adds a good dose of humor as well.  This is very good since there is so much pain in this story.  All but the hardest of hearts will weep.

While she seeks to make some sense of what happened, and there is a little theology, she leaves room for mystery.  She doesn’t claim to have all the answers about why.  It is about faith struggling to trust without answers.  That struggle began many years before her husband was famous.

“Looking back, I’m not sure if this works orientation is what my church really taught, or if this was how I perceived it.”

I like the honesty here.  But she isn’t blaming others.  She recognizes the weaknesses of memory.  For instance, CavGirl swears my in-laws were here for CavSon’s Gotta-versary dinner.  It was my parents who were here.  Mary Beth admits she had a faulty understanding of our relationship of God.  She’s just not sure of its origin.  Unlike many who bash fundamentalist churches, she does not lay the blame at their feet.  I found that refreshing, even though I’m not a Fundamentalist.

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