Saturday, May 22, 2010

Parental Authority vs. Family Leadership

When I meet with families and teens, the form of family that most often seeks family therapy, the issue of Authority arises pretty quickly. It is frequently The Issue when it comes to teenagers and their parents.

As teens grow and develop their nascent emotional self, they need to take on more and more self control, discipline and choice. This conflicts with their parents' familiar patterns of control, decision making, discipline and tolerance of conflict, the sense of which has been developed in the family through that child's life. When children become more autonomous, the adults must flex more while maintaining steady goals for the family.

This isn't easy, and is generally full of conflict. Now add into the mix of many families divorce, step parents and siblings, shared physical custody and chronically changing schedules. The level of conflict and stress can get very high -- and everyone begins to act out their frustration and pain.

Unlike much religious and talk show wisdom on the matter, families and teens don't need more rigid boundaries, more rules and demands, more over-focus on grades and chores and language and privileges. What I work with families to co-create is a new level of parental Leadership. Leadership that is self focused, flexible, sacrificial and cooperative. A family that has high expectations, but can allow a steady measure of teenage development. A parent system that is talking more to each other about how the family is doing and is less critical of their teens who, I know, are always trying to do the best they can.

Dr. Sal Minuchin, an early pioneer of family therapy, describes what we're after this way:

"I describe family values as responsibility towards others, increase of tolerance, compromise, support, flexibility. And essentially the things I call the silent song of life—the continuous process of mutual accommodation without which life is impossible." 

 Mutual accommodation -- that's what true family leadership looks like.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Two-Faith Marriage


            For thousands of years, people have expected their children to marry within their family faith and culture. Family life, in its largest sense, is easier this way. Marriage partners are easier to find among shared communities like synagogues, mosques, parochial schools or parishes; families know more about each other and often form smoother in-law relationships. Religious rituals bind partners to preceding generations as well as to their future children and to one another. All the thousand small, nearly invisible connections shared faith creates helps to enable more stable marriages and thicker, stronger emotional ties between parents, children, in-laws and the larger religious community.
            It isn’t the distrust of the outside world as much as the desire to sustain the uniqueness of a specific religious worldview that has linked Catholic to Catholic, Jew to Jew, Muslim to Muslim, Hmong to Hmong in marriage for generations. The practical, easier simplicity of shared meanings between spouses hold traditions and expectations in place. And so, for generations, parents have expected their children to partner with people of their faith traditions; this has been especially critical to religions that have relatively small numbers compared to the general population, as Jews are, for example, in the United States.
            So, if a good Jewish young adult woman, whose faith teaches her that mothers are the parent who “passes down” the identity of Jew to the children, should begin to form a long-term relationship with a young adult male Gentile, a non-Jew, the tide of family anxiety may be loud. But now imagine an adult Jewish man planning to marry a Gentile woman: his children would not be considered religiously Jewish. The emotional hew and cry from his extended family may be so loud as to disrupt that planned marriage. While all this anxiety about blood lines and religious identity may be unwelcome and distressing, it’s quite understandable from a cultural point of view. But it doesn’t make it easier to manage this all within your own family. So what’s a “mixed marriage” couple to do?
1.      Understand and respect the family’s loyalty to their faith. While the family comments and distress may be pointed at you, it’s really not about you, personally. It’s about your possible intention of breaking community tradition and expectations.
2.      Take your time. Be sure those thousand small communal connections of the faith become more visible to you and that you try them on for size. They need to fit you, or at least be interesting and acceptable enough to have them become part of your life. What is simply a bother now may become intolerable. And intolerable isn’t good; it will kill a marriage.
3.      Negotiate before you commit. Work out the details of a future family life as much as you can. What is preferable you attend (Sunday service) and what is mandatory (Baptism)? Can you tolerate these agreements for the long run? Are they mutual? Talk them through, and even write them down.
4.      Can you agree to live within this negotiated difference? Expect this topic to never go away, but be a continuing area of adjustment, compromise and some level of sacrifice for the both of you. The larger presence of extended families, religious holidays, rituals, leaders and language will only increase this difference as you have children. Can you both embrace the long-term challenge in a positive, adjusted way?

            The two-faith marriage couple is on the increase across Western culture. And while such unions can appear to weaken a minority faith, sharing traditions can also strengthen the tolerance, appreciation and respect the majority has for minority traditions. It’s not all bad news! But a two-faith marriage is not easy, and is not for the faint of heart. Know what you need to do before you say “I do,” and your years together will much smoother.
           

Sunday, April 25, 2010

For teens texting is the new talking | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ

Though late to the game, I have become a fan of the short-hand email version of communication, texting. At least, the positive, stay-in-touch with my teenagers feature of it.

But for this coming generation of near-adults, it seems that texting is the primary mode of relationship connection. What will that mean to them in the future?

Listen in to Kerri Miller's MidMorning talk show on MPR this week to hear a discussion of this topic.

For teens texting is the new talking | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Glad They Didn't Call

A couple of weeks back I wrote an essay for the Savage Pacer, one of the columns I have done for the paper every few weeks or so since 1997. This time, I wrote about my disgust with the Roman Catholic leadership about the decades of cover ups of child abuse and pedophilia that continue to be discovered. I am just one of the hundreds of people writing, blogging, speaking, and interviewing recently on this continuing scandal. My ideas are certainly not unique in any way, and are informed by my 25+ years of study and personal service as a pastor of the Church.

Want to read it? Here it is:  Savage Pacer column

It generated a lot of feedback. I'm happy I have more than a few readers, and that I can continue to inspire people with my words. But the most angry people respond, of course, and their letters to the editor were printed in the paper last week. I decided I didn't need to read them myself. I guess they were pointed upset and shocked. I'm just glad they didn't write to me at my house, or call me personally. For that, I thank those readers.

Those who agree with me, who have applauded my point of view, are not members of the Roman Church. They are my Lutheran, Episcopalian, and other religious and non-religious friends and readers, who see the same things I do, and despair that this Pope will make significant changes in the design and culture of Roman Catholic institutions.

With my column, I haven't made any new friends in the local Roman church, and I may have lost some. But I guess that wasn't my goal. My goal was to think and write about what is out in the world through a spiritual lens. Pedophilia and child abuse is part of the Church. If the safety of children in the Christian community isn't assured by every Christian, we have no business claiming to be communities that follow Jesus.

Despite all the emotion and distress by loyal believers, it's just that simple.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter : As Simply as I Can

I see it this way : God is part of the human experience. Constantly.

I believe that God uniquely joined with the one called Jesus and through him embodied the will and desire of God.  I hear in the NT gospels the constant pull of God toward healing, God's compassion for all human suffering, and God's dreams for a more just creation.

When Jesus was executed / crucified, I see the worse of human power brutalizing and silencing truth. God doesn't answer. Death happens. God allows the silence to speak.

And then God raises Jesus up from death. God heals Jesus even from death itself.

This is the central proclamation of the Christian faith: God is our Creator force whose hallmark is life, healing, and restoration. Along with others of the Christian community, I bear witness to God's drive to heal and restore the world. I have been healed. Over and over again.

And in death, even then, I will be healed and rise.

These are the central powers of God. And this is what Jesus, the Cross, the silence, and the Resurrection mean to me.



Image: "White Crucifixion," Marc Chagall, 1938