September 9

Praise for Soul of an Addict

“The book elucidates the agony of addiction in a fresh, new way. It emphasizes the role of trauma in setting the stage for debilitating behaviors, and explains the importance of community support in the healing process. With anecdotes of many people who grapple with addiction and have survived, as well as sad stories of addicts who died, this book provides healthy doses of grit and inspiration.” –Christopher Key Chapple, Loyola Marymount University

August 30

Now Available: The Soul of an Addict (and a free download)

It’s available! In both paperback and Kindle formats. The Soul of an Addict: Unlocking the Complex Nature of Addiction, by D.J. Mitchell.

Addiction is more complex than it may seem. Written for the non-addict who seeks to understand substance addiction, The Soul of an Addict shows that addiction not just a disease or a choice. Using statistics, anecdotes from the lives of addicts, and the author’s personal experience with addiction and recovery, the book argues that addiction affects all aspects of human existence, including identity, purpose, life structure, and morality. It serves as a religion in the addict’s life, and any approach to recovery must also provide these essential needs. With one in seven Americans struggling with substance abuse, this book brings a timely analysis for anyone concerned about addiction.

“A must-read… As a therapist I will be recommending this book to my clients.” –Milt McLelland, CMHC, Roots Counseling Center

For more information, click here.

Want a free look? Download the Introduction and first chapter here!

August 19

Coming Soon: The Soul of an Addict

Draft cover for The Soul of an Addict

My first non-fiction book is coming soon. The Soul of an Addict: Unlocking the Complex Nature of Addiction argues that addiction is far more complex than most models accept. Is it a disease? A choice? Yes. But it’s also more than either of these. In fact, addiction has the sociological characteristics of a religion.

The book is supported by statistics, anecdotes from my work with addicts, and stories from my own struggle with addiction. It will be available in two weeks.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Twelve, “What Is Recovery?”

Jenna was in her fifth round at a treatment facility when I met her. She dropped out before the end of the program and went back to using drugs.

Nate got clean and sober the first time he went to treatment and never used again.

Ben was sentenced to treatment by the court after his fifth conviction for DUI. He went to avoid prison, yet he got clean and stayed clean for many years.

Vivian had a spiritual experience after an alcoholic binge, attended Twelve Step meetings and never drank again.

Dan found sobriety in a church run by a pastor in recovery.

Al got sober through Twelve Step meetings while in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

Vern failed at treatment facilities and methadone clinics for years, but after doing some time in jail and living in his car for a year, he finally got clean in a Twelve Step program.

Treatment takes many forms, and has varying rates of success. But, whether an expensive rehab facility, a publicly funded treatment center, a church-based support group, or a cost-free Twelve Step meeting, some form of support is usually necessary to help us get out and stay out of our addiction. The reason is simple: If we knew how to stay clean and sober without treatment, if we could envision a way of life sufficient to replace addiction, we would have given up drugs already.

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is big business in the United States. In 2017, nearly three million people underwent treatment.[1] It’s estimated that Americans spend $30-35 billion a year attending rehabilitation centers for drug and alcohol abuse.

That doesn’t include the nation’s largest single “treatment” system: prison. According to researchers Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, nearly half of all federal prisoners, about 100,000 people, are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.[2] It’s estimated that half a million nonviolent drug offenders are incarcerated in state and local prison systems. [3] At an estimated $30,000 per prisoner per year, that’s another $15 billion expense that falls to the taxpayers.

In 2016, some 168,000 people on parole or probation were returned behind bars not because they committed a new crime but because of technical violations such as staying out past curfew. Sawyer and Wagner argue that the justice system is structured to promote failure, not to reward success.[4]

It’s worth noting that those who go through treatment are more likely to be white (about 80%). Those who go to prison are more likely not to be white (about 70%). The rate of addiction does vary slightly between races, but perhaps not as expected. Of the three most populous races, whites lead in substance abuse problems with 7.7%. Blacks have a rate of 6.8%, and 6.6% of Hispanics struggle with substance abuse.[5] Yet blacks are six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than whites.[6]

Jacob, a young African-American man, was arrested for drug-related offenses. While represented by a public defender, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Later, he managed to pay an attorney several thousand dollars to have the judge reconsider the sentence. It was reduced to one year followed by a court-ordered drug treatment program. Financial resources clearly make a huge difference in the outcome of drug offenses in the criminal justice system.

There’s another troubling statistic. In 2017, more than 20 million Americans sought treatment for a substance abuse problem. Only 12% of them actually received treatment. That’s a huge improvement over prior years. In 2014, for example, only 7.5% of those seeking treatment actually received it.[7] But still: out of every eight people who seek treatment, seven do not receive it. The most common reason cited, by almost half of those who could not obtain treatment, was lack of insurance coverage.[8] They couldn’t afford the cost.

Footnotes:

[1] Bose, Table 5.10A.

[2]“What America Spends on Drug Addictions,” Addiction-Resources.com, 2005 (https://www.addiction-treatment.com/in-depth/what-america-spends-on-drug-addictions/, accessed August 14, 2019). There are many more recent estimates on what Americans spend on the substances themselves, but I was unable to find a more current estimate of the cost of rehab. Gabrielle Glaser, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous,” Atlantic Feb 2015 (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-irrationality-of-alcoholics-anonymous/386255/, accessed August 15, 2019). “Offenses,” Federal Bureau of Prisons, Aug 9, 2019 (https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp, accessed August 14, 2019).

[3] Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020,” Prison Policy Initiative, March 24, 2020 (https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html, accessed May 15, 2020).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bose, “Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, 2018 (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.pdf, accessed May 15, 2020).

[6] NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet” (https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/, accessed May 15, 2020). Numbers for Hispanics were not included. Also see Alana Rosenburg, et. al., “Comparing Black and White Drug Offenders: Implications for Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice and Reentry Policy and Programming,” J Drug Issues 2017 47(1), 132-142 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5614457/, accessed May 15, 2020): Blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for smaller offenses; 49% of Blacks and only 10% of whites in the study were convicted of marijuana possession compared with 7% of Blacks and 50% of whites convicted for heroin possession.

[7] Rachel N. Lipari and Struther L. Van Horn, “Trends in Substance Abuse Disorders among Adults Aged 18 or Older,” The CBHSQ Report, SAMHSA, Jun 29 2017 (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2790/ShortReport-2790.html, accessed August 15, 2019). Compare Rachel N. Lipari, Eunice Park-Lee, and Struther Van Horn, “America’s Need For and Receipt Of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2015,” The CBHSQ Report, SAMHSA, Sep 16 2016 (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2716/ShortReport-2716.html, accessed August 15, 2019) reports that 10.6% of those who sought treatment received it in 2015. The percentage receiving treatment has

[8] Bose, Table 5.50A, shows 421 of 1,033 (41%) surveyed either didn’t have health insurance, or had health insurance that didn’t cover treatment.

August 18

Coming Soon: A Long-Awaited Sequel

I finished writing Benji’s Portal more than five years ago, and almost immediately began the sequel. But it got delayed by grad school…

I’m putting the finishing touches on it now, and it will be published before the end of the month. Here’s an excerpt:

“How is my sister?”

The doctor sighed.

“Unchanged, I’m afraid,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that we don’t know why she is sick.”

Benji frowned.

“How can you not know?” he asked. “Look at her! Something serious is happening to her. But you don’t know why?”

The doctor sighed again.

“Let me tell you what we do know,” he said. “Her condition stems from a problem in her brain. It’s not related to any other system. But we can’t identify why her brain is malfunctioning.”

“Why not?” Benji pressed.

“Brain chemistry is extremely complex,” the doctor explained. “And her brain chemistry, and presumably yours, differs from what we see on Parisa. Many of the chemicals are the same, but they appear to play different roles in your brain than in ours. So we don’t have the knowledge to determine what’s normal, and therefore we have no idea what’s not normal.”

“What about mine?” Benji asked. “If you checked mine, that should show you what normal is, right?”

“It would show us what is normal,” the doctor said, “for a young man who is just beginning puberty. But we don’t know how similar that would be to a young woman who has already reached biological adulthood.”

“So what do we do?” Benji asked. “You’re saying you can’t treat her?”

The doctor sighed again, his expression pained.

“That is what I’m saying,” he confirmed. “And it’s not an answer I’m happy with, but I’m afraid we just don’t have enough knowledge about her biology. I would suggest that you take her back to your home planet, where they are familiar with what normal brain chemistry looks like for someone from your planet.”

Benji felt his heart sink. On the one hand, he welcomed the chance to go back to Earth and see his parents. But on the other, he knew that his own people’s knowledge of brain chemistry was limited. His mom had often warned that psychiatrists threw medicines at a problem rather than trying to understand it. They had no ability to measure brain chemistry. Instead, they used trial and error, as if each patient was a guinea pig. Compared to Parisa, Earth was extremely primitive when it came to psychiatry.

But it didn’t look like he had much choice. Lisa needed help, and the doctors on Parisa couldn’t help her.

“Can I spend a few minutes alone with her?” Benji asked the doctor.

The doctor glanced at Tamar, and then back at Benji.

“Of course,” he replied.

Then he and Tamar left the room, closing the door behind them.

Now alone with Lisa, Benji went to her side and took her hand.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked yet again. “And what do I do about it?”

He began to cry, deep sobs that made his chest heave.

“How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?” he lamented.

Then he heard a voice, though whether it was Lisa’s or his own, or someone else’s, he wasn’t sure.

“You’re not listening,” it said.

Benji stopped in mid sob.

“Listening to what?” he wondered.

“You’re asking a question, but you’re not listening for an answer,” the voice said. It sounded very far away.

“Okay,” Benji said in his mind. He asked again: “What is wrong with you, Lisa?”

He listened hard.

At first, he heard nothing. Then, gradually, he began to hear a whisper in his mind. As it grew louder, he recognized the voice as Lisa’s. But he couldn’t understand the meaning of her words.

“Black and white, grey and red,” Lisa said. “What happened has not happened. What I saw I did not see. What I did not see I will see again. Red and grey, white and black. Backward or forward, it is all the same.”

“Lisa?” Benji called, his mind to hers. “Lisa?”

“Benji,” she replied. “Thank God. I only can hear you a little through the noise, and I can’t see you through the colors.”

“What colors?” Benji asked.

“Black and white, grey and red,” she repeated.

“I don’t understand,” Benji said.

“Neither do I,” she replied. “Can you help me?”

Benji choked back a sob.

“I’m trying, Lisa,” he assured her. “I’m trying. But I don’t know what to do.”

Farchedan,” she replied.

That struck him as an odd expression for her to use.

Benji emerged from the room to find the doctor and Tamar conversing together telepathically. He approached them and took their hands.

“You’re right,” he told them. “If there’s nothing you can do for Lisa here, then I should take her home. Our psychiatry is primitive compared to yours, but at least they’ll be familiar with her brain chemistry. And I don’t know what else to do. Maybe my parents will have some idea. I’m sure they’ll want to be with her, even if they don’t know how to help her. So I’m going to take her back to Earth.”

“I think that’s wise,” the doctor agreed.

Watch for news, more details, and updates!

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July 25

The Story of the Mythics

It’s a love story, a mystery, and a story of self discovery. But most of all, I wanted to write something fun to read.

I began writing The Mythics 30 years ago when I was still an agnostic. From the beginning I intended it as Christian allegory, and though I didn’t know it yet, I was nowhere near ready to complete it. It began with a character, Elm, who was a religious outsider like me. His story leads him between the simplistic, often legalistic beliefs of the society he lives in, and the mysterious person and beliefs of “the old man.” a nameless monk who lives in a lost city in the mountains who receives visits from an even more mysterious old woman who may or may not actually exist. Even in those early days, I recognized the mystery of God. Indeed, God was so mysterious that I had yet to find him!

But society tries to make belief easy. On the one hand there is the legalistic tradition that tells us to fit in and do what everyone else is doing. The Edict and the Station represent these, a system of keeping everyone in their place, similar to a caste system. Though Christianity doesn’t have caste, it does have the tradition, emphasized by Martin Luther and John Calvin, that God puts everyone in a particular role and we should be happy with what we have. Some are born rich; most are born poor. This has often been used to justify economic oppression.

The other religious fallacy in the book is represented by the followers of Trinus, a twisted representation of God masked in a holiness tradition and led by men seeking power. Trinus, of course is a thinly disguised metaphor for the Trinity– not the true Trinity but a popular belief that disempowers God to make him nothing but our judge in the afterlife. Many theologians, for example, believe that the Holy Spirit works in us only as we read Scripture. They leave no room for healing or revelation. The religious leaders hold the power, and they allow only conventional interpretation of Scripture, often from a particular English translation. But Scripture is richer than that. It contains multiple voices seeking to explain complex mysteries that cannot be put into words. And English, flexible as it is, nevertheless cannot capture the richness of Hebrew or Greek. The Bible, especially in translation, only points us to God. It cannot contain God. Nor can any human person comprehend the mind of God.

While some may balk at my representation of the old (perhaps apostolic) religion as a pantheon of Gods, this was intentional: God does indeed have many faces, from the three men who ate dinner with Abraham and Sarah and the mysterious figure who wrestled with Jacob, to the burning bush seen by Moses and the still small voice heard by Elijah. But at the root, God is what Genesis tells us: all powerful, male and female. When we dissect God and choose to honor only parts of the whole, we aren’t worshiping the true God, hence the prophecy in the book of the reunification of Sun and Moon.

All of this was envisioned in my first few years of writing the book. But I couldn’t finish it. I continued to work on the book off and on for many years. I’d make some progress, develop the world and its characters. But I couldn’t see the ending because my own spiritual path was still too incomplete. I had studied theology at a university. I came to believe in God about a decade after I started writing because of a powerful spiritual experience. I began reading the Bible regularly. But I still had no real knowledge of Christ or the Holy Spirit. I tried several times to bring the book into a final form, but none of my attempts satisfied me.

It wasn’t until four years ago that I truly met Christ and saw the Holy Spirit at work. Only then could I tie all the pieces of this story together coherently.

There is much more to the story than religion, of course. It’s a love story, a mystery, and a story of self discovery. But most of all, I wanted to write something fun to read. Religion provides an inescapable backdrop, but I didn’t want the story to get lost in it.

You get to judge whether I succeeded. Those who have read it have enjoyed it. I hope you will, too.

 

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July 22

Praise for Ordinary World

“No matter my protests, no matter my awareness, I am of Babylon and I shall suffer its eventual fate.” (Ordinary World)

One reader describes this as “among the most poignant lines ever written.” It seems particularly relevant now.

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July 21

Luke 1: The Prologue

Luke introduces his Gospel with a long prologue, a run-on sentence that spans four verses. This cannot compare with some of Paul’s, to be sure. But for many years it did discourage me from looking at it closely. I discovered much later what I’d missed. Luke’s prologue is rich in meaning. It tells us much about Luke’s perspective, and what he intends his Gospel to do.

But much of that gets lost in the conventional English translations because they stay close to the literal meaning. We shouldn’t dismiss the literal meaning, of course. But Greek and English differ greatly. Some words in Greek carry a more specific meaning than their English counterparts. And some Greek words allow much more ambiguity than the English translation.

Let’s take, for example, the Greek word ἐν, a simple preposition meaning “in.” In is in, right? How complicated could it be? Yet the definition of the word isn’t quite that simple:

properly, in (inside, within); (figuratively) “in the realm (sphere) of,” as in the condition (state) in which something operates from the inside (within).

You can see that this doesn’t entirely correspond with the English word “in,” and we don’t really have a word that carries that meaning.

Many translators substitute the English word “among.” That’s because for someone in 1st century Greco-Roman culture, perhaps especially in Jewish culture, a person was identified with the group to which they belonged. Where a Greek-speaker might say that something happened “in” a group, we as individualists would be more likely to say “among” the members of the group.

When we look at a translation like the NRSV and compare it with the Greek, we find that it leaves out a lot of the subtle meaning of the words. It comes out flat and lifeless. The NIV offers little improvement. And the KJV, while its language remains beautiful, doesn’t really come close.

But when we depart from the literal translation, we are challenged to remain true to the author’s actual meaning. Whenever we try to mix connotation with denotation, we risk distorting the meaning. As I translated this passage, I tried to consider its literal meaning, the more subtle implications of the words used, and the text it introduces. It took more words to convey the meaning, and the sentence was already too long for English, so I split it in two. Both sentences are still long, but I don’t see how to break them down further without losing meaning.

So here, for better or worse, is my translation.

Many have tried to arrange an encompassing narrative to express the magnitude of the things revealed in and among us, which from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word have passed on to us. As one who has been involved myself, and after careful investigation of every part of the story, it seemed good to me to put this in a narrative to you, most noble Theophilus, so that you would come to experience that which you have been told and thus know it with certainty.

You’ll notice that in this translation, Luke emphasizes the aspect of revelation, that Jesus’s life and death revealed something new and astounding that others have not adequately conveyed. Obviously the most prominent feature for Luke was the inclusion of the Gentiles– us. But as we work through his Gospel, we’ll see more. For Luke, the coming and work of the Holy Spirit among (and within) us cannot be overstated. While Mark, like Luke emphasized an economic message, for Luke this economic shift is inseparable from the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom.

Another aspect that this translation includes is the distinction between head knowledge, “that which you have been told,” and heart knowledge, that which we truly know because we have experienced it. The Greek word ἐπιγνῷς means not just learning, but knowing through experience or relationship.

Luke intends for his Gospel to achieve that experience and relationship. He wants not to convince us, but to bring us into relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit. He wants to influence not merely our minds, but our hearts.

July 18

Luke: Who Are the Many?

Many have undertaken to draw up an account… (Luke 1:1 [NIV])

As I said in my previous post, Luke begins by alerting us that he’s going to say something that “many” have so far failed to say. Who are these “many”? We don’t know. But we can make some educated guesses.

Most scholars believe that Luke wrote sometime in the 70s, about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This puts it about the same time as Matthew, after Mark, and before John. Some insist that because Acts ends with Paul’s arrival in Rome and doesn’t mention Paul’s execution in 64, Luke must have completed his work before Paul’s execution. But we should remember that Luke tells us not only what happened, but what it meant. Symbolism is important and, as I said before, Luke does nothing by accident. His major movement tracks the Gospel coming from Galilee to Jerusalem, then to Samaria, and finally to the Gentiles. Paul’s arrival in Rome represents the great victory: the Gospel comes to the seat of Empire itself. This final movement provides the finale for Luke’s narrative of the Gospel. The martyrdom of Paul (and of Peter as well) adds nothing to this movement– and for Luke, the Word eclipses those who carried it. Acts does not tell Paul’s or Peter’s story, it tells God’s. As a writer, Luke need not include all information, only that relevant to the narrative.

So let’s assume that Luke and Acts were indeed written in the 70s. This gives us more context to guess at who the “many” may have been. Paul’s letters were in circulation. The Gospel of Mark had already been written. These two sources are fairly certain.

Many scholars think there existed a written collection of the sayings of Jesus, which they call Q, used by both Matthew and Luke (as well as Thomas, and may have been available to Paul as well), but no copy of it has ever been found. Did Q actually exist? Possibly.

Some argue that Luke had access to Matthew’s gospel. I tend to agree, having found literary evidence that Luke responds to some of Matthew’s positions. I’ll write more on this later, but let me give as example the language Luke uses in his version of the parable of the lost sheep. Matthew emphasizes the sheep on the mountain– the symbolic representation of Zion as the place to which the nations come– using language that echoes Isaiah. This was important symbolism for the Jewish community. But it put Jews at the center of Christianity. Matthew was a Jew writing to a church of Jewish Christians. Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes that the Gospel goes out to the Gentiles. His version of the parable emphasizes the wilderness and doesn’t mention the mountain at all. We can see a similar change in the Beatitudes, placed by Matthew on a mountain but by Luke on a plain, a level place. For Luke, equal access for the Gentiles is a major theme.

Let’s consider another possibility: The Gospel of John claims to have been written by an eyewitness. Scholars still debate whether John the Apostle or someone else wrote it. In one theory, admittedly not widely held, the “beloved disciple” refers to Lazarus, the one man John’s gospel tells us Jesus loved. Moreover, it would make sense to wonder if Lazarus would ever die (John 21:23), since he already had. Some believe that the name “John” comes from the man who transcribed Lazarus’s words, possibly “John, whose other name was Mark” (Acts 15:37). Considering this in depth would take more time and space than this post allows. However, this eyewitness probably had already begun teaching, and Luke may have had access to those teachings as well. We do see some interesting common word use between Luke and John.

In summary, we really don’t know what sources Luke had. Certainly Paul and Mark had been written. Possibly he also read Matthew, Thomas, and an early version of John. And the mysterious document called Q remains a possibility.

We can say one thing with certainty: the Greek word for “many,” πολλοὶ, emphasizes the number being considered. It can be translated “multitudinous.” Luke responds to more than just one or two accounts. And it shouldn’t surprise us, even before Christianity became widespread, that the momentous events of the life of Jesus created a great deal of talk and written consideration.

Luke tells us that he plans to tell the story in a way it hasn’t been told before. And that’s exactly what he does.