Journey through Grief by Painting

January 29, 2007


Ellen Berman is an artist of great courage and an even greater capacity for love. Her daughter, Sarah, was born in the early 1970’s with severe brain damage and a seizure disorder. Since Sarah would never be able to live what we would call a “normal” life and since she would die at age 17, Ellen was no stranger to grief and mourning. My wife and I had the honor last evening of hosting her presentation of slides of her paintings reflecting her feelings for her daughter. The audience was about two dozen psychologist-types interested in the Arts Committee of the DSPP (Dallas Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology). Ellen is clearly a good painter, as evidenced by her shows at the Conduit Galleries in Dallas, owned and directed by Nancy Whitenack, whose attendance made the evening all the more special. Moreellen-berman-self.jpg personally, I was moved by the enormity of a mother’s love for her child. These sensitive paintings reflected the mood of a caring mother working through years of anguish and wrenching emotions, often without expressing any words. So another point of appreciation for me was seeing how painting allows (causes) one to simply be quiet and pay attention, rare in our modern-day culture characterized by running and doing. Ellen said that whether you are doing the painting or whether you are looking at it you have to be quiet and sensitize yourself to the piece. One of the personal benefits of painting for Ellen was that, “While people would stare, I really wanted them to look, but I wanted them to look on my terms.” What a sensitive use of the medium of paint.

I also learned something new about still life painting. Salomon Grimberg, a Dallas psychiatrist and author of a biographical book on Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, explained to me that as people are reminded of the temporality of life, they want to hold on to the day-to-day things they love. So still life and portraits tend to address this issue of the pain. I have since reflected on the anguish expressed in Isaiah in the context of comfort:

“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass (40:6-7).


Nothing we have on earth lasts forever, but we can savor the experiences that move us at the deepest level and that enrich our lives. And we can share. Thanks, Ellen.

Where are the Singles in America?

January 22, 2007


National Geographic Magazine has published an eye-opening map that shows where single adults are living. Males (Blue dots) tend to live in the Western urban areas while females (Yellow dots) tend to live in many eastern cities. Why? About 58% of college students are women, many of whom join the white-collar workforce after graduation. Males, on the other hand, tend to gravitate toward areas where agriculture and construction are prominent, partly because many of them are illegal immigrants. Once again, the Mississippi River serves as another line of demarcation!

Teaching Boys about Masculinity

January 16, 2007

boy-in-mans-arms.jpgIt’s ironic that I should first learn about Joe Ehrmann (All-American football player at Syracuse University as well as a pro football player for 13 years) by reading a Dallas Seminary publication. Then, when I saw that the topic had to do with the loss of true masculinity in our culture, I thought it would be a rather boring treatise to pump up skinny young boys to seek manhood through devotion to athletics with it’s spirit of teamwork, goal setting, sacrifice, etc., etc. Wrong! Follow what he said:

We teach our boys three lies about masculinity (1) that it is determined by athletic ability with an emphasis on competing and winning, (2) that it’s all about sexual conquest, and (3) that it has to do with economic success — the size of your salary and the power associated with your job title.

Nearly 3,000 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah complained about the same thing: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches.”

Ehrmann finished on a positive note. “At the end of your life, when you want to measure what kind of man you are, it’s all about relationships.” (1) the capacity to love and to be loved, and (2) a commitment to a transcendent purpose.


Back to Jeremiah, who finished his godly perspective on a similar positive note: “. . . that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Click on Veritas and select the October 2006 for an Adobe Acrobatdownload of the entire article.

Wing Haven: A New Resource for Domestic Violence Victims

January 1, 2007

domestic-violence.jpgThe statistics (click here) are both surprising and horrific. For example, 1 in 4 women is physically abused and this abuse occurs across every socio-economic class. It’s very common. It’s increasing. Pregnant women are at risk. It affects a lot of children.

Most folks respond to domestic violence in one of three ways: (1) Ignore it because it’s not hitting close to home, (2) desperately look for a place to turn for help because it’s a reality, and (3) look around for ways they can help. I want to address the third category. Maybe you would be moved to help a new work get activated.

Carol Bauman and Sarah McOwen met with me recently to tell me about their work in progress. They are literally building a unique place for victims to go called Wing Haven. This program will provide (a) airfare to a safe, remote, confidential site, (b) on-site counseling for women and children, (c) opportunities to learn new hobbies and participate in activities, and (d) on-site career counseling and workshops on job skill development and goal setting. They need financial help as well as volunteer help. Check out their web site and view the slides and, if you feel moved, give them your support.

Children Need Two Parents

January 1, 2007

child.jpgSomeone once said, “The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.”  Ok, it’s a little corny, but I think the divisions between rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged, etc. are important to understand.  Kay Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has some fresh insights into this division in her new book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age

marriage-caste-in-america.jpgIn essence, she says the division between the poor and the rest of us is best defined by the difference between people who see marriage as an indispensable condition of child-rearing and those who don’t.  She emphasizes that cohabitation is not the same as marriage and does not get the job done.  Although her work is not founded on a platform of the Christian faith, I note that all her findings fit very comfortably within that framework.  For example, she writes, “marriage orders life in ways that we only dimly understand.  It carries with it signals about how we should live, signals that are in line with both our economy and our politics in the largest sense.”   From my perspective, marriage aligns us with God’s order within which we are to learn about Him. 

two-parents.jpgIt’s a peculiar thing that 92% of children live with two parents in families with over $75,000 annual income while only 20% of kids live with two parents in families with under $15,000 annual income.  What’s missing, according to Ms. Hymowitz, is the “life script” for future-oriented child-rearing.  That is, marriage and children are connected!

Child-rearing skills are also sadly lacking in unmarried America.  For example, the average words heard per hour are 2,150 for a professor’s child; 1,250 for working-class children; and 620 for children in welfare families.  What’s more, the talk of the welfare parents is typically meaner and more distracted.   These statistics remind me of my wife’s favorite Proverb that deals with the importance of language in child rearing:  Death and life are in the power of the tongue” — Proverbs 18:21

I  heard about Kay Hymowitz ‘ book through an e-mail review by Smartmarriages.

Does the Church Need Another Reformation?

January 1, 2007

luther.jpgDr. John Hannah gave a substantive and thought provoking presentation a couple of months ago (on Reformation Day) in a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel. He challenged us as heirs of the reformation to preserve the essence of what the reformation did, namely to restore the clarity and glories of the gospel. It was not simply a reaction to Late Medieval corruption in the church. But in recent times, we have been slowly but tragically redefining the gospel. We water it down when we reduce the Bible to a source of inspirational myths and stories lacking authority in our lives. We dilute it when we redefine sin as lacking the discipline to become all that we can be. We trivialize the gospel when we minimize the cross to a piece of jewelry or the end of a good man’s life. When the gospel is trivialized, Christ is dishonored. At the end of his talk, John said,

“My cry before you today is . . . to consider the possibility of a new reformation. Another, a second, joyous rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ that will set us from ourselves and turn us unto a zealous quest for the proclamation of the true gospel, for a new breed of followers who recognize that the cross always precedes the crown, that eternal glory follows momentary suffering, that a true follower of Christ should not be driven by a success motive but by a love-of-Christ-and-his-mission motive.”

Like John, I am concerned when I see churches moving away from the basics of God’s plan of redemption for us. I have copied the text of John’s entire talk below. It’s worth a read.


The Gospel Clarified: A Joyful Celebration, Something to Remember and Something to Perpetuate

Dallas Theological Seminary — Reformation Day, 2006

My thesis today is a simple one. Four hundred eighty nine years ago today the greatest event since Pentecost catapulted into visibility a most profound evidence of the grand, invisible reality of the great metanarratve that began at the dawn of time and will only be consummated at its end. While it is often right to celebrate great moments and heroic figures, to walk through meticulously arranged and manicured cemeteries with thousands of white crosses perpendicularly placed with the names, rank, and life-span of the young, it is only the outward arena of a far-more profound story. It is that deeper, invisible, yet truly real, story that we come to today.

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