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Book Review

Book Review Tags: Alcohol Use, Challenge of Alcohol Abuse

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Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization By Edward Slingerland

Many thousands of years ago, alcohol was a lot more directly useful to humans: Fermented grapes and grain could be safer than water to drink, beer and wine contain a more concentrated source of calories and micronutrients than their raw forms, and fermentation also preserves and extends the life of some raw ingredients. But in the 

University of British Colombia Professor Edward Slingerland’s new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization first explores existing theories. Our love for alcohol could be a genetic accident, and/or it may have been useful to our primate ancestors at one time, but we just haven’t evolved to avoid it as fast as we adapted to liking its buzzy impacts. Slingerland casts doubt on these theories and sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Unlike chimpanzees and other creatures, humans adapted to a unique “ecological niche” so that we don’t need sharp claws or flesh-ripping teeth to collect food, and our digestive systems are optimized for that food to be cooked rather than exclusively eaten raw. Our ability to thrive is not due to rugged individualism but connected to culture: our ability to trust each other, cooperate, find creative solutions, and build on the cumulative knowledge of previous generations and other people. And to help build crucial, constructive cultural bonds with other people, we go out for drinks.   

So goes the central argument of the book. In order to survive and thrive, humans need to be creative as well as cooperative. Alcohol comes to the rescue primarily through suppressing the functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain that is the “center of cognitive control and goal-directed behavior” that takes over twenty years to fully develop. While most of the time the PFC is the key to humanity’s success, taking it offline to enhance one’s mood for a few hours on occasion is extremely useful: It assists us in making creative free associations (“write drunk, edit sober”), and particularly in building bonds and trust with others at work and in society (“I love you, man!”) in order to foster cooperation. 

This, he argues, is true not only of after-work happy hours, neighborhood barbecue parties, and diplomatic dinners but also of other drugs and situations. Other intoxicants used around the world, including peyote and kava, and intense rituals like Sufi whirling dancing, ecstatic singing as is practiced in some religions, and even the “runner’s high” that marathoners experience can bring us into similar headspace. But Slingerland asserts that we prefer alcohol above the other options because drinking a glass of wine is a lot quicker than dancing for hours, you don’t need to commit to a 12-hour mind-bending out-of-body experience, and it is relatively easy to control the dosage.

 

Drunk then sets out to prove this overriding theory, citing a huge amount of research across fields including history, anthropology, biology, medicine, and more (the endnotes and the bibliography take up a bit over 50 pages) to show that alcohol is “the chemical tool that allowed humans to escape the limits imposed by our ape nature and create social insect-like levels of cooperation.” 

Of course, alcohol is not a perfect performance-enhancing drug.  The final of five chapters examines the downsides of alcohol. Slingerland asserts that the negative health aspects of alcohol are amplified by the twin curses of the development of high proof spirits and drinking outside of social occasions; aka “distillation and isolation” that “may fundamentally change alcohol’s balance on the razor’s edge between usefulness and harm.” It’s a bit of a bummer for those of us who enjoy a whiskey as a nightcap. 

Book Review

Book Review Tags: Inner Peace, Personal Peace

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The Inner Chapel: Embracing the Promises of God by Becky Eldredge

“The Inner Chapel: Embracing the Promises of God.” By Becky Eldredge. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2020. 212 pages.

“…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:6).

For Becky Eldredge, the journey to her inner room began when she was a student at Louisiana State University, where an announcement at Sunday Mass led her to sign up for a “Busy Person’s Retreat.” Upon discovering that this retreat, unlike others she had participated in, revolved around not group discussion but individual spiritual direction and daily prayer, she admittedly had second thoughts. “I was a tad anxious because I had no idea how to really implement daily prayer into my life,” she remembers. “Minutes before the opening meeting ended, I almost changed my mind when I thought ‘What in the world did I get myself into?’”

Happily, she did not change her mind, and this book, “The Inner Chapel: Embracing the Promises of God,” is one of the many things that resulted. It was written, she tells us, to fulfill a promise she made to her dying grandfather, Boppy.

“Becksa,” he had asked, “promise me you’ll tell people what we understand about God’s love. Promise me you’ll tell people that they are not alone. Promise me you will not stop what you are doing and will keep sharing the Good News with others.”

The Inner Chapel that Eldredge shares with her readers is placed firmly within the tradition of Ignatian spirituality and is based primarily on praying with Scripture. Guiding readers to their own Inner Chapel, she leads one step at a time by sharing not only her life experiences but the things she discovered while on her own journey to a deeper relationship with God. Between the two, this book is a happy combination of both the practical and the inspirational.

Each chapter in the book focuses on a particular theme. In chapter eight, for instance, which is entitled “There is Rest for the Weary,” Eldredge poses a set of questions to help readers evaluate whether or not they are experiencing unacknowledged weariness – discerning, as St. Ignatius taught, whether they are in a state of consolation, “feel(ing) more alive, more connected to God and other people,” or in a state of desolation, which is marked by feeling “listless, tepid and unhappy” as well as a sense of being disconnected from God .

The remainder of the chapter then discusses how to go about finding the kind of “Sabbath” rest that God intended to renew our spirits. At the end of this chapter, as is the case with every chapter in the book,

Eldredge invites readers to go to their own Inner Chapel. For this particular theme, the focus is on what she terms a “parched land meditation,” in which she helps the reader look for and finds Jesus’ living water. She then has suggestions for creating ongoing “rituals of rest,” and ends with Scripture passages for meditation called “Embracing the Promises of God.”

Other chapters deal with such things as “We are never alone,” “We Belong to Someone” and “We are Loved – Unconditionally.”

 

However, the overriding theme that ties the book together is the certainty that, no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, God is already in our Inner Chapel, waiting for us to enter and inviting us to an ever-deepening relationship with Him. “My prayer and hope for each of you as you read this,” Eldredge says, “is that you understand in a bone-deep, knowing way what my grandfather understood on his deathbed and what I came to understand. … There is an exquisite gift given to each of us – the inner chapel. And visiting it often allows us to discover the promises of God.”

Book Review

Book Review Tags: Biblical Visions, Resilience

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Biblical and Theological Visions of Resilience by Christopher C. H. Cook and Nathan H. White

The editors of this innovative volume of fifteen essays justly belief that it provides ‘a much-needed perspective on resilience’ (2) as they compiled scholarly resources grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition to counter the prevalence of ‘naturalistic materialist assumptions’ in the current discourse on resilience. White and Cook, both 

well-versed in theological, pastoral, and clinical contexts and the integration of faith and science, understand how to phrase their viewpoint to make it a valuable contribution to the interdisciplinary dialogue. And likewise do the contributors to this book who are also established researchers with a Christian faith background. All contributions reflect thorough scholarly engagement with the respective material which is presented in a way that is most accessible to readers from outside theological or biblical studies. Yet, it seems that the breadth of themes and approaches offered as examples of theological and biblical perspectives have not allowed for in-depth discussion of partial or potential incompatibilities between Christian theological and secular psychological concepts of resilience. Consequently, the suggestions for clinical integration of the ideas presented are not always compelling. I suggest that at the root of the divergence between academic disciplines are fundamentally unlike worldviews, which I shall return to at the end.

The book is divided into three sections: biblical, theological, and practical visions of resilience. The biblical visions consist of seven analyses of texts from the Old and the New Testament. The first four chapters look at the adversity experienced by the people of Israel, how they coped with it and the role of their relationship with their God. Noel Forlini Burt’s essay is a convincing theological reading of Deuteronomy 8 based on the linguistic analysis of selected Hebrew words. For a definition of resilience she draws on previous scholarship on the intersection between the Bible and resilience which pointed to the three resilience-enabling activities of thinking, remembering, and believing, and argues that Israel grew in resilience through the wilderness experience by applying those three movements. This resilience is dependent on God and characterised by a relationship with him, the integration of experience into a larger narrative and the sharing of the same. This idea is also at the heart of Jonathan D. Bentall’s treatise on the book of Jeremiah. Resilience here comes from repentance and covenant faithfulness, but ‘genuine resilience and restoration of well-being must ultimately be grounded in a relationship of trust and dependence upon YHWH’ (45). That is, resilience comes from divine, not human, agency and a feature of this resilience is that the experience of suffering is not replaced but the prophet Jeremiah ‘continues to bear the marks of the wounds even in his resilient adaptation and persistence’ (53). Explicit accounts of distress by biblical figures are provided in the Psalter and the book of Lamentations. Rebecca W. Poe Hays highlights how in Psalm 69, resilience is built through ʻupwardʼ (to God) and ʻoutwardʼ (to the faith community) relationships and storytelling. David Janzen depicts a ‘failure of narrative’ (66) in the narrator’s endeavour to make sense of Israel’s collective trauma as a consequence of the inability ‘to reconcile competing and incompatible explanations’ (63) for their suffering. Beyond the theological truth, this essay is particularly valuable for its portrayal of human reality, the experience that the survival of trauma refuses a coherent explanation of suffering.

 

The key role of a relationship with, and the power of, God continues in the New Testament perspectives on resilience, along with the eschatological hope of renewed life in eternity. Andrew J. Byers examines the Johannine literature which provides a picture of resilience against the adversity of hatred, persecution, social expulsion, and execution. Adversity is not avoided but necessitates resilience which, again, consists in faithfulness to God (‘abiding’, 80) and the believers’ ‘new identity as God’s children’ (73). Thus, ‘resilience is not self-generated […] but ultimately a divine gift’ (80). The same theme of remaining steadfast in the Christian faith against surrounding adversity (‘resilient existence’, 92) is present in Steven J. Kraftchick’s discussion of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Resilience does not come from ‘some inner will, some innate strength, or moral competency [but is] a function of trust in the God who redeems […]. It is a cultivated habit of faith, not a capacity to be called upon by force of will’ (87). Hope and relationship to God are also the markers of resilience in the first letter of Peter as explored by Katherine M. Hockey. For the Christian community faced with hostility resilience is not demonstrated by well-being and riches in this life, but the focus is on ‘the ultimate goal: faithfulness to God leading to salvation’ (102).

While this volume indeed adds a valuable perspective on resilience, it is important to highlight that it is precisely a Christian faith perspective that is presented here. Unfortunately, none of the authors critically engage with the fact that theology thinks within a framework that is fundamentally distinct from that of psychology. Resilience in psychology addresses primarily the psyche and well-being in this life, whereas the biblical and theological literatures tend to focus on the soul and are ultimately concerned withsalvation in the life to come. Yet, it is a psychological definition of resilience (adversity, coping resources, positive outcome) which is used throughout this volume and the attempt to integrate theological thought feels a little clumsy and inconsistent at times. I would have preferred if the analyses and reflections in each essay had been concluded with a theological definition of resilience which, as suggested by Tyler in his chapter, needs to include reference to the transcendent. In the essays in this book, resilience comes from and is directed towards God. The relationship between the person and God is essential. For me, the consequence is that a theological resilience is retained for the Christian believer and the question is then, what biblical and theological visions on resilience have to offer in a secular, interdisciplinary discourse. It is nonetheless the book’s merit to have taken a first step to reach out, set an example of incorporative thinking and make the conversation about the multidimensional concept of resilience an inherently interdisciplinary one.

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