By: Julia Forsythe
We live in the age of loneliness, Johann C Arnold states in his latest book from Plough Publishing House. Family life has been ravaged by TV. The average American watches TV for three hours daily with little interaction among the viewers gathered around the screen. The internet has not helped - only deepening our isolation and many hunger for community, Arnold says.
He goes on to describe other forms of alienation and feelings of disconnectedness from the world we live in. There is Terri, who was abused, and when she later joined the army was abused further by the American soldiers while in the Gulf war. She finally wanted to die but her life took an extraordinary turn and we are amazed with her story. Stories of Scott, Nina and Malcolm X reveal the pain of loneliness. Too often we do our best to hide our weaknesses and failures from each other.
"You name the hell...there is a way out" There is the story of Gary who had a six figure salary, a big house and all the trappings yet saw a homeless man in the street, and ended up neglecting his clients to save the dying man. A decade later he is ministering to prisoners and lives on a tiny fraction of his old income. Gary had experienced a Christian conversion. Jesus said "It is as hard for a rich man to enter heaven as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle". Pope John Paul ll spoke out against the Culture of death meaning the poisonous fruit of materialism. If our main aim is success what happens when it eludes us. Then there is the story of Tom's father who committed suicide, we hide our weaknesses and failures from each other. Fulfilment comes from valuing every human encounter.
In a chapter on sex he says we live in a society that is constantly talking about sex, but we remain deeply impoverished in our understanding of what it can mean. TV producers, the media even the pharmaceutical industry play off our obsession. Because of the commercialisation of sex we have lost true intimacy and degraded 'the erotic into the crude and banal'.What kind of a world are we leaving our children? 'Robbed of the chance to discover sex as innocents, they have little idea of its mysterious capacity to satisfy not only bodily cravings, but the mind and spirit as well.'
In Crucibles Diana became ill with MS and Elena with Anorexia nervosa. Their stories are triumphs of the will.
In Suffering we read a quote from Aeschylus 'He who learns must suffer'. Let us open ourselves to life's hardships. The story of Raquel is heartbreaking and the story of Ahmed who is imprisoned is 'soul murder' yet we are all destined to suffer. Only when we are able to find release from bitterness will we make our suffering fruitful by embracing it. Then the story of Job's suffering, from the Bible is discussed. The life of Salvadoran martyr Oscar Romero is told.
In Rebirth he says we must change or die. What does it mean to 'die' be transformed, and experience rebirth? It is impossible for those who are in love with themselves in any way and 'that goes for a religious person as much as anyone else'.
In Angels once again the topic is illness. But the testimonies in this book are an example of those who hope who do not give up, who trust in God and walk with Christ.
Escape Routes, for People Who Feel Trapped in Life's Hells by Johann C Arnold, is published byPlough Publishing House, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, UK