The Book of Joe

I recently got a copy of something my late therapist, Joe Bauserman, wrote — he called it The Book of Joe. I think I’ll read through it and make comments here as I read. One of the problems with being a fast reader is that stuff doesn’t stick as well as I’d like it to. I’ll read a book and tell someone how great it is, but be completely unable to discuss the content articulately.

The Prologue begins: “The great, poetic Book of Job challenges us all to face the tragedies of life and hold onto the love and ultimate purposes of God.” Joe then explains that he’s going to write this book to face his own crisis and try to hold onto those things.

The Crisis

Next, he defines his crisis — just before a family beach vacation, he discovers five tumors — two in the brain, three in the lungs. He says that this crisis is his opportunity to share important things with folks, despite having been a very private person for many years. It was a single draft, written in just a couple of weeks in the summer of 2008.

Considering the allusion to Job, Joe points out that he’s not saying that he’s especially righteous, nor that the cancer asked God’s permission to test him, nor that such calamities are always “just deserts” for particular sin.

“[Calamities] come in a million different forms and degrees, but they usually reveal many similar things about us all, things we need to know to live in this sick and deadly world, and it is these shared revelations that I want to explore in my limited quest to explore what Aquinas called “the truth of things”, the deep knowledge of the heart that keeps us standing when falling makes all of the emotional and intellectual sense in the world, and keeps us looking for the light when the darkness seems endless and impenetrable” (p3).

The next section, The Problem of Man and Woman, gives Joe’s beliefs about the nature of humanity and its shared core issues. He lists five basic problems all people inherently have:

  • We are needy
  • Vulnerable
  • Alone
  • Dependent
  • Longing for satisfaction of these needs — satisfaction Joe believes is ultimately and only found in fellowship with God.

What strikes me, looking at this list, is the juxtaposition of “Alone” and “Dependent.” Yikes. Dependent wouldn’t be so bad in a solid community. And alone wouldn’t be so bad if there were no need of others.

Joe insists that this package of needs is not arbitrary, but designed to foster what we most need: intimacy with and utter reliance upon God. I agree with him that intimacy with God is a great good, and that utter reliance upon him is reality (whether we fight it or not); I think I would cast it less as design and more as redemption, but that may be because my understanding and appreciation of God’s sovereignty is lacking.

This short statement about the good side of these five needs is followed by many more sentences about the painful side.

“Every child needs to be known and loved across time. No child gets what is needed. Most parents love their children, but I will tell you strongly, after more than sixty thousand hours as a psychotherapist, that the vast majority of people have not felt well known even if they give their parents credit for loving them very much. Love that loves but does not know how to love does not accomplish the mission” (p4).

And who knows how to love? How does anyone learn to really know and understand anyone else, navigating through the dark waters of projecting our own experience, internalizing negative voices from our own history, not to mention the myriads of parenting and relationship and other self-help books and articles and videos and lectures, not to mention our work, our time, our energy, the state of our digestion and the weather?

How terrifying to be a parent, a wife, a friend, any relationship. I know for a fact that I daily, hourly, fail to love well enough, fail to know and understand others, even those others I am closest to. Sometimes I’m so afraid of the consequences of such failure that I can hardly continue to try. And how many of these people will my behavior send to therapy?

Next, Joe lists some of the consequences of this “foundational failure of knowing love” (p4).

  • “We don’t know ourselves.”
  • “We don’t know what love should be for us, even if someone wants to love us well.”
  • “We look for counterfeit love in many wrong places.”
  • We live with a deep and chronic fear that we’ll never have what we most need: such a strong relational life that “we can love well because we have been loved well” (p4).

Joe argues that while pride is a big problem, it’s not the core of humanity’s problems. He says it is one of the offspring of the bigger problem of this fear. It is one of the many ways we try to avoid the awareness of those five basic needs listed earlier. We don’t always, or often, fight that awareness consciously. We might not even be consciously aware of that deep fear that drives so much of what we think, feel, and do. Few of us would deliberately choose to shut our eyes on reality, but, consciously or unconsciously, we are often willing to be less conscious, to live under delusion, rather than face those five basic needs and the fear of never finding their satisfaction.

This section ends with Joe’s long-time goal for people — “that they would come to know the truth, in all of its painful, frightening, confusing, exhilarating, and ultimately gratifying faces” (p5).

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8 thoughts on “The Book of Joe

  1. “Longing for satisfaction of these needs — satisfaction Joe believes is ultimately and only found in fellowship with God.”

    Okay – this is only my opinion – and here I will also disclose that I am atheist (and that is very different from being a hater of persons of faith – I am certainly not that).

    I think that when people have needs that they describe as so deep that they can only be met by a deity, this is speaking directly about the depth of the harm and/ or deprivation that caused such a wound in the first place. It does not surprise me that Joe is a therapist, because most of them think it is their job to downplay things and teach others to do the same – to their detriment (though I believe the harm is unconscious and they really believe they are helping).

    We are quite different, but I sure hope Joe recovered from that terrible illness. He sounds like a nice man, too. Sometimes life is terribly unfair. Devastating, even. I feel very sad for Joe and I hope he came upon a victory.

  2. Thank you both for your comments.

    Anon, I understand your reaction. Joe was actually one of few people I knew who always refused to downplay things or teach others to do the same. He helped me face the truth of things, including the truth of the depths of feelings and the thought-patterns that grew up / were built around them.

    “I think that when people have needs that they describe as so deep that they can only be met by a deity, this is speaking directly about the depth of the harm and/ or deprivation that caused such a wound in the first place.” Exactly. Whether or not there is such a deity to meet the needs is a separate question. Saying there is one does not, in my opinion, diminish or downplay the depths of the hurt.

    He did not recover. He passed away in January of 2009.

  3. Pingback: The Book of Joe, part 2 « Becoming Three

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