Clarifying the Fog in Our Culture

July 25, 2018

It’s a good book.  I wrote this summary to encourage professional counselors in the DFW to read it.  We all need to work on seeing our cultural issues more clearly, our own views as well as those differing from ours.  I Hope this will entice you to read the book.

 

Imagine a long overdue visit to the optometrist. You sit behind a big disk full of lenses, one of which makes all those letters very clear. No longer does a “Q” blur with an “O” or a “G.” You are no longer confused about discerning a number from a letter. With the proper lens, you can see things clearly for what they are. Reality replaces imagination or extrapolation or inference. This book clarifies our perspective on what we actually believe based on truth. It contrasts sacred values with those differing from our own, thus helping us to know more clearly what we believe and how those beliefs drive our meaning and purpose in life.

Murray characterizes our American culture as embracing unbounded autonomy while abandoning truth. Preferences and opinions formulate conclusions as a filter for which “facts” qualify as acceptable. That’s backward from what it ought to be. In the absence of truth as an arbiter between differences, each side resorts to power in order to win over the other side. Chaos results. Our current political arena illustrates how quickly we are inclined to hurl insults at the opposition rather than examining the foundational premise and worldview either side holds. Is the abortion debate about rights of the mother or about when life as a human begins? Is the immigration debate about hospitality toward the sojourner or about keeping our country free from dangerous people? On and on, slogans populate the airwaves more than facts, principles and foundational sacred values. When we attempt to clarify differences, we are accused of bias or judgmental condescension. Murray states that clarity has become a vice and confusion has become a virtue.

Our role as counselors is, in part, to help our clients overcome the confusion in their lives. We help them align their perception with more objective reality. We help them clarify differences with dignity. We help them live consistently within the principles of their worldview. Therefore we of all people need to be clear about how our Christian worldview impacts our priorities and perspectives. Murray was a Muslim in his youth who has trusted Christ at Savior and is now an apologist on the team of Ravi Zacharias. He’s a clear thinker.

He clarifies the relationship between freedom and limits. He let his children play freely in his backyard (bounded by a busy highway) only after he built a fence around his property. He distinguishes between “freedom from” and “freedom for.” This distinction has a lot to do with the object of our focus. This distinction can help redirect a quarreling couple toward freedom for harmony and intimacy rather than freedom from discomfort and antagonism.

He clarifies the importance of holding a Christian worldview with human dignity. He critiques a statement by Justice Anthony Kennedy, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” How would you clarify the inconsistencies of such a statement?   Murray says, “the autonomy that we claim gives us dignity is the very autonomy that undermines it. That’s as confused as things get.” He goes on to state “the cross is where human depravity and human dignity collide.”

In a relevant-for-the-times chapter on sexuality, gender, and identity, he answers the question, “How can the Bible validate the sexuality of someone whose sexual orientation the Bible calls abominable?” He makes it clear that God does not arbitrarily prohibit certain conduct. Rather, he protects something sacred, the created Image of God, the celebrated unity with diversity in relationship. I was impressed that he quoted Mark Yarhouse’s research several times in this chapter. You ought not to miss this chapter.

If you’re interested in how religion, faith, and science integrate truth, Murray spends a chapter answering the question, “Why do you think faith is a valid way of knowing things?” How would you answer that question with a client who is searching?

I was particularly impressed with the various distinctions he makes between Christianity and other world religions.   All roads do not lead to the same God. “Failure to recognize that all views are exclusive at some level is at the heart of the culture’s confusion about religious pluralism,” says Murray.

Murray goes beyond clarifying the areas of fog that our boundless pursuit of autonomy has created. He ends by clarifying the hope in our future that reliance on truth (Truth?) can provide. “We’ve so obsessed over the freedom to do what we want that we’ve neglected the freedom to do what we should.”   He closes with how we can transition from freedom to truth and from truth to clarity.

If we are professional counselors who hold a Christian worldview, then we ought to be very clear of what that worldview is and how it can provide us with a truthful and reliable guide to a meaningful life. I recommend this book for you to read to that end.

JLJ

 

 

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Leadership Development

July 24, 2017

LEAD 7.9.17 (2)

How do you develop leaders? How do you know if someone is leading in his area of giftedness? In light of new insights to giftedness, how does a man learn about new options to choose for his ministry? As a church grows, how does a man know how to change his leadership style to keep pace with his evolving role? If personal or marital issues are creating a drag on a man’s energy, how does he deal with them? How does a man know what kind of people to surround himself with to create a smooth functioning team? These and many more questions are addressed in a rigorous five-day program called LEAD.

I was invited to be one of four LEAD coaches a few weeks ago in what I think is the most effective approach I have ever heard of. Bill Hendricks, Executive Director of Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary organizes several LEAD programs every year. This time, four couples came from their pastoral roles from as many locations in the country, all experienced, all accomplished, all eager to learn how they can be more effective leaders. While the pastors’ leadership was the focus, each couple was seen as a unit.

LEAD is a five-day, intensive and highly interactive leadership development process focused on self-awareness of personal strengths, limitations, and hindrances, and how those realities affect his interactions with others—most especially with those he loves and leads. The aim is to turbocharge the leader’s effectiveness as he clarifies direction and explores new dreams.

It includes sound leadership principles, exhaustive personal evaluation and scrutiny, and lots of interaction to make the process experiential. My focus was on their personal lives that included emotional, relational and spiritual integration individually as well as their marriage. These folks were willing to be vulnerable. They were open to feedback. They were strong but also humble. These characteristics are rather uncommon among pastors in my opinion. What a privilege to see the process up close. My hope is that they’ll find a way to make it bigger so more couples can go through it.

What approaches have you seen that seem to contribute to good leadership training? Leave a comment.


What’s It Like to Visit West Africa?

March 24, 2017

This recruiting video just came off the press.  It captures what it’s like to visit West Africa.  I participated in last year’s trip, spending most of my time with the adults, but the children stole the show.  Watch it and feel the mood.  Then you’ll understand why I want to return to Africa.

 

 


Emerging Realities In Mental Health

November 23, 2016

I just returned from an exciting conference.   Yes, a conference CAN be exciting.  It was the 37th Annual Mental Health and Missions Conference in Angola, Indiana.  Psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, over 240 of us, from all over the county come together to discuss how we can use our talents to support those who work in cross-cultural settings.  These are people who know what it’s like to get outside their own comfort zone and connect with people who do life differently.  The theme is on the sign . . . 

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So, what are the emerging realities?

  • Safer technology.  Many commonly-used video connections like Skype are not as confidential as many think.
  • Positive Psychology.  Mental health practices traditionally have aimed at healing the sick.  This approach is looks more at the characteristics that allow a person to function with maximum happiness and effectiveness.  Health is more than the absence of sickness.
  • Secure Attachment.  Adopted children require special care after being uprooted from their birth homes.  Also, children of missionaries (and others whose work takes them around the globe) require extra kinds of attention to reassure them of their safety.   
  • Trauma Healing.  Life-threatening experiences are not uncommon these days.  Think of those struggling with PTSD.  Traumatic experiences are rooted deeply and do not diffuse with the passing of time. 

So that’s the technical part.  Aside from all that, I got to connect with some outstanding people in the field.  What a thrill to experience being part of something far bigger than just me and being able to make a small contribution.  Now, to follow up with several new friends.

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What Do You Talk About when . . .

November 6, 2016

It’s not very of2016_11_04-mamadou-at-gloriasten that you have an opportunity to host an African church leader to dinner.  But Sonia and I had that pleasure last Friday night.  We were rife with curiosity and questions that made it easy to converse.  Here’s some of how it went.

How much rain did they get in their region of West Africa?  You see, they are mostly farmers there, living off the land and depending on the rain for their crops.  Our group left this year just as the rains were coming.  Turns out that they had a wonderful rain in their region this year and will have a full crop of maize.  That’s the good news.  The sad news is that they lose half of their crop to the rodents after they store it in wooden bins.
Here’s a picture of how they store their grain today.  What an opportunity for some outside businessmen to provide metal storage bins that are sealed from critters and the weather!  As it stands, they just storage-bindon’t have the money to build them.

More personally, how does a young man raised as a Muslim come to surrender his life to the person of Christ and become a church leader?  Speak of transitions!  What a story it was.  Fast forward to today . . . what’s it like to be a man in a poor Muslim-dominated country trying to carve out a niche to provide a foothold for the expansion and strengthening of Christianity?  And how can those Christians, poor as they are, make significant positive contributions to the communities in which they live?  How can they build businesses that will provide for their self-reliance? 

Leave it to Sonia to ask some stimulating questions:  What’s the best part of your life in West Africa these days?  “My wife.”  What’s the worst? “Persecution.”

We talked about those things and a lot more which made the evening fly by quickly and left us inspired and full of admiration for this man.  And we learned a lot about opportunities for their growth and development, about what life is like in a place very different than Dallas, and about how God blesses those who are faithful in following Him. 

By the way, he’s seven feet tall.  


Safety and Relationships

September 17, 2016

 

castle

In the 12th century, a man built this castle because he needed safety.  It’s up high on a hill.  It’s walls are thick and sturdy.  But it has two problems.  It can form a prison for its inhabitants walling in as much as it walls out.  This leads to the second problem of isolation from relationships.  So where do we turn to find safety from things that threaten our well-being while at the same time enjoying rich and vital relationships with others?  I think we find the answer in deeper connection with other people and in deeper honesty with God.

Sometimes people are like that castle.  Their body carries the memories of trauma and wounds that are painful.  So they build walls to keep themselves safe and comfortable.  But secrets breed sickness of a kind.  Bottled-up emotions carry an internal heaviness and private pain.  Then the people try to numb the pain by overwork or many other soothing behaviors.  They distance themselves from internal awareness because what’s inside isn’t very pleasant.  Externally, they distance themselves from close relationships because relationships are complicated.  They wall in their own vitality.  Something dies and becomes unresponsive.  In short they wall out and wall in.

Next to the castle is a retreat center here in Interlaken, Switzerland, where I’m one of 12 counselors providing counseling and encouragement for over 55 men working cross-culturally around the world.  Many of them serve in very unsafe places.  Many of them have never had a safe place where they can openly talk about some of their wounds, their struggles, their frustration without being judged.  We’re hearing phrases like “loneliness, pressure-cooker, isolation, and no one to turn to.”  The goal of “Traction” is to provide care and refreshment to fuel these men for the work of their calling.  In addition to worship, teaching, outdoor activities and personal reflection these men allow themselves to “open up.”  The counseling we offer is a tangible way of experiencing safety and relationship together.  As the men risk trusting another human being, they are motivated to trust God more.  And, of course, as they trust God more they can entrust themselves to other people better.  That’s what makes their ministry more effective.

Susan Johnson, an expert in the area of intimate relationships, writes:

“A secure bond is the launching pad for our going out and exploring the unknown and growing as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety. It is much easier when we know that someone has our back.”  p. 24

 

In Old Testament times, David experienced the combination of safety and relationship which he expressed in Psalm 61 and 62:

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. So will I ever sing praises to your name as I perform my vows day after day. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

As these verses become more experientially real, we find ourselves closer to God.  How is it for you?  Let me know what part of this you struggle with.  Let me know what has been helpful to you in realizing this i n your life.


Common Ground?

April 10, 2016

 

images-2The issue of transgender identity polarizes opposing camps so vigorously that we seem to prefer warfare and judgment rather than understanding and compassion. Everybody’s yelling and no one’s listening. Everyone is right and everyone else is wrong. Most people take a hard position defending their conclusions and no one is learning anything. I am concerned about the stagnation that this polarization creates. How do we soften the impasse that locks up human dialog, as though listening might cause us to compromise our most fundamental beliefs? We tend to hurl critical stereotypic slogans across a chasm of division emphasizing the virtues of our own position along with the disastrous aspects of those who differ with us. Do we need to compromise the principles we hold firmly in order to listen to those who differ with us? I don’t think so. But what we desperately need to do first, before we judge and conclude anything, is to search for and find some common ground between to opposing sides. It’s not finding a midpoint and it’s not finding a compromise. But it’s about finding some points of mutual agreement before we discuss points of disagreement. This is how we start resolving differences while maintaining a measure of dignity as we grow. This is how we begin to learn how to be respectful, loving and kind to the people with whom we differ.

My own identity is based in three camps, none of which are doing a very good job of clarifying issues or trying to find any common ground. I identify with the scientific camp, having a couple of engineering degrees and enjoying the objective aspects of the scientific method. I also identify with the psychological camp, having spent the past 40 years as a counselor and having earned a Ph.D. in that specialty. Most of all, I identify with the theological camp which emphasizes timeless and universal Truth (with a capital T), which is primarily relational and absolute in a way that promotes humility and grace rather than arrogance. OK, let’s see what each of these camps present.

The Scientific/Medical Camp is beginning to weigh in on the issue with facts, opinions, and proposed solutions. Scientific American  featured an article in the January 2016 issue entitled “Young and Transgender: How Best to Help Them Thrive.” The American Academy of Pediatrics  led off their statement with a clear declaration of their conclusions: “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” Here are the highlights of what they said:

Lost and Confused Signpost

 

  • Believing that someone is something they are not is a sign of confused thinking.
  • Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait
  • Everyone is born with a biological sex.   Gender awareness is a sociological and psychological concept and is subjective by nature.
  • Puberty-blocking hormones can be very dangerous. As many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender-confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.
  • Rates of suicide are 20 times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery.
  • Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.

 

The Psychological/Sociological Camp position is best expressed by and article in my favorite journal in the field, Psychotherapy Networker. In their March/April 2016 issue, they featured “The Great Escape: Welcome to the World of Gender Fluidity” by Margaret Nichols which paints a clear picture of the current views of this camp.  Here are the highlights of what she said:

  • Beginning in 2013, the diagnosis “Gender Identity Disorder” no long exists. The DSM-5 renamed the diagnosis “Gender Dysphoria.” Thus, distress is now the salient feature of the diagnosis rather than identity.
  • Social intolerance, not gender diversity, is the basic problem. Thanks to the Internet and television, great progress has been made in providing a tribal sense of belonging for transgender individuals. More forward-thinking therapists, as well as more permissive parents, now create a healthy atmosphere of acceptance and advocacy for these individuals.
  • There is no such thing as “the opposite sex.” More accurate new terms are coming into existence such as a gender continuum, a gender spectrum or a gender web.
  • Mental health professionals have the responsibility to affirm the self-determination of transgender clients. Parents should take their minor children only to gender specialists for help.
  • It remains to be seen if there will be an increase in surgery and hormone treatment. As society changes, our view of what is normal will change and we must all come to terms with this change.

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The Conservative Theological Camp

Bryan Fischer, American Family Radio host, took a strong position against transgenderism as though there is nothing more to learn. Like many of my Evangelical, Bible-based friends (and conservative politicians) the strong rhetoric is primarily what is wrong, bad, detrimental, and evil. This position not only polarizes people but also fails to offer well-informed positive alternatives to the problems. Thus, good people with whom I agree theologically tend to marginalize and isolate the bigger and deeper Christian perspective on issues. We are inclined to emphasize what’s wrong with other people more than what we have to offer them to make their lives better. Here are the highlights of what he said:

  • “Accepting transgenderism is child abuse.
  • “No nation that truly loves children would allow this alarming and disturbing trend to continue for another day.”
  • “The biblical truth about gender identity is confirmed by biological science. Human sexuality is binary by design.”
  • A person’s view of his/her own sexuality that differs from biological truth is a delusion.
  • It’s a criminal act in four states to help a gender-confused teen reconcile his sexual identity with his biological identity. If this trend continues, it will be a blight on the health and strength of our nation.

So what is a guy like me to do? I tend to think analytically like the scientific camp; I treasure the richness of interpersonal relationships like the psychological camp;  I am grounded in a biblical worldview so strongly that I’d be willing to die for my faith. Rather than emphasizing the superiority of my point of view and harshly condemning others for their ignorance or evil, I simply ask, “Is there any common ground?” This is not “compromise.” This is not finding a midpoint between positions. Perhaps if we pause to find some common ground, we could stop hurling insults across a chasm of ignorance and begin a more respectful dialog as we discuss our differences.

Here are some of my suggestions of where common ground might exist where all sides could agree as a starting point.

  1. Life is difficult. Every human being struggles with some internal issue(s).
  2. Compassion toward other human beings should guide our attitudes more strongly than judgment and condemnation.
  3. Many issues, like gender identity, are complex and difficult to understand. This should motivate us to seek more understanding of why some people believe differently than we do.
  4. We have choices in life, which result in both positive and negative outcomes. Some things are not a matter of choice, like what period of time in history will we be born, in what country, to what parents?
  5. In addition to standing firmly on issues on which we disagree, it’s beneficial to offer some solutions to the problems that we see.

Would you join me in looking for additional common ground between these warring camps? Then we can clarify our contributions in light of our worldview (which also needs to be clarified). Only then can an intelligent discussion result which might contribute to our edification and dignity as human beings?

PS: If you are interested in an intelligent response to those who object to “binaries” (i.e. polarized right-wrong points of view), click here and listen to a 3/14/2016 message by Tim Keller in New York City.