Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

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 life, after the children are grown and gone, and our work life blessedly finished. But for others, this physical change comes much earlier, as a child, or teen, a young or middle adult. And suddenly life is different.


Chronic illness. It’s a disease, like diabetes, that robs the body of its natural resources and requires hourly attention to diet, activity and insulin. It’s asthma that can be quiet for days and weeks and suddenly constrict airways. Spina bifida, cerebral palsy, brain disorders, arthritis, paralysis, cancer, and blindness: the list of disorders, diseases or injuries that can change our lives is seemingly endless. None comes with our permission. But once it comes, if we want to keep our families and marriages healthy, happy, and productive, we must figure out how best to cope.

While those who live with chronic illness in themselves or close loved one have to create their own way to manage, there are some common factors when people find themselves faced with permanent life challenges. Perhaps one or more of these resources may fit you and your family now or in the future.
  1. Support. Being suddenly faced with disease or disability can be an enormously isolating experience; we feel overwhelmingly alone in our loss. Reaching out to others who have been there before us is a great relief to many. Local, in-person support groups or electronic on-line discussion groups are a wonderful way to break that isolation, find help, advice, and new friends who can walk the new journey with you.
  2. Education. Many of us have found the Internet and it’s endless resources both wonderful and awful: some of what we find is inaccurate and it’s hard to sort out which information is true or not. Finding the most authoritative sources of information about our condition is important and life giving. Medical libraries on-line, medical professionals, and research foundations may be the best places to start when researching a disease.
  3. Insurance companies. Believe it or not, most health insurance companies want to help you manage your disease so that you maintain or improve your symptoms. Many diseases have been shortened, improved or cured by the research done in clinical trials. Ask your physician if you qualify for research studies, and then be in touch with your insurance provider. You may find, as I have, that your insurance will cover an important, life-giving clinical study.
  4. Mental health care. As a psychotherapist who has been a therapy patient herself, I know how critical mental health care is to living with disease and chronic pain or disability. Reach out for mental and emotional support before you feel overwhelmed, and find a private, confidential healing place to think about your feelings, behaviors, relationships, and changed body. Internet directories like GoodTherapy.org are great places to search for quality therapists in your area.
  5. Spirituality. Nothing is more important to the long-term adjustment to change and disability than working within one’s sense of faith, belief, ritual and higher power. Faith and spirit can help one recreate a sense of purpose, meaning, self-care, self-acceptance, love and forgiveness in the midst of loss and change. When we can feel connected to a Being or community that loves us in the midst of our personal storms, we can experience a safe harbor for our hearts and minds.
Even with some or all of these important resources, living with chronic disease is a difficult and exhausting journey. Be sure you make time and space in your life for love, laughter, and joy, the things that hold families together. Despite the challenges, you may find life really worth living, together.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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 world, such as extraversion or neuroticism.
    
    Whichever way makes more sense to you to describe human beings, by types or common traits, we have a collective curiosity about how people become who they are, and how much we can or should adapt ourselves to others and our environment.

     How did I get to be the way I am? When my clients ask me this question, I answer this way:  our personality is constituted like a recipe, with three primary ingredients. The first main ingredient is our individual nature. We are born with a particular style of personality, inherited from our parents and our larger family system. It’s part of our genetic code, and forms the basis of who we become.  Our general sense of the world, our innate optimism or pessimism, our sense of humor; this basic personality is another thing we have inherited.

     The second main ingredient of our personality is formed by the way we are cared for by our parents; it’s the nurture part of the recipe. Was our mother well nourished, healthy, and ready to become pregnant? Were our parents free from addiction, major illness or injury? Was our birth relatively normal? Were we welcomed into the world with joy and cared for with love? The way our parents meet our vulnerability, suffering and growing sense of self makes up the great majority of our personality relationship style.

     If our parents or primary caregivers have enough sense of self that they can sacrifice and respond to our needs consistently, we learn to trust that others will meet our needs, and that others are trustworthy. We offer ourselves to them, and get care and love in return. In the research done on this concept of emotional attachment, about half of us get just what we need to feel secure. The rest of us learn some combination of security, anxiety and withdrawal to cope with inconsistent parenting.

     The third part of our personality is made up of all the unique, individual experience we have in life and what we do with it. It’s the fall you took in second grade from school jungle gym, the trip to the hospital, and the cast that you had to wear through the summer. How did that fall affect you? How did it shape the way you think, feel and respond to the world? What happens, and how you chose to respond, makes up a large part of your personality.

     What about birth order? I think it fits in this third “what happens to us” category of personality development. While research is still battling it out whether first born children actually are more independent than their second born siblings, therapists and other social scientists have found a common pattern in family position that seems to fit many families, at least in Western cultures. In general, first born and only children are commonly more self determined and disciplined, having been born into an adult system and most closely associated to adults, even as infants. The second born child is less connected to the adults in the family, and if followed by a third child, may feel a bit lost in their parents’ strong relationship to the first born and emotional focus on the baby of the family. The farther away from the parent system, the more independent and even rebellious that child may become (Sulloway, 1997). Additionally, the more older siblings a child has, the more accustomed they often become to letting other people lead, and can more easily go “with the flow” than those born first.

     Family therapists differ in the amount of importance they place in this theory of birth order, but most will inquire about how a client’s family is constituted, and where in the family their client “fits.” Why it matters at all is that it may help people better understand some of their unconscious preferences for friendships, marriage partners, relationship styles, and even how they may connect to or discipline their own children. It’s all just part of our individual personality recipes.


Sulloway, F. J. (1997) Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. New York:
     Vintage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

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 sentences to drop punctuation or spelling for the sake of being current. In fact, I hate it when I find a mistake after I hit the Publish Post button. And having a couple of deadlines to meet (in newsprint and online) makes me very unlikely to post here too often.

But for this writer/preacher/therapist to blur the boundary between self and audience, to say more than is prudent, to share information that I've been asked to hold as private: that's a scary thought. 

To have good human relationships, in part, means to know that there is a real difference between me and you. And the differences need to have breathing room, space to breathe, and respect from each of us to flourish. If I blather on and on about just myself in this space between us, there isn't any room for you. If you trust me with personal, sensitive information and I write about it, I've broken your trust. Even if someone else wants to read about it for the drama of it all. Even if it seems entertaining.

So, I guess I'll be at the back of the blogging pack on this one. I won't write specifically about any of my clients. I won't share anything of my family without thinking several times and then asking permission. I'm going to stay away from the most personal in order to say more about the shared. I'm going to be a blogger who posts less frequently, does more editing, and points more often beyond my little life to the world beyond.

Call me a slacker. It's just how I roll. Or write. :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Go To the Limits of Your Longing

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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Modern Novel: Why bother?

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 lauded this development as a maturation, a transition to new greatness, and we the hapless readers were forced to endure it like bad medicine. I did what I think most regular readers did: I read everything else. There is no shortage of writers who can still write a good story.

Hence, my joy at reading the TIME news magazine cover story about author Jonathan Franzen, whose latest book, Freedom, is due out shortly. Finally, a popular literary fiction writer who is understanding the need for storytelling. Here's what he said:
It seems all the more imperative, nowadays, to fashion books that are compelling, because there is so much more distraction they have to resist. To me, now, to do something new is not to develop a form for the novel that has never been seen on earth before. It means to try to come to terms as a person and a citizen with what's happening in the world now and to do it in some comprehensible, coherent way.  
We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we've created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful. The place of stillness where you can actually go to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can acutally make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world.                                      (8/23/10, p. 48)

So, here's to Franzen's perspective: a hope for the return of the value of story telling, the grand, wide sweep of a world that readers in the 18th and 19th centuries simply assumed. English majors, UNITE!

Friday, July 30, 2010

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Taking Charge of our own Health

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 hospitals' emergency system to receive the health care they need. And because treating normal health issues in the ER is like sending a battle ship to take you fishing, this solution is not much of one. But we are so wedded to the health care as a service model, the only solution that the best minds of our day can come up with is to provide universal health care coverage.

What makes me a bit crazy about this solution is the increased dependence we all have on insurance companies. And with this increase in dependence, comes a pressure to keep costs down as they add members who may use more insurance on average than others. So while more of us are covered, the coverage shrinks in response.

While this may be good for most Americans, it has not been good at all for mental health providers. We are the lowest paid health care providers as a group in the country, and reimbursements for our work are getting smaller and smaller each year. More of us are leaving our contracts with the large insurers, and some of us begin our private practices without signing contracts at all, focusing on serving the most people we can as Out-of-Network, or non-preferred professionals.

Mental health, one of the most important of the healing arts to learn and master, is slowly being pushed out of the health care arena. If you have tried to get an appointment with a local psychiatrist lately, you will know exactly this first hand. The recession has made this shortage worse, as the larger health systems cut back on mental health clinics and out-patient therapists.

While we continue to try to solve this growing crisis, we each need to consider how important our health is to us and act proactively. We need to stop expecting doctors to fix things after we have done willing damage to ourselves either by inactivity, abuse of alcohol, food, drugs or other things we ingest. We need to limit the excesses we have come to demand of medicine, whether that be for antibiotics, plastic surgery or that third or fourth expensive test. And we need to put our money where our personal priorities are, and be willing to pay a larger portion of our own care in our daily budget.

We have grown fat, literally and figuratively, at the table of insurers. We are bloated by the expectations that medicine, physical and mental health care are paid by someone else. If it is essential to our lives, we need to add it into our budgets, just like we do when we put gas in our cars and and food on our tables. Like it or not, we buy the things we need in our economy, and we must grow to understand that all this health care is not someone else's bill, but our own.

"In insurance we trust" could be the motto of many Americans. As more of us receive coverage, more of our income will need to be set aside for health coverage. And that is as is should be, if only so long as we commonly consider health care a service we pay for, and for which we should have choices as consumers. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

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

Thursday, July 15, 2010

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 community and not looked back.

I believe that the small revisionist groups that have sprung up in and around the American RC community will, within another generation, cause a full split from the Roman leadership and create their own church. Or, at least they should. It's time for a new Catholic reformation in America before there is no church left to reform. 

New York Times article, 7.15.2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

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 future.

I have never felt the demise of the traditional Protestant parish to be so urgent as I have in the last two years. I'm sure my late optimism was driven into me, having graduated from a traditional Midwest Lutheran seminary full of teachers and administrators educated and serving in the heyday of the institutional Church, the 1950s and '60's.  A changing American church? They didn't see it coming. Or if they did, they looked the other way. Ordained in 1984, I remember all the years of denominational articles, letters, programs, trainings and trips to stimulate the parish life I inherited. I knew I was captain to a ship taking on water. Members expected strength, growth and spiritual pride in their church. I bailed faster, and felt the panic deep within me. Some of that panic propelled me out of parish ministry in 2004. In the six years since, I've been quite focused on my training and work of family therapy. But I haven't left.

I struggle with this common distraction and panic. Everywhere I turn, the denomination I claim as my own seems lost in a scramble for relevance. Liturgy, once rich with words and movements and rhythm has been replaced by giant screens flashing PowerPoint versions of reworded creeds. I am numbed and bored, and I don't seem to have a place any more. The denomination I claim to be my second church home keeps moving along with a common liturgical focus and broad social net, but seems nonplussed by its lack of growth and aging congregants.

There is a new time of the Church coming, but I can't see around the corner just yet. I've been reading the New Testament book of The Acts of the Apostles in the one hand, and Phyllis Tickle's 2008 The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why in the other.  This summer, with empty pews and open parking lots, the questions seem particularly urgent. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

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

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Helplessness = Trauma

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 do something in the midst of a rape, or fire, shooting or car accident seems to be the way that human beings help themselves mentally manage the horrors of life.

In all of human history, with the exception of the last decade, the way that human beings were exposed to the darkest part of life was that they lived it. Civil war, tornado, forest fire, genocide, death in childbirth were all experiences limited to the people who lived them in the Now. The average person may have heard about a battlefield massacre hundreds of miles off weeks after it was all done; the sinking of the Titanic days after the ship sat at the bottom of the ocean. The physical distance and the oral or written account were buffers from the sense of immediacy of pain. And while illness, death, disease, and war came very close to everyone, the human struggle had a local feel.

I am concerned for us in the age of constant media exposure. Not only do we hear about the devastation of Haiti or Guatemala after earthquake, we are taken there by professional as well as citizen video, blog, radio, television and internet streams. Rivers of emotional information, rushing at us day and night, eliciting in most of us sense of chronic helplessness. We are being exposed to suffering not in the scale of a single lifespan, but on a world-wide scale, a level most of us can't possible sustain. And the only way that most of us have of being less helpless, of sending money, is a weak antidote to the larger emotional burden the river of news places on us.

When we watch the oil wash up on the unique marshlands at the mouth of the Mississippi, or see a dead dolphin or pelican laying on the beaches of northern Florida, we layer yet another experience of helplessness on our brains. Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq. Over and over. It's trauma, with a small t.

Will we all become a species so accustomed to the experience that we will adopt what is called a "learned helplessness," where sooner or later nothing moves us any more, and we emotionally disconnect from the needs and suffering of others?

What do you do to limit the exposure you and your family have to trauma you can't fix, suffering you can't stop, horror you can't control? How can you spare yourself and your children from emotional wounds of trauma caused by round-the-clock media?

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

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 family station wagons going somewhere together as hallmarks of our childhood.

But like everything else with our families, traveling together as companions is a mixed blessing. While we can anticipate one another’s reactions and find pleasure in those shared experiences and understandings, we also make instantaneous assumptions, judgments and responses to each other that can zap the joy out of the newness of travel. In other words, it can be great and awful at the same time! (Recall the Clark Griswold’s of the 1983 movie, “Vacation,” and you’ll instantly know what I mean).

So, before you come unglued in your rush to close the house and get on that plane for that long-awaited winter escape, consider a few things that may make for a more relaxed, pleasant and renewing family trip. If you have some more ideas to share, be sure to add your comment at the bottom of this post.

1. Stay Within the Budget
Nothing can kill the joy of a family trip than spending more than you can afford. No one wants to be paying off credit card travel expenses 11 months after that dream visit to Disneyworld. Do all you can to stay inside your planned budget, making room for the spontaneous and unexpected, and you will have a much less stressful time while vacationing, and particularly, upon return.

2. Prepare to Travel
Don’t wait until the night before you leave to know if you have enough cash, if you have or need your passport, if your favorite shorts still fit, if the car needs an oil change, or if you have renewed your daily prescriptions at the pharmacy. None of us needs the emotional turmoil of last-minute, rushed packing. It can take all the pleasure out of the first part of your vacation, and can really stall your trip through airport security!

3. Lower your Expectations
No destination is going to be as great as the travel brochure, the website, or your dreams set you up to expect. Even Hawaii has problems. Lower your expectations of your perfect honeymoon or family trip, and instead, ready yourself to be pleasantly surprised and flexible. More fun will be had by all!

4. Manage your Job
Most successful employers know that we are better at our jobs when we can leave them for awhile. While it’s tempting to stay connected via email, texts, photos or even phone calls to work, unplug from the people at work and turn toward the people you’re with. After all, it’s your family that will stick around long after that job is over. And if you are self-employed like I am, make a plan to limit the contact you need to have with your business and stick to your plan.

5. We Bring Ourselves with Us
Your son isn’t automatically going to be well behaved just because he’s visiting grandma, and your spouse isn’t miraculously going to be easy going, generous and relaxed just because you’re in a different place. Remember that while your family is pretty much the same wherever they go, so are you. Cut everyone a little slack.

6. Staying with Extended Family
Nothing says “emotional overload” like traveling with your family and staying with even more. Be sure to treat the family you visit with respect, do your share of the extra work you create, and make time to get out from under their feet, and you will probably be invited back!

7. Returning
Some of us appreciate more time at home before the rush back to the normal begins. I know I need time to get some of the laundry done, to make sure there’s enough milk in the refrigerator, and to sort the mail before I go back to work. Others don’t need much re-entry time, eking out as much vacation time as possible. Know your preferences and honor them. That way coming home will be as pleasant as possible.

And in all journeying, safe travels!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Memoirs R Us

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 book for her Book Club brought him onto her show to confront him. While Karr, a brilliant writer and poet, seems to have been spared the public skewering that Frey endured, her 3 volume story of degradation and personal reform seems impossible to fit into one small lifetime. 

Americans are endlessly interested in how other people live their lives. But what seems to have shifted in our culture is that the lives we want to read about are less about strength, courage or righteousness and more about failure and secrecy. Instead of presidents and religious leaders, we buy books about drug addicted professors or single women on a quest for God. We want to peer behind the curtain to reveal the humanness of those around us, and not only confirm our own brokenness, but also heave sighs of relief when our own lives aren't so dramatically distorted and bent.

It fits with the trends of paparazzi following the famous, the famous repenting on television, and the not so famous watching this all on 24/7 news cycles. It also follows on the decline of the organized Church, where not too long ago the lives of saints, old and new, were held up as models of faithful living.

People are always going to look for help in living their lives, and trying to understand their own through the lens of another is one powerful way to do it. But I wonder: is it helping anyone to lead a better, more satisfying life when all the stories we buy and sell are those of deep failure, relationship pain, and the crawling back toward the shores of self respect? Or does it set us up for lives of lower standards, lives measured against the latest and biggest personal fall?

Among other things, we are what we spend time reading and thinking about. Garbage in, garbage out?  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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 the broken but holy Church, that despite itself - by God's grace alone - has preserved the sacred texts and still reads, proclaims, studies and attempts to live the gospel of Jesus. All so that each believer, in their own life of faith, might experience forgiveness, hope and belonging, and share that with those they love, and those they may not . Amen


Monday, February 15, 2010

I Don't Want to Be Governor

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 will have to share the same time with the ER docs, and that isn't a good use of anybody's time, energy or money.

I worry about this. Yet, what can be done but cut the budget? This seems like a weird turn of affairs in a state that just a handful of years ago (can you say Jessie?) had more money than it could spend and sent millions of dollars back in rebates. I wasn't in favor of that then, and I am angry about that now. We need savings, even in government, for the downturns and rainy days. If this isn't that time, I don't know what is. We don't get major earthquakes here in MN. But this budget crisis seems like an earthquake to me.

Good luck to our legislators, and the same to our governor. But Pawlenty should cut all his maybe-I'll-run and maybe-I-won't weekend runs to the presidential primary states. That is getting very old, Governor. It's crunch time in our great state. Iowans don't need more face time with you; Minnesotans do. Stay home, Tim, stay home!  

Monday, February 1, 2010

Helplessness & Haiti

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 human beings. We are separate from one another at birth, and will die that way. In between, we live daily life as multiple connections. When connections are broken, by suffering we cannot solve, or death we cannot stop, we are brought up short by the truth of our singleness of self.

What is grief but the crashing in of this solitude, and the choice to risk connecting again?

Kyrie eleison.    Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

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; that size and prestige don't make a church. But money does matter, in all things that a church wants to do. While I am curious about how this is all going to shake out, I have to tell you, I am very worried for every pastor and career church worker I know. The stress on them in these many months of recession is enormous, and everyone on their leadership board is looking to them for answers. There aren't any right now, except to hold on, keep doing what is done best, and press toward a different future.

I can't stress enough the need for every pastor and staff member to mind their own mental health right now. What once was standard procedure is up for grabs. What once was a 'steady as she goes' ship is one that is seriously imperiled by its own failures and the hurricane of economic shrinkage, and is taking on water. I pray that those leaders care for themselves, for they are those to whom we look for leadership and courage in difficult times.

I was finishing seminary and waiting for my first call during our last major recession. I am glad to not be doing the same again now. Pray for those leaders and students preparing to serve, their loved ones and families. It's going to be a very bumpy ride.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Economy: Learning to Trust Again

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, the natural levels of our trust hormone go down.

When we are hurt by someone untrustworthy, another hormone, testosterone, is released in the brain and we universally demand revenge or justice. (He mentions the Enron failure and investment manager Bernie Madoff as key examples of this response.)


So in the large scheme of economic life, we are primed to be trusting, emotionally driven people in the market place. My takeaway? When our trust returns more fully, the economy should begin to restore itself.

This research has me thinking about how amazing it is that we are naturally designed to trust one another, and what to think about those 2-5% of human beings who lack this capacity. It explains to me something of what happens to those we think of as psychopaths, those who lack the capacity for human empathy. Perhaps one day, we will be able to run blood tests and brain scans and know more about how to treat the most violent among us. But that is a post for another day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

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 tipped in the right emotional direction.

Take weight loss, for example. Many of us know that we want to have smaller, lighter bodies, but that it takes a great deal of effort to change our food intake. Most of us can create some small amount of weight loss, generating a sense of relief, but if we don't see regular, sustaining difference, we lose our energy. This is part of the argument among weight loss professionals: should clients weigh themselves daily? On the one hand, small amounts of loss may be visible from day to day, creating a positive reward. On the other hand, not seeing the desired difference can steal motivation fast.

Many of us who try to lose weight give up our efforts when the scale is stalled. We haven't been able to get the reward we need to sustain our effort. The same holds true for other habits of body and mind, like smoking or drinking. If we don't constantly work to boost our sense of pleasure and reward for our new behavior, relief will not be enough to keep us there.

If you are attempting a change process this year, and really want to make it work, make sure you have personal rewards built in to your efforts. What is it that gives you a healthy sense of pleasure? Make a list and figure out how you can add those activities, things, and experiences into your life as rewards for your sustained effort. When you see the change you want, focus on how that change feels in your mind and body, and then create a small, reinforcing reward. It's what keeps our minds moving forward on that narrow, rocky road of personal change.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Be It Resolved

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 emotion that change requires.

The rest of us will fizzle out in a day, a week, a month. Frustrated, chagrined, shrugging off another attempt at New Year resolutions without much thought.


If you are interested, like I am, in how human beings change, I recommend a book to you: Changing for Good, by James Prochaska. Prochaska has studied how people change themselves, such as quitting smoking or drinking cold turkey. He has found a common change process that we can duplicate when we are seriously interested in making changes
in ourselves, or helping others do that for themselves.

As for me, I have personal goals, but I try not to link them to the calendar. I try to pay attention to the level of distress I feel before I attempt change, knowing that I will probably fail if I keep sliding into acceptance or denial. There is a level of comfort in ourselves that keeps us stuck. Turn up the heat a bit, and we will feel the interior pressure more vividly, making us more willing to create change.

Best wishes to you for turning up your internal "heat" as you look to 2010. What kind of change are you pushing yourself toward this year?