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Best Careers 2011: Marriage and Family Therapist - US News and World Report

Nice to see that MFTs are coming into the mainstream, although I still think we are a wonderful bunch of iconoclasts, and proud of it!

Best Careers 2011: Marriage and Family Therapist - US News and World Report

My Take: Who owns Jesus? Who owns yoga? – CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs

Yes, if purity of faith is what you're looking for, eventually you will be very - VERY - disappointed. Even the scandalous, unique aspects of faith eventually become part of culture. "All religions are mash-ups," writes Stephen Prothero, religion scholar at Boston University.
My Take: Who owns Jesus? Who owns yoga? – CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs

Therapy Issues: Discerning the Professional from the Personal

What's the difference between friendly advice and therapy?
A lot. Compassionate boundaries of respect and limits, for a start.

Therapy Issues: Discerning the Professional from the Personal

Chronic Illness and the Family

The good people at www.GoodTherapy.com have made me a Topic Expert in Family Therapy. I write a column monthly - here's the latest:
It may be the idealized image of television shows, or perfect, ever-present pictures in advertising in newspapers and magazines, or just the plan hopefulness with which we all start our families. But most of us don’t plan to include chronic, life-long health problems in our family plan.

Our bodies are quite amazing creations, able to fight off disease, recover from injury, grow, age and change every day. We aren’t minds that have bodies attached, but we are instead bodies that think. We must eat, move, think, rest, work and love with our physical selves in mind. And for the most part, this natural rhythm of self-care makes life work.

But life isn’t smooth, and our physical systems aren’t perfect. Some of us will encounter injury, disease or disability that does not respond to time and care. For many of us, that process comes quite late in …

Personality: Does Birth Order Matter?

For generations, family members have noted the differences that naturally arise in children raised in the same family. How is it that John, the first born and only boy, seems to have such different personality characteristics than his younger brother, raised in the same house by the same parents just two years apart?  Good question!

     Theories of personality abound. You may be familiar with some of the more popular models, often used in work or educational settings. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on the four major personality styles described by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, is a favorite. The Enneagram, a model developed in religious communities and often used in spiritual direction, and other forms of personal discovery, is another.  These are models that seek to describe common types of personalities. Other models, such as the Big Five theory, attempt to describe personalities using the idea of common traits shared by human beings across the wor…

Losing the Boundaries

I've been reading about blogging, and it seems that I'm not doing it right.

Those in the know about such things tell us writers, mostly in their blogs, that to blog is to create a personal online community, one which is thirsty for the writer's words and self revelations; writing that steps toward the daily Diary or Journal, and away from more sedate Opinion or Editorial. The most successful of blogs these days - and it seems to change every day - drone on and on about the personal trials of having a newborn, or looking for a job, or recreating the work place, or reinventing the government, or the economy, or the Church. Again. These exemplars are often writing on the fly, with nary a concern for punctuation, spelling, brevity, or privacy. It's all about capturing the reader, and capturing as many as possible.

You may have noticed that I'm not much of a rebel when it comes to the niceties of the published essay. I have spent far too many years putting words into s…

Go To the Limits of Your Longing

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God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don't let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Book of Hours, I  59

The Modern Novel: Why bother?

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I spend a good amount of my free time reading novels. It's a past time that is more like a personal compulsion; this form of storytelling has grabbed me 'round my neck since I started devouring The Bobbsey Twins. This need to read turned me into a collector of books, a lover of dictionaries, an English major in college. I care about this art form. A lot.

So if you are a reader, too, you may share my enduring heartbreak over what happened to the long form of storytelling that is the novel in the 20th century. Certain writers broke form, and turned the sweeping, luxurious narrative into a broken, piecemeal, fragment of story; a weakened stream of image, word and punctuation. What could have been beautiful became a stumble through words until you want to die from boredom.  (For me, the names of such writers as James Joyce, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and David Foster Wallace send me running for the door. ) The intelligentsia - the critics and editors and publishers - all …

Faith and the Brain

How does our brain look when we engage in prayer and meditation? This weekend's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program on PBS explores this fascinating topic.

July 30, 2010 ~ Faith and the Brain | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Taking Charge of our own Health

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As a nation, we spend a LOT of money on health care. It's expensive for a couple of reasons: the amazing discoveries, technologies and research which allow for astonishing cures and healing of human suffering is expensive to create. And secondly, because we Americans have treated health care not as a right, like public education, but as a service that we purchase, like energy or food.

Because of the early national decision to treat health care as a service, the pace and cost of advances in medicine has out-stripped most Americans' ability to pay for it themselves. Hence, the explosion in the last century of our dependence on health insurance. We have become so dependent upon it as an addition to our pay, most of us have come to think of health care as something that our insurance pays for, as if it were an additional source of revenue to our family instead of a support to the health care we purchase.

This model leaves the poor, homeless and unemployed dependent upon our hospit…

Parenting is Still an Artform

As the summer ticks away, I am spending a lot of time with and for my teenagers. It has me thinking about this generation of youth, how they have been parented, and how many have bemoaned their development. I've written about it in my latest GoodTherapy.org blog posting. I hope you'll visit it there, comment, and let me know how you feel about the children of the Baby Boomers.

Parenting is Still an Artform

Are You Kidding?

The Vatican has just issued a new ruling that equates ordaining women to the sin of pedophilia.

How any person of Christian faith and vision can think and write this theological argument takes my breath away. While the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is blindly adhering to their reactionary 17th Century theology and practice, the people of the contemporary American Roman Catholic community reel from the growing child abuse scandal that threatens to bankrupt every diocese and struggle with a severe and unending shortage of parish priests. Their leaders are making decisions and issuing decisions that should anger every believing Catholic. But where is the local protest?

Unlike a generation or two ago, the protest is out the door, beyond the parking lot and in the hearts and minds of the disaffected Catholic community. While many believing Catholics are struggling to do ministry, love God and neighbor, worship and educate their children in the faith, others have left the communit…

Summertime Unease

The summer is a difficult time to be a church-attending believer.

The pews empty, what with church education programs closed down for summer break, clergy finally taking some long-anticipated vacation time, choirs enjoying their evenings free of rehearsals and every other family traveling somewhere. Some congregations do better than others, having a longer visiting clergy list to draw from, or a deep bench of talented musicians to call on to carry the songs and liturgies along.  But the offering plates are dangerously lean, and the newsletter articles about the summer mission trips are anxious and urgent in their optimism. In those congregations where there is literally nothing between services, the hours pastors walk the halls of an empty building during a 3 service Sunday is deadening to their spirit, believe me. The church seems more dying than asleep.

The only up sides I enjoy in summer church are easier parking and longer Sundays at home. Not good indicators of a strong communal…

Trauma leaves its mark on immune system genes - health - 06 May 2010 - New Scientist

I have often thought that trauma changes the body's response to the environment.This research confirms my personal experience that PTSD can predispose one for cancer, particularly those of the lymph system, the body's center of immunity.

My continuing hope is that future discoveries can lead sufferers to more rapid resolution of PTSD symptoms, and thereby saving their body from expressing DNA changes.

Trauma leaves its mark on immune system genes - health - 06 May 2010 - New Scientist

My Latest GoodTherapy.org Article

Be sure to let me know what ideas this raises for you.  L

Can Gay Families Teach Us About Gender Identity?

Father's Day devotion from Pr. Peter Strommen

Peter is currently the Lead Pastor at my former congregation, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran, Prior Lake, MN,
has written such a beautiful and wise devotion about faith, family and gender, I just have to share. Thanks, Peter. Awesome.

http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs044/1102142675015/archive/1103489936318.html

Helplessness = Trauma

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I have been thinking about my, and our, experience of helplessness in the face of the Gulf oil disaster. About what it feels like in our bodies to be continuously exposed to experiences in the world that we can't control but which have large, perhaps even life changing effects on our lives.

In the last 50 years or so, psychology as a science has become increasingly wise about experiences that wound the soul. The kind of happenings that lock up a part of our brains, quite literally, from easy connection to the rest of our inner experience and cause us to emotionally get stuck in the memory. We call these experiences traumas. Trauma with a capital T.

In the current mental health definition of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a person witnesses or experiences something life-threatening, shocking, and horrific, but with one key experiential ingredient : they feel powerless.

Powerlessness is what seems to turn a terrible experience into a Trauma; the inability to respond. Being able to d…

Parental Authority vs. Family Leadership

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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 sho…

The Two-Faith Marriage

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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 share…

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

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 …

Easter : As Simply as I Can

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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…

Family Travels

The weather’s slowly warming across the country, and along with snow melt and longer days comes that familiar family travel time known as Spring Vacation. And though they may not be, as Charles Dickens’s wrote, “the best of times, the worst of times” in your family’s lives, travels together as a group can be some of the happiest as well as most stressful times you have together as a family.

Time away from our regular routines is essential for good mental health. We do tend to thrive with a healthy balance of the familiar and the different, and vacations are one way many of us create difference in our lives. We can put away the same responsibilities, schedules, foods, sights, people, and weather for something different, a change that can make for a sense of escape as well as renewal upon our return. When we travel with our families, we get a chance to make shared memories and then recall them again and again in the future. Many of us remember the time spent in the back seat of our fam…

Memoirs R Us

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American readers seem deeply interested in memoirs this year. I've been wondering why.

What books people write, publish, review, buy, share and talk about tend to go in waves. Some years, historical fiction rules; in others, fantasy and other worldliness (think Gone With the Wind and the Harry Potter series as examples). A few years ago biographies were flying off the shelves; last year, anything vampire sold. All it takes is one, big, humongous publishing success and it seems like we are all off to the races.

I read a lot of book reviews, in search of the next great American novel. And while the great novel is still being written, more memoirs are available than ever. Of particular note are two of the more famous memoirists: James Frey (A Million Little Pieces) and Mary Karr (The Liar's Club; Cherry; and now, Lit). You may remember that a minor brouhaha erupted after Frey admitted to fictionalizing some of his drug addiction and treatment story; Oprah, who had chosen the boo…

In Praise of the Institutional Church

In celebration of Ash Wednesday, and my struggle to maintain my confidence in the Church, I share this wonderful paragraph from the Christian Century (1/12/2010), Slow Motion Conversion, p. 30:

Carol Zaleski writes: 

"How would we know Christ without the institutional church? Who else would preserve the great secret of the gospel for us through the centuries, keeping it safe in the wilderness of opinions? We live in a world of institutions or in no world at all., and the institutional church is surely the greatest institution the world has ever known. It is the mediating institution between the family we are thrust into and the government that is either forced upon us or chosen by us from a distance. It equips us with every grace, every insight, every support for a decent life and then, like so many parents, is disappointed but not surprised when we turn around and say - we dont' need you, we can do this on our own, you are a fossil, an impediment."

Thanks be to God for t…

I Don't Want to Be Governor

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Tim Pawlenty has my sympathy.

It's budget time, and he's trying to lead our great state in spending only what it takes in. That's a very painful equation now with a depressed economic climate, declining federal support and increasing demands on education and health care.  He says he wants a budget that will cut everything but K-12 education, safety and veteran's benefits.

I get it, but it is going to be insane. And I mean that literally. The hospitals and programs that care for the most chronically mentally ill are being stripped of millions of dollars. That means that institutions like HCMC in downtown Minneapolis are not going to be able to run the adult emergency mental health unit as it has, and will have to turn people away everyday.

What does that mean? It means that those chronically mentally ill, many of whom are in and out of hospitals, chemical dependency units and homelessness are going to be showing up at your local emergency rooms. The sick in mind and body…

Helplessness & Haiti

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It's been over two weeks since the earthquake devastated the people of Haiti.

Tens of thousands have died, including people you may know. And along with a desire to help, and a deepening sense of helplessness as we watch that impoverish nation respond, I am struck by a familiar conflict, or perhaps it is an observation about human life.

I continue to wonder how my life can go on in its normal way while massive, untold despair, suffering and death occurs around me. It's the same experience those who suffer grief describe: how does the world continue on its way while my life seems to have stopped?

I struggle with a low-grade angst; not a guilt exactly, but close to it. As if I have witnessed a massive car crash from the safety of my own vehicle and go careening by, with just a glance in my rear view mirror. I continue on, glad it wasn't me in that car, confident someone more capable is responding.

I believe this soft anguish reflects this existential truth: we are single huma…

The Church in Recession : What Now?

My occasional column for the Savage Pacer was just published yesterday. I wrote about the financial free fall the mainline denominations are in with the current recession. If you want to read the full column, go here.

Here's my concluding paragraph:
The storm that my denomination finds itself in will one day blow through, and a different way of being the church in the world will have to be found and lived. In every generation, it has never been the largest, the wealthiest or the most powerful church that makes a difference in the world. It has always been the individual person of faith, who joins with others with that same hope and vision, to feed the hungry, protect the innocent, lift up the fallen, and proclaim God’s vision of peace. It’s the lives of the faithful that proclaim the truth of the Gospel, not their buildings, or budgets, or institutions. And that reality is what holds me, and I hope, holds you, in the midst of our current religious storms. 
I believe what I wrote; …

The Economy: Learning to Trust Again

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We are designed to be trusting animals, you and me.

Paul Zak, professor of economics at Claremont University, and researcher in the emerging field of "neuroeconomics," discusses the way human brains work when we interact with one another in a APM Speaking of Faith broadcast from July, 9, 2009. Here's the link: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/neuroeconomics


I urge you to take the time to listen. Zak asserts that the brain hormone oxytocin, the same hormone that is released in the brain of women while nursing, and in all of us during sexual arousal (the attachment hormone as I have come to think of it) is released in 98% of us when we interact with one another with trust. And this is particularly important, he asserts, in our interactions around money. We tend, he says, to begin with trust, and when trust is reciprocated, that trusting is reinforced. This is how an economy functions; we fundamentally trust one another. In particularly stressful times, t…

And Furthermore

While pain is the energy that moves us toward change, the absence of pain isn't enough to sustain it. This is one of the factors that makes change so hard: we experience the lack of pain as relief, as a kind of balance or homeostasis. We tend to rest there; we're comfortable again.

We take a few pills, and our pain decreases. We see a therapist once or twice, and we don't go back. Many of us aren't really that interested in change. We just want a rescue from pain.

Pleasure is what I think is on the other side of relief. In order to move us from pain to relief to change, human beings need regular, positive reinforcement. We need to really feel that our effort is giving us something new and different than just relief; it's creating a welcome, desired difference. And that difference needs to be sustained in order for us to trust our effort is working. We need positive, consistent reinforcement of our efforts. In other words, rewarding ourselves keeps the balance tipp…

Be It Resolved

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I think about change for a living.

Psychotherapy is an interpersonal process meant to help people achieve personal goals. It's a form of reflective conversation. Clients talk; I ask questions, make observations, teach them models that describe their experience. Our sessions remind them they are not alone in their private pain or struggle, and that some real things can be done about it.

It's an assumption in my field that people can't change until they are ready. Until, (in my theory of change), they feel enough pain that they are ready to move away from the familiar and attempt something different.

That's why most New Year's Resolutions fail. Most of us who make these promises haven't really reached that critical change place of too much pain. Those who do, who have prepared themselves with reflection, remorse, planning, and hopefulness may be successful. They will be the ones who used the calendar to prepare themselves for the new behavior, thinking and emot…