Monthly Archives: June 2021

The Magic of Everyday Life

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.

~Boris Pasternak~

I learn daily of the number of American soldiers dying in Iraq. I hear less about the much larger number of dead Iraqis. I read of the ingrained hatreds among groups around the world and wonder how things could have come to this. The problems seem overwhelming. How could the world be a different place?

Just when things seem most hopeless, something happens to remind me that life is still full of wonderful surprises. They do not appear every minute or maybe they do and I just don’t notice them. When I sense them, they remind me that people are on earth to enjoy what God has put before them rather than to find more efficient ways to destroy each other.

I have seen the most glorious sunset I could imagine at Sunset Beach in Oahu. I was present at the births of three healthy babies entrusted to my safekeeping. I looked down on the Grand Canyon from thirty five thousand feet in the air.

I have heard Dvorak’s Symphony From the New World played in a park in Pittsburgh and the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute sung in concert as well as whistled on the street. I have heard my grandson Joey talking a mile a minute after having to learn sign language because of his delayed speech.

I have smelled the scent of holly flowers meant to attract bumblebees. I have enjoyed the aroma of honeysuckle pervading the countryside and the fragrance of night blooming cereus wafting `across my front porch.

I have tasted Evil Jungle Prince sitting in Keo’s Honolulu Restaurant among the orchids, sipped Sangria at a modest restaurant in Gijon, Spain and relished Pat Davis cakes at family celebrations.

I swam in the Sea of Cortez, felt my hair stand on end as I touched a Van de Graf generator and had my hand tickled by a salamander scooting across my palm.

These are a few of the sensory experiences which have surprised me over the years. I did not plan or expect any of them to happen and they are by no means the only pleasant surprises I have encountered during my journey through life.

Thomas Moore in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life helps us regain a sense of wonderment about the many mysteries of the world waiting for our exploration and appreciation. Diane Ackerman in A Natural History of the Senses gives us a context for appreciating all that our senses bring to our life experience.

I am sure there are many delights I have encountered in passing but have not dwelt upon sufficiently and many others which I have not taken the time to even notice. I hope I can set aside my concerns to better notice the delights God has placed along my path. I also hope that delight in nature can help turn the world people’s attention from its conflicts and give them a context in which to start appreciating each other better.

Action Steps

·         Recall what has delighted you over the years.

·         Think of the last delight you encountered.

·         Which of your life experiences means the most to you?

·         Think about how you could delight someone you care about.

·         Set aside some time for wonderment about the world you live in.

Selection from Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage by Joseph Langen

Review of Janet Bloom’s Book Co-parenting Hell: Raising Healthy Kids With a Narcissistic Ex

Co-parenting Hell

This is a book written by a mother of children, now divorced from her husband. The book

begins with the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-Version 5 (DSM-V). The author describes the book a based on her experiences but refers to the American Psychiatric Association and professional writings she cites. The book presents as a combination of memoir and handbook for other parents in her situation. She talks about having achieved peace and emotional freedom. Yet a few paragraphs later she refers to “my ex (the bastard)” Hmmm.

The author describes narcissists and their characteristics. She relates most of them to her experience and observations of her ex-husband’s behavior. It was unclear to me the extent to which the narcissistic characteristics to which she refers relate to professional writings or strictly her own experience of her ex-husband.

The author describes narcissistic traits related to the DSM-V criteria related to professional writings and her own experience. She talks about her experiences and observations in a colloquial manner which I found easy to follow and understand.

She discusses early family influences setting the stage for the development of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She makes it clear that this condition is not a choice people make for themselves. It is a condition which tends to run in families and which may be at least partially genetic.

The book goes on to describe the difficulties of becoming detached from a narcissistic spouse who is not negotiating honestly. The author describes how such people try to manipulate the authorities, the courts and even their ex-spouse’s family to their advantage. Trying to negotiate with such a person is often a losing proposition.

Balancing and coordinating the time each spouse has with the children can also be fraught with difficulty and may need the help of lawyers and the courts to keep the arrangements under control. The author presents a long list of possible co-parenting issues in detail and suggests specific approaches to managing each of them.

Also discussed are issues which indicate the advisability of therapy for children caught in the divorce and post-divorce struggles. Therapy is seen as “critical to co-parenting success” among other supports but does not elaborate on how therapy might be helpful to parents.

The author addresses a large variety of issues likely to arise while managing co-parenting with a narcissist. She also provides specific recommendations for managing each of these issues. She addresses complex difficulties involving relatives and how they can be manipulated by narcissistic ex-spouses.

She ends by emphasizing the need for self care. She also stresses taking the time and making the effort to recover from the trauma of being married to a narcissistic spouse or of being the ex-spouse of one, especially when children are involved. Although these issues could all suggest the help of a therapist, the author does not specifically address how a therapist could help with this process. Yet she does discuss an extensive list of actions an individual might pursue in the interest of recovery from this very difficult series of situations.

The author suggests that the best way of managing these difficulties is not to become embroiled in a relationship with a narcissist. I would wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion. Yet narcissists can be very seductive and present a false front for a while. If you find yourself in this situation, this book could provide you with a useful roadmap through the narcissistic jungle.    

Reviewed by Joseph Langen, Ph.D., a retired psychologist and writer about the human condition and the world in which we find ourselves.

Review of Geraldine Brooks’ Book, Caleb’s Crossing

Review by Joseph Langen

Martha’s Vineyard is one of my favorite spots on earth and I feel fortunate to spend time there every Fall. Caleb’s Crossing, being largely set there, immediately grabbed my interest. This story takes place in the sixteen hundreds and involves a family led by a British missionary in what is now Martha’s Vineyard. Also featured are the Native Americans now known as the Wampanoag people who once had run of the entire island. Now they are found mostly in the western end of the island in the town of Aquinnah.

The title Caleb’s Crossing suggests that Caleb is the main character and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. It turns out that this is a fascinating subplot rather than the main story. There indeed existed a student, Caleb Chooshahteaumauk, from the people identified by a variety of names but now known as the Wampanoag. He did graduate from Harvard in the seventeenth century.

Although there were indeed missionaries named Mayhew, Bethea, the main character, is “entirely fictional” per the author. In this riveting tale of the times, she is the daughter of a missionary who becomes friends with Caleb early in life and maintains her relationship with him into adulthood.

The writing is in the voice of Bethea and may at first seem somewhat stilted to readers in the twenty-first century. The style is suggestive of how people in the seventeenth century wrote and spoke. After the point has been made the writing style changes in later chapters to one with which we are more familiar now.  

This is a story about events which could have happened in the seventeenth century and what it was like to live on the island and in Cambridge, situated in what was the Massachusetts Bay Colony at that time. Available historical details were gleaned from contemporary records held by Martha’s Vineyard libraries and agencies as well as from records maintained by the Wampanoags.

The story chronicles daily life at the time as well as the struggle between religious doctrine and customs of the missionaries and the nature based beliefs of the Wampanoags. These included the clash between religion and common sense, racial discrimination against the native peoples, limited rights and opportunities for women and a harsh life for many people. Despite the rigor of the times, the story suggests that, as always, people found ways to connect with each other in commerce, friendship, and romance despite the rigors of the culture in which they lived.

I particularly enjoyed this story about what might have happened centuries ago in a place I have come to love. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.    

Learning How to Stay in a Relationship

Selection from Joseph Langen’s book Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage

Love does not consist in gazing at each other,

but in looking outward together in the same direction.

~Antoine de Saint-Exupery~

When I first worked with couples, I thought the key to a better relationship was good communication. As I continued my career, I realized that marriage and similar relationships were more complicated than that. I also learned that there is no easy solution to staying together. Half of all marriages last and half don’t, despite a commitment “til death do us part.” I have not encountered any reliable statistics on the comparative success rate of relationships outside of marriage.

Most people say they got together because they love each other. But what does that mean? Love can mean sexual or romantic feelings, finding someone who cares about you or whom you care about. Many potential partners look for someone to take care of them. They might also be in the market for someone to take care of. Yet it is very easy to fall into the trap of depending on someone who might not always be there or trying to control the other person to keep the relationship the way they want it.   

What does it take to keep the commitment alive? In his book, Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch suggests that one of the most important tasks is for each spouse or partner to know himself or herself before entering into a commitment. If you don’t know what you want from life, how can you reasonably expect another person to share your life with you? What are you asking the other person to share?

Let’s assume that two people understand what they want from life, share their goals with each other and agree to support each other in attaining together That’s a good start. But wait a minute. Think back to how your life was ten, twenty or thirty years ago and what was important to you back then. Have you changed? Most of us have and are quite different now than we were in the past. There is no way to absolutely predict what you will be like in the future or what your partner will be like. 

Your chances of staying together improve greatly if you both enter your relationship with a sense of adventure. You are setting out on an unknown voyage. Life circumstances, finances and health might alter your voyage considerably. You or your partner might both learn new life destinations. You might learn new ways to approach life taking you in different directions than you agreed on when you began your relationship. It will take a great deal of flexibility from both of you to weather all the challenges and surprises life has in store for you. To be successful, you must be responsible for meeting your own goals and support your partner in reaching his or her goals.    

Life Lab Lessons

·        Learn to know yourself and what is important to you.

·        Share your life goals with your partner.

·        Encourage you partner to share his or her life goals with you.

·        Find ways to support each other’s goals.

·        If you clash, look for ways to compromise. Book available at Amazon:

Ten Things We Forgot About Jesus

The Jesus you learned about in Sunday School doesn’t exist

Written by Dan Foster and published in 6/6/2021

Dan FosterFollowJun 6 · 10 min read

Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen on Unsplash

When I was a kid growing up in the church, we sang a hymn that described Jesus as “gentle Jesus — meek and mild.” It left me with the conception of Jesus as a cooperative, compliant, docile, passive, and largely timid figure. Now that I think about it, projecting this image of Jesus was probably part of some strategy to teach ten-year-old me how to behave.

Be well-manned and nice.

Jesus was nothing like that.

In fact, Jesus was — in a cultural, social, and religious sense — a real trouble maker. Do yourself a favor. Open the Bible and discover who the real Jesus actually was. You might just have some misconceptions destroyed.

You see, somewhere along the line, we create a ‘Jesus’ in our own image and began to impart that image to the world. But, unfortunately, the reality is that the Jesus you learned about in Sunday School probably doesn’t exist.

If you grew up in the church, then I can’t speak for your experience. But, here are ten things that they didn’t teach me about Jesus in Sunday School — that have reformed my understanding of who Jesus actually was:

1. Jesus was not white

I want you to do an experiment for me. Go to google and do an image search on “Jesus.” The pictures that appear in your search results represent what people think Jesus might have looked like. What do you notice?

Yes, that’s right!

More often than that, Jesus is imagined as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white guy who, to be honest, would comfortably fit the physical requirements of Hitler’s Aryan race.

Except he was a Jew.


And because Jesus was a Jew, he almost certainly had Jewish features, such as olive skin, brown eyes, and black hair. Yes, Jesus probably looked more like that Middle-eastern man who lives in your neighborhood — you know the one who you treat as an object of suspicion and scorn — the one you speak of when you complain to your other white Christian friends about how Arabs are overrunning the country. Yeah, that guy — he looks more like Jesus than you do.

Source: Google Image Search

2. Jesus was a common name

If you walked through the streets of Jerusalem in 30AD looking for Jesus and decided to do that by yelling out his name at the top of your lungs — “Jesus! I’m looking for Jesus! Has anyone seen Jesus!” — chances are you would find a Jesus, but maybe not the one you were looking for.

Many people shared the name. Jesus’s given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. In fact, archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus’ death. The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four separate characters — including a descendent of Aaron who helped distribute grain offerings (2 Chronicles 31:15) and a man who accompanied former captives of Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2).

What is more, Yeshua is better translated into English as “Joshua.” How many Joshuas do you know? Probably lots!

3. Jesus was a refugee

I don’t know how refugees are treated in your country, but in my home country — much to our shame — we tend to lock them up in detention centers for months on end until we establish whether or not they have a good reason for claiming refugee status. If not, we send them back to their own war-torn country.

Yet Jesus was a refugee.

Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, had to flee the nation of Israel to the relative safety of Egypt because of state-sanction infanticide. The whole gruesome episode can be found in Matthew 2:13–15:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”

King Herod, who was about as crazy as they come, killed every child under the age of two, just in case one of them might happen to one day threaten his own rule. Jesus — and presumably some other — managed to escape.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

4. Jesus had a day job

After the death of King Herod, Jesus and his family finally returned to Israel where Jesus did what other young men in first-century Palestine did — he became an apprentice in the same trade as his father — starting at the age of thirteen (the age when Jewish boys were considered to be men).

Since Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was thirty, that means that Jesus spent a good 17 years working in an ordinary dawn-til-dusk day job. He became a carpenter. You could imagine he became very good at making things after so long in the trade, and perhaps it would not be uncommon to find some “Joseph and Sons” furniture somewhere in Jerusalem.

Needless to say, by the time he steps into public life, Jesus was well and truly ready for some long-service leave.

5. Jesus had brothers and sisters

Yes, Jesus was part of a family unit. Although he was the first-born child, Mary and Joseph would go on to have other children as well. We do not know exactly how many, but the Bible mentions four brothers named James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, as well as an undisclosed amount of sisters (Matthew 13:53–56).

If you thought the dynamic in your family was difficult, can you imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph with one of their children claiming to be the Son of God? Needless to say, Jesus was viewed as the black sheep of the family, and on at least one occasion, Jesus’s Mother and Brother rock up to where Jesus is teaching to try to pull him into line. (Mark 3:31–35).

Make no mistake, Jesus’s siblings were a little embarrassed by Jesus’s antics, and, as far as we know, none of them followed or believed in him while he was alive. However, all of them became believers after his death, which argues the case well for a resurrected Jesus. Jesus’s brother, James, was particularly scathing of Jesus in his life, but then went on to become the first bishop of Jerusalem, wrote the Epistle of James, and eventually surrendered his body as a martyr for the faith. That’s quite a transformation!

6. Jesus liked to party

No doubt, part of the embarrassment that Jesus’s siblings felt towards him was related to the company that he kept and the events that he attended. Jesus was known as a man who enjoyed a drink, especially in the company of those who others thought a bit disreputable.

Matthew 11:19 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine. He’s a friend of tax collectors and other sinners.”

Tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and the ancient equivalent of religious extremists (known as zealots) — they were all part of Jesus’s inner circle. He was unashamed to be seen with them. He would visit their homes, share food at their tables and love them without pretense.

7. Jesus was homeless

Jesus said of himself, “Foxes have holes. Birds have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Matthew 23:10–12). After Jesus stepped away from his day job as a carpenter and began to teach and ministry, he left behind his home and the creature comforts thereof.

After that, Jesus relied largely on the hospitality of others who welcome his message. In his travels, Jesus and His disciples regularly found lodging in the large home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus at Bethany, near Jerusalem; and it is apparent from reading the Gospels that many people offered Jesus the hospitality of their homes. Some Bible scholars believe Jesus lived in a house at Capernaum with Simon Peter and his family (Matthew. 8:14–1517:24–27).

Image by Bob Bello from Pixabay

8. Jesus broke social taboos

Jesus did not pay much respect to social, cultural, or religious traditions. He was much more interested in reaching, serving, and helping people, and if that meant dispensing with tradition, then so be it.

There are lots of different taboos I could include here. I have already mentioned the fact that the kinds of people that Jesus associated with were considered improper for a good Jewish Rabbi. However, his treatment of women was particularly striking.

In Luke 10, Jesus allows a woman called Mary (there seemed to be so many different Marys in those days!) to sit at his feet while he taught. On the surface, this might seem degrading to her, but it was actually the elevated position that a disciple would sit in, in relation to a Rabbi. She was being treated as an equal with the men! The fact that many women were part of Jesus’s ‘in-group’ was culturally ground-breaking.

Then, in Luke 7, a woman comes to Jesus and weeps in repentance at his feet, washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair — in the company of the Pharisees no less! In those days, women were not even supposed to speak to Rabbis, let alone touch them. This was scandalous! And yet, Jesus lovingly picks her up off the floor and restores her.

There in John 4:1–30, there is a story of the brief interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Not only is she a woman, but she is also a member of a racial group that Jews typically despised. Yet, Jesus starts a conversation with her and treats her with a kind of grace that she would never have experienced before.

I could go on and on. Jesus never let a cultural expectation get in the way of an opportunity to love.

9. Jesus was a criminal

Let’s be perfectly clear. Jesus was executed as a criminal. He managed to achieve that feat by repeatedly and deliberately breaking the religious laws of the day — at least in the eyes of the religious leaders. What Jesus actually did was violate the interpretations that religious leaders had developed around certain biblical commands. To put it simply, he broke the laws that the Pharisees had invented to make people keep the laws.

The religious leaders in Jesus’s day believed in strict observance of what was known as the Sabbath Day. God ordained the Sabbath Day to be a day of rest — a good idea if you ask me.

However, the religious leaders took this good and life-giving concept and burdened people with many absurd regulations to make sure that people were truly resting — from how far you were allowed to walk before it was considered ‘work’ to how much you were allowed to carry to what food you were allowed to prepare. Even boiling water was outlawed on the Sabbath.

So, you can imagine the outrage when Jesus broke the Sabbatical Laws on multiple occasions. In fact, Jesus performed at least 7 of his miracles on the Sabbath Day. Rather than rejoicing at the fact that people were being healed, the religious leaders were incensed that Jesus had dared participate in the ‘work’ of healing people on the sacred day of rest. Jesus challenged them by saying“Which is the right thing to do on the Sabbath day: to do good or to do evil? Is it right to save a life or to destroy one?” They had no answer for him, but inwardly they seethed.

Jesus refused to stop doing good just because it was a particular day of the week — and for that, he was considered a law-breaker.

Image by Raheel Shakeel from Pixabay

10. Jesus was killed by religious people

“Their lives are not good examples for you to follow. They tell you to do things, but they don’t do those things themselves. They make strict rules that are hard for people to obey. They try to force others to obey all their rules. But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.” Matthew 23:3

This was Jesus’s warning to the people about the religious leaders of his day. It’s a fairly honest and brutal assessment about the kind of spiritual leaders Jesus was dealing with. It cost him his life.

Jesus was handed over to be executed by the good, Bible-carrying, church-attending, rule-observing, spiritual leaders of his day — make no mistake.

Perfectly human, perfectly God

So, what do we learn about Jesus from these ten things we forgot? When I look over this list, I am struck by his humanity — his familiarity with the common struggles of people.

We are talking about a man who, as a child, fled his homeland as a refugee. We are talking about a man who experienced a difficult family dynamic and all kinds of sibling rivalry. We are talking about a man whose hands were calloused by working the tools of his trade for many, many years. We are talking about a man who knew what it was to be misunderstood, despised, and rejected. We are talking about a man who knew pain, suffering, and death. So, ultimately, we are talking about a man who can and does relate to our lives — even today.

Not only am I struck by Jesus’s humanity, but I am also amazed at how he managed to navigate all of the challenges of being human in a way that revealed his divine nature.

He rejected the man-made religious systems and structures of his day and instead brought a kind of grace and compassion that was truly divine. He demonstrated an other-worldly ability to heal, forgive, restore, love, and accept people as they are. If Jesus’s chief goal was to reveal the loving nature of God to humanity, then I dare say he achieved that and more.

The World of Blooming, Buzzing Confusion

The World of Blooming Buzzing Confusion


Selection from Joseph Langen’s book Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage

Try to find your deepest issue in every confusion
and abide by that.

D. H. Lawrence

I was sitting on my porch the other day watching trees blooming and cars buzzing by. I thought of how the nineteenth century psychologist William James described the world as babies first see it, a world of “blooming, buzzing confusion.” Other psychologists have since speculated that babies can make more sense of the world than William James first thought. The dispute does not seem to have ever been settled to anyone’s satisfaction. But then, babies aren’t prone to lengthy explanations of their world view.

As adults, our world still seems to consist of blooming, buzzing and everything in between. Trees, flowers and plants slowly and gracefully unfold to share their beauty with us. People often buzz by, not wanting to share anything with us. They just wish we would get out of their way.

I have wondered lately where everyone is heading in such a rush. If we work ourselves into a lather trying to save a few minutes, what are these few minutes like when we finally get them? Can we enjoy them or do we need them to catch our breath after rushing to wherever we are headed?

Sometimes I think we are preoccupied with where we are coming from and where we are going, forgetting to enjoy the journey in between. I remember when I was young and our family would sometimes take a ride in the country. We weren’t trying to get away from anything in particular or heading any place special. The ride itself was the whole point of the adventure.

What would it be like if we looked at our lives as a ride in the country? What if we got our minds off what we were trying to accomplish with our lives, even for a little while, and instead concentrated on enjoying the journey?

We don’t often think to do this. Sometimes it is easier after a major illness or other setback. We are reminded that we won’t be here forever. Even if we win the rat race, we are still rats.

We can slow down from time to time or even stop to enjoy our lives rather than letting them slip by as we race to our next destination. On holidays, we tend to take time out from our hectic pace, but often we find chores to occupy us rather than spending time with the treadmill turned off. We can even fret our way through vacations. We work hard to make sure we are having fun rather than just letting the vacation happen.

Do you remember the Simon and Garfunkel suggestion “Slow down, you’re movin’ too fast” from The 59th Street Bridge Song? I think they had the same reaction to the bridge that I had to the traffic whizzing by my porch. Our lives lie in the space between where we start and where we end. Don’t let your life get away.

Action Steps:

  1. When was the last time you took time out from your busy schedule to just enjoy life.
  2. What was it like?
  3. When do you plan to do it again?
  4. What do you think you might have missed while rushing through your life?
  5. What would it be like to live your whole life in this moment rather than constantly pushing yourself to the next goal?

Book available at Amazon: