Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review and Link Roundup: Living Beyond Your Feelings

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Living Beyond Your Feelings
        
Author: Joyce Meyer
        
Author’s web site: www.joycemeyer.org
        
Date: 2011
        
Publisher: Hachette
        
ISBN: 978-0-446-53852-7
        
Length: 261 pages
        
Quote: “We can learn to manage our emotions rather than allowing them to manage us.”
        
Regular readers may think that, when I read the above advice on Living Beyond Your Feelings, the global TV-star televangelist was preaching to the choir. They would be right. As discussed here, I have some serious objections to Joyce Meyer's use (and some e-friends' use) of the word "forgiveness" to refer to what I'd call "releasing the emotion." 
        
First let me explain that, although I can’t forgive Joyce Meyer, I have no personal grievance with her either. She spent years building up this TV personality that has become rich and famous and has been asked to write books. The corporate marketing machine has made these books bestsellers...allowing them to displace other books in bookstores and even in public libraries, but why I think public libraries should seldom be allowed to buy new books is a different rant. These books read as if they were hastily written. If you've been reading Christian books for a long time, you've already read most of the Christian counsel in Meyer's books; what's new in them will be the author's personal voice and anecdotes. If you're young, or a new Christian, Meyer's books are fresh, current, easy to find in new clean copies, and generally a good place to begin.

And lots of Christian writers have used the terms "forgiveness," "pardon," and "release" interchangeably; this is not a new or original point of confusion. Confusion about the peace Christians find in releasing the emotions of anger, and the peace Buddhists try to find in detachment from everything, has been widespread for at least the past two hundred years. I think it's important to distinguish these things; readers need to know that many good Christian writers confuse them.

Buddhist detachment is a purely personal decision to withhold your attention and emotions from other people, as it might be because you believe as a religious doctrine that the real world outside your head is only an illusion, or because you have been advised by a doctor that you need to shield yourself from emotional situations that raise your blood pressure. With all due respect to Buddhist readers, I think history makes it clear that although Buddhist detachment can save the life of a hypertensive individual, Buddhist detachment is not good for entire cultural groups. People suffer more when they try to detach their emotions from the world, and passively accept suffering, than they do when they engage with the world and work to reduce the causes of suffering. Buddhist detachment is a good technique for individuals who are at risk for strokes and heart attacks, provided that other Christians will (as Jesus actually taught) “bear their burdens” and defend them from exploitation.
        
Joyce Meyer is at the age, and has inherited the temperament, that make women most vulnerable to strokes and heart attacks, so it might be helpful for her to write about how she may be using Buddhist detachment as part of an overall strategy for dealing with her current medical condition. My Christian husband tried that; if he'd been dealing with ordinary hypertension instead of hypertension caused by multiple myeloma, it might have saved his life.

 Meyer discusses restitution only in the context of false guilt...even when it’s real, legitimate guilt. “You may ‘feel’ that somehow you need to pay for what you have done wrong...that you must sacrifice in some way in order to pay for your sins.” I feel a need to say that repentance that is confined to a private prayer closet is appropriate for the sins that are confined to the private prayer closet. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned” is the prayer for anyone confessing a private lack of faith, and after uttering that prayer we can trust God to know how sincere our repentance is. This is not “the scriptural pattern” for repenting of real sins that have done material harm to others. We no longer try to “sacrifice” food on the altar of God in church because we no longer believe that God needs a portion of our food, but our fellow mortals do need the good things of which our sins may have deprived them.
        
Christians believe that Jesus took upon Himself the spiritual burden of anything we may have done wrong, including murder, and we receive God’s forgiveness whenever we accept it through faith. However, faith is not to be confused with presumption. I’ve seen a churchgoer tell lies about a fellow believer whom she resented, sabotaging the other woman’s job and her own, while repeating parrot-fashion, “The Blood of Jesus washes away our sins.” I’ve seen a churchgoer tell an employee toward whom he felt lust, “Everything we do is wrong; even working on our job together is wrong, since we're attracted to each other, so we might as well sleep together, and some day when I’m a full member of the church I won’t sin any more.” This is not the faith that allows us to accept salvation. God may be able to pardon these people on the grounds of ignorance, stupidity, or insanity, but I don't believe they have accepted God’s forgiveness through Christian faith.
        
It’s unfortunate when objections to an error in a book takes up more space, in a review of the book, than commending the good things in the book. Usually the good things take up more space in the book itself than the error does; this is the case with Living Beyond Your Feelings. The first half of this book discusses the general idea of basing decisions on principles of belief rather than mood swings. This is an excellent idea. 
        
Perhaps Meyer’s strongest point, in this book, is the way in which emotion-based decisions tend to lead to unpleasant emotions later. We may feel happy while eating a big bowl of ice cream before bed, but we won’t feel so happy about having done that when we try to get up on time in the morning...especially if we’ve done it so many times that we don’t fit into our clothes any more. We may feel bored with the people we’ve married and more interested in fresh faces, but if we decide to treat marriage like a dance in which we’re entitled to change partners, we’ll soon be bored with our new spouses, and our children will never have a loving home. We may feel rich and popular while racking up credit card debt, but where will that popularity go when the bills come in? This is the kind of decision-making that people can reasonably be expected to master while they’re in high school. Meyer knows her audience. Some of them probably are in high school.
        
Meyer also gives brief consideration to the role of emotions in personality conflicts. The “four classical temperaments” framework is an elementary outline of personality differences at best. Meyer’s sketch of it is hasty. She does refer readers to eight books that discuss this approach to personality psychology more completely.
        
It would have been helpful if this book had contained even a short sketch of the way our physical health interacts with our emotional feelings. Meyer earns points here for admitting that she’s not qualified to say much about this aspect of human emotion. She’d earn more if she'd been able to mention some of the books on the topic that, if not absolutely the last word, have at least been helpful to many people. She doesn't mention books that more fully discuss the role of communication in relieving or aggravating emotional moods, either.
        
So I will. If you or your students need a basic Christian book about the idea of self-control, get Living Beyond Your Feelings. If you want more about Christian discipline, I recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. For more on personality differences, get Tim LaHaye’s Transformed Temperaments. For more on health and emotions, try Kathleen Desmaisons’ Potatoes Not Prozac. For more on communication, Suzette Haden Elgin’s Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense has been a good place for a lot of people to start, although Elgin later wrote a more general book called You Can't Say That to Me that she recommended as a very first book on avoiding angry communication, and her discussions of Verbal Self-Defense with friends and fans have been preserved at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/. For more on detachment from anger, Newton Hightower’s Anger Busting is very valuable; more on the Buddhist practice of detachment is also available in Thich Nhat Hanh's Anger.
        
If you’re a fan of Joyce Meyer and will be picturing her speaking the words as you read them, then you’ll feel that you’re getting your money’s worth out of Living Beyond Your Feelings. This is the way she talks during her show—warm, empathetic, ageless, everybody’s favorite aunt (except my Nephews’, I hope), willing to use herself as the bad example in her anecdotes. And if you’re new to the concepts of Christian discipline, personality differences, health and mood, communication, or detachment from anger, Living Beyond Your Feelings may be a helpful introduction to this whole field of knowledge.



Since Meyer is definitely a living author, Living Beyond Your Feelings is a Fair Trade Book. So are the books recommended above for further reading (except Elgin's). Sorry to bore regular readers by repeating: The Fair Trade Books system is this web site's gentle way of supporting the rights of writers. When you buy a book by a living writer here, the minimum cost is $5 per book plus $5 per package for shipping. Whether we might be able to squeeze two, four, or twelve copies of a book into the package (in the case of Living Beyond Your Feelings four is probably the maximum), the author, or a charity of the author's choice, gets $1 out of that total $10 per book.