Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: Jamie Blaine's Midnight Jesus

Jamie Blaine has many points he could make but doesn't. The book falls short just as it's on the cusp of having a moment of awareness. Instead, Blaine tries to play it safe to appease all sides of the denomination coin. He goes as far to tell us about how many denominations he has even experienced. Blaine doesn't seem to have quite learned though you can't please everyone, and in an attempt to try to he might have let down the people who really need a book like this. Blaine focuses mostly on stories of addicts, but when he does talk about other people you'll meet when working in psychiatric care his accounts come off as caricatures of people with mental illnesses. Often times Blaine seems to be looking more for a good story than helping people. So forget Blaine wanting to counsel married couples because that just doesn't make for a "cool" story.

Summary: The heart of God can be found in the unlikeliest places, in the unlikeliest people. Jamie Blaine is an unconventional, and actually quite accidental, psychiatric crisis interventionist whose work takes him to "the least of these." A gifted storyteller, Blaine shares heart-wrenching and sometimes hilarious stories of everyday people who need to know God is there in their darkest hours-people dealing with secret shame, doubt, desperation, even suicide. Humans looking for wholeness, looking for Jesus. Painting beauty where it seems none exists, Midnight Jesus helps readers transcend their own struggles, showing how truth can come from the strangest places. They will meet people like * Skeeter and Wookie, two homeless guys who show that community happens wherever there is shared need and a willingness to give * Pastor Ponder who holds an altar call after his sermon at the psych ward and says it's the best church service he's ever had * Kat, the tattooed hairdresser who dreams about Jesus and longs for spiritual connection, who shows that you can't judge a book by its cover * Jesus, who makes an invisible cameo in every story. As Blaine writes, "I am one wrecked and dirty treasure, but God still decides I am worth the effort to save." Jamie Blaine is the kind of writer whose view of the commonplace transforms life into the transcendent.

Midnight Jesus could have brought a lot of awareness regarding how church's treat people with addictions, mental illnesses, and other ailments. In Chapter 23 Blaine writes, "A few months back I pulled some strings, risked a lot of trouble, and came in on my day off to take a van load of pysch - ward patients to church. We weren't treated like lepers. But we weren't exactly welcomed either. I probably shouldn't tell that story. But it's true. In fact, it's more than true. I didn't try just once; I tried three times at three different churches. And the results were the same. I don't know what to do with that. I'm not mad at anybody, and I don't want to criticize, but it confuses me. It really breaks my heart."  This part disturbed me. Blaine is making excuses already in one paragraph for the church people. He's letting us know they were treated awkward, but not as bad as lepers, so it wasn't mean per say... at least to Blaine. He then says he shouldn't tell this to the reader. Why is he questioning telling us? Because it's an ugly look at the church that is wondering why people are leaving when this is many stories you hear about the church?  It's not exactly a story that sends you hopping immediately to find a church. Blaine shares this account without much detail, even though he tried 3 times, because of how the event made HIM feel. He talks a lot about his emotions afterward. He says "I did try," "I don't know," "I'm not mad," "It breaks MY heart." How do you think the patients felt, Jamie? They probably felt much worse. Yet not a single time does Blaine mention the impact this might have had on the patients whose own problems were used as a shield from knowing them.

 "I think we made the church people uncomfortable. Maybe they didn't know what to say. Maybe for some, it hit too close home - too much of a reminder that if it weren't for grace, that could be them. Truth is, it was awkward for everybody, and I wished I hadn't done it. I wished we just stayed at the psych ward and had our own kind of church." Those are some powerful words. It's not "I wish the churches had just encompassed the love of Christ around those patients." Or "I'm glad I stood with those patients and we sat together in church proudly." Instead, it's more excuses as to why the church people were uncomfortable, and that he seemed to feel bad at having put them in the spot to be confronted with that about themselves. You could think of a thousand reasons why someone is uncomfortable with patients at a pysch ward, and to break it straight it is NOT because they've had the grace to not be there. While Blaine primarily focuses on addicts at the ward, many people there have mental illnesses. I went to a church where an autistic, teen girl attended with her parents each week. Even though I was a kid I don't remember the environment being the most welcoming. Often they would sit in the back pew out of eyesight in case the services were too much on a sensory, sensitive disorder. It wasn't a place where she was welcome if her disorder couldn't be quieted. People with mental illnesses aren't lacking some sort of grace that church people are fearful they will fall from. Even from a young age people are uncomfortable with those who have disabilities. We all can flip back to elementary school and remember how we viewed those in special needs classes without me having to go into much description. As we grow into adulthood we never learn this is our own flaw, and we figure since we're out of school we now can avoid the awkwardness that confronts us with. It takes a much darker acknowledgment that is less easy to deal with, and Blaine runs from that instead of finding an opportunity to light a fire that it's the church that needs to change.

Sadly, this isn't the last time Blaine doesn't take into account the patients as people. I'm not quite sure why Blaine wanted to be a counselor. In Chapter 2 Blaine begins with a description of the psych-ward, "...a catchall for addicts, schizophrenics, people too depressed to function, bipolar housewives, obsessive-compulsive cutters, anorexic beauty queens, and sullen, wayward teens." In Chapter 3 Blaine writes, "I take four paranoid schizophrenics and a delusional nymphomaniac bowling." This provides insight into how Blaine perceives people with mental illnesses at the pysc- ward. I actually have OCD.  I can only ask "is this a psychiatrist I want to work through my OCD with?" I'm sure you probably picked up that most the descriptions of the mental illnesses he mentioned seem to be stereotypical. It's particularly dangerous since most the demographics are wrongly represented in who they affect. It continues our stigmatizing of mental illnesses. Plus, what was the need to describe schizophrenics as paranoid? Or a sex addict as delusional?

Lastly, Blaine shares an account after starting work at a Christian counseling center in Chapter 24. He shares the many tales that came through his office within a short time. They didn't seem to be getting his motor running quite like his on call tales at the psych ward though, so he was disappointed, to say the least. One of them included how he hated dealing with a married couple trying to sort out their problems. He felt like he was just in the middle of a spat, and he was "daydreaming" of helping people with addictions again. How dare people come to a guy who has committed his life to studying the human brain to help people understand it themselves?

What is the point of Midnight Jesus? More than likely an outlet for Jamie Blaine's crazy stories of living on the edge with addicts. Blaine reminds us in the summary, "I'm one wrecked and dirty treasure, but God decides I'm worth the effort to save," but yet we never know anything about Blaine except he had a little growing up to do. What is he being saved from? We know what everyone else is being saved from. Mostly it is the stories of people like Skeeter, Wookie, Kat, or Paster Ponder. Their stories are only told through the lens of Blaine who follows with lots of "I's and me's" when talking about them. It reminds me a lot of To Write Love on Her Arms, which became a jarring story of how one man stole a woman's addiction story to build a name for himself.  Except with this, the starring role is Jamie Blaine and a lot of people we will never really know.

This book was provided by Book Look Bloggers in exchange for a review. 

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