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.


		
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A Good Person Doing Good Things

October 29, 2015

Why don’t we hear more about good people doing good things in our communities? This bothers me, so I keep my eyes open for noteworthy people who aren’t in the news. Dr. Michelle Woody strikes me as one of these people. I’m getting to know her as one of my LPC Interns and here’s what I see:

Michelle Woody PictureMichelle specializes in counseling children and youth from families experiencing domestic violence, substance and/or sexual abuse. She is a ‘first responder’ for families in deep trouble and people who encounter multiple forms of misery. She has tough skin. But through her toughness comes a very sensitive and compassionate spirit that reveals her genuine caring. She takes seriously the Bible’s directive to “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering.” (Psalms 82:3)

Often, highly educated people operate at a lofty theoretical and abstract level. Not Michelle. She communicates effectively with young people who have very little sophistication but whose needs are very concrete. Did I mention she has a Doctorate degree from USC in Educational Psychology? Her dissertation was entitled, “Evidenced Based Practices in two Juvenile Detention Centers in Los Angeles County.” Wow. While in LA, she was the Executive Director of a residential treatment facility for adolescent boys who had substance abuse and legal challenges. She is able to see the world from the both kids’ point of view and the academic and professional view.

Often, individuals who are highly educated and skilled in Psychology are not very spiritual. Michelle, however, sees herself as a broken person in a fallen world who needs to constantly abide in her Savior for wisdom, courage and direction in life. As a Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, she teaches Master’s level classes in the Biblical Counseling Department.

In Michelle we see a highly educated woman who chooses to serve those in serious trouble with the wisdom and grace only found in Christ. It seems to me that she has chosen to develop her most important character traits at a high level while maintaining a practical effectiveness with those who are without resources and who want to transition to a better life.

This is some of the good news about a good person. Are you looking for help? If you would like her to help you, your kids, or your whole family, call her at 310-923-6824. I’m very impressed by the character and competence of this woman.


Helping Teenage Cutters

June 15, 2012

When I look around the community for good people doing good things, I need look no further that to one of my previous Interns, Kristine Newton.  She brings her maturity and competence to the counseling room to help, among other situations, teens who are cutters.   If you are one of these teenagers or if you know one, you would do well to read this article.  I asked Kristine to write something to help us understand what’s going on that drives this behavior and also what can be done to help the teen move from despair to a more mature contentment.  Need help?  Call Kristine.  She’s good.

It seemed like a normal night, their teenage daughter, Alice had come home and said good night. She seemed safe and happy; Mom and Dad were relieved and began to watch TV.  Less than ten minutes later, Alice came down the stairs, face flushed, tears in her eyes and blood gushing down her arm. While her parents were relaxing, Alice had gone to her room and slashed her arm. She had been cutting secretly for over six months, but tonight she used a box cutter and didn’t realize how sharp the blade was. The cut was so deep it required a trip to the ER and six stitches. Alice’s parents were in shock, what in the world had she done to herself and why?!!

It is estimated that one of every 200 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 in the United States engages in self-harm of some kind; of those 70% cut themselves. When families come to my office, the scene normally plays out like this.

Two very anxious parents and one scowling teenager enter the room and sit across from me. The adolescent informs me, “I will not talk to you or to them!”  They either deny the cutting is serious or state that their parents are being overly dramatic. “After all,” the teen says, “It’s not that big of a deal; cutting just makes me feel better.”

“Makes you feel better?!! That is ridiculous!” the parents exclaim.  With desperation, the parents turn and give me a look that begs me to talk some sense into their teen immediately.

The weird thing is . . . the teen is at least partially right. Cutting is a coping mechanism that “works” for some people.  Scientists have studied the issue, and believe cutting creates a temporary high, similar to the way adrenaline works.  For most of us, this does not make sense.  How in the world can hurting yourself make you feel better?  Like other unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol, outsiders can easily see the dangers, but the person engaged in it cannot.  Cutting is deceptive, destructive, and can be addictive; even though for a time, it helps relieve tension, reduce numbness and/or create a distraction from stressful life events.

While cutting may appear to “work” for the person using it, like drugs and alcohol, it leaves a bitter aftertaste, and is a dangerous illusion. Cutting can lead to unplanned medical expenses, trips to the ER and, infections which sometimes cause life-long health problems. At minimum cutting leaves unattractive physical scars, and never gets to the root of the issue. Emotionally and relationally, people engaged in cutting end up isolated from others, filled with deep shame and self-hatred, and develop incredibly effective skills at hiding reality from those closest to them.

It is important to note that while cutting may look and feel like a suicide attempt, or a cry for attention most times it is not.  This surprises most of us.  Many people who engage in cutting are not attempting to kill themselves; they see cutting as a way to deal with their pain, so that they can keep on living. While cutting is not often a suicide attempt, it can be a precursor to it, and those who engage in cutting are more prone to attempt suicide in the future.  Sometimes like our teenager Alice in the first paragraph, the cutting may lead to an accidental cutting that is much more serious than intended – even accidental suicide.

To help us understand some of the reasons why a person might cut, there are several characteristics that seem common. Most cutters have experienced more than their fair share of pain.  Many have been sexually abused, grown up with family members who have drug and/or alcohol addictions, or have experienced an extraordinary trauma in their lives. When we actually begin to hear their stories, it is often a wonder to us that they are still alive, and it is understandable that they are struggling.

A second characteristic is that they often feel they have become a burden to others, they feel isolated, and thus tend to deal with their problems without outside help or advice.  They believe others are sick of listening to them, don’t understand them and can’t or won’t help them. Therefore, rather than ask others, they take on the pain themselves and engage in self harm.  One client who ended up in the emergency room said, “I didn’t want to kill myself.  But I didn’t want to burden my mom anymore by telling her I was down, again!  I thought I could cut myself and deal with it that way.  But the cut was a lot deeper than I intended. Now I am so mad at myself, I was attempting to take care of myself, but now I have created more drama and cost my parents even more money because of the hospital bill.”

A final characteristic is cutters are very passionate, sensitive individuals who feel their emotions in vivid Technicolor.  God has given them a unique personality and emotional framework that has very sensitive receptors to the soft side of life.  Many times those who struggle with cutting are fun to be with, exciting to share struggles with, and often very compassionate with others. This places them on a very steep roller coaster ride. The highs are very high and the lows are almost intolerable! The downside: pain they feel at a high level and don’t know how to deal with it. They may try to tell someone they are hurting, but are blown off because others don’t experience the issue at the same intensity.

So what do you do if like the parents in the opening story, you have discovered someone you care about is cutting? Here are six suggestions.

1.  Trust.  Trust that God loves your loved one even more than you do! He loves to shine light in dark places so that He can bring restoration. Trust in His power, loving-kindness and timing to do what He has promised in your life and your loved one’s life.

2.  Don’t Panic.  My guess is that like the parents above, you would be a bit freaked out. That is normal. Don’t be shocked by your reaction.  It is very important to deal with the problem, but do so calmly and not in a panic. Remember, cutting is usually not a suicide attempt, but it is often a cry for help. Your panic could encourage more hiding, aloneness, and be a precursor to more not less cutting.

3.  Communicate love and care. Tell your loved one that you care about them, that you want to be supportive and that you want to see them get help. Do not scold, rebuke, or preach at this point, simply and clearly let them know you are in their corner and cannot be run away!

4.  Find a therapist.  I recommend finding a good therapist for your loved one. A therapist who is experienced in working with cutters is best. Therapy is often necessary not only to teach the cutter new coping skills, but also to work through the trauma that is at the root of cutting. Therapy also helps to educate the cutter of their sensitive emotional nature so they may see it as a blessing, not a curse, and to teach them to use that gift properly and well. If you are the parent, you should attend sessions as well. This is beneficial. It helps the cutter feel supported, and it will also help you. I know this may sound scary, but the therapist can not only help you know how to best deal with your situation, but also work through any doubts you may be having about your parenting skills.

5.  You find a therapist. Dealing with a cutter presents unique challenges; seek a counselor who can help you learn to react to your sensitive loved one in a new and godly way. Even if your loved one will not go to therapy, you should go! Therapy can help you deal with the situation when the person you care about does not want to change.

6.  Be a friend.  This is a time where your loved one really needs a healthy relationship. Listen when they need to talk, open the door to deeper issues, but don’t try to pound down the door. Make sure that you that you remember how to have fun with them! Don’t treat them like a project or a problem. And be patient. This behavior has usually occurred in secret for some time, a few sessions with a therapist will not make it go away. Like addictions, there may be periods of sobriety and then some relapse.

Kristine Newton, MA, LPC works with adolescents and adults at Heritage Counseling and Consulting, in the Park Cities area of Dallas. Through her earlier work at Heartlight Ministries, an inpatient rehab center for teens, and Metrocare Services, she has extensive experience working with adolescents and adults who have engaged in self harm.  To contact her, call 214.363.2345


Baby Boomer Divorce on the Rise

May 3, 2012

angry-boomer-coupleResearchers found the divorce rate among those 50 and older nearly doubled from 1990 to 2009.

The  video report of NBC’s John Yang states the statistics but spins the trend in a shallow way.   Okay, increased freedom and independence may be part of divorce adjustment.   Starting to do things you’ve always wanted to do sounds like a positive adjustment.  But it doesn’t sound to me like people are learning much by simply “getting used to going solo at middle age.”  I have some questions.

How can a couple learn to do more of what they want to do by helping each other?

Doesn’t learning how to build a relationship of intimacy sound more like growing into adulthood?

Where does personal growth fit into the picture?  I don’t believe “it is what it is” any more than “I am what I am.”  too static for me.  Seems to me that a healthy marriage is one that stimulates personal growth for each person!

If  “knowing God” is our ultimate goal in life (and I think it should be), then shouldn’t we devote ourselves to any and every means of complying with His design?

Do you have some questions?  Let’s hear them.

 

 


Helping Kids Out of Sex Trafficking

November 19, 2011

Truly righteous people respond to the needs of the vulnerable members of our society to meet their needs and to restore them to a place of dignity and effective coping.  They often do so with remarkable compassion and great sacrifice to themselves.  We have two such people in our community.  Two professors from Dallas Baptist University, Doctor Shannon Wolf and Doctor Dana Wicker, presented their work to our local CAPS (Dallas/Fort Worth) chapter.  They specialize in helping young girls (ages 10-19) find deliverance from their entrapment in sex trafficking.

Dr. Wolf

Dr. Wicker

As many as 300,000 young girls are forced into sexual slavery in the US every year.

One out of every three children who are homeless are sold into sexual slavery within 48 hours.

More hotline calls come from Texas than any other state in the country!

Praise God for Doctors Wolf and Wickern who explained the effects of trauma on young girls, how to assess their wounds, how to set treatment objectives and how to make appropriate clinical interventions.

I also met Alisa Jordheim, the Safe-house Development Director of “Traffic 911,” a two-year-old organization in Fort Worth to help fight human trafficking.  The human trafficking hotline number to report abuse is 1-888-373-7888.

“. . . what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

We have seen an example of what this looks like in this community.  Thanks Dr. Wolf (shannonw@dbu.edu) and Dr. Wicker (dana@dbu.edu).  If you’d like to receive a file copy of the handouts for this workshop, drop an e-mail request to either of them.

Click here for Animoto video of the meeting.


Human Trafficking or Human Dignity?

March 15, 2011

When vulnerable people are exploited, we have several responses: ignore the injustice and pretend it doesn’t exist; support efforts to correct the injustice; or get involved at some disadvantage to oneself in order to improve the lives of others.  Gina Calvert, a local author and wife of a good friend of mine, has chosen the third option.  A year ago, she traveled to Ghana to help provide an option to their fated human trafficking.  Here’s her story as she wrote to me upon her return.

I traveled to Ghana with Freedom Stones, a non-profit that works in Thailand and Ghana to create sustainable income-generation projects for the prevention of trafficking. Right now they’re making jewelry with local resources (beads and stones from the area). Our job was to train the people who would be making the jewelry. We thought it would be local women, but it ended up being teenagers rescued from trafficking (explained in the next paragraph.) The Diamond Empowerment Fund, an organization made up of all the world’s major jewelers, has commissioned up to 100,000 pieces of a specific necklace from Freedom Stones’ Ghana project in order to show the world they’re against trafficking (since the diamond industry is rife with it). The necklace will be sold in Sterling Jewelers and I think Zales. It’s given a lot of women jobs! The founder is Leah Knippel of Frisco.

We traveled with and stayed at a children’s home belonging to Touch A Life,  which rescues children from trafficking. They have rescued and are committing to long-term support of almost 400 children (200+ in Asia, the rest in Ghana.) Pam Cope, the founder, has been on Oprah, and works with celebrities, sports figures, doctors, etc. to take care of these amazing kids. She works to educate about trafficking and caring for the world’s orphans and widows, as well as advocating personal healing through this work. Her son died suddenly at 15 ten years ago, which ultimately led to her work. The story is compelling. The book is Jantzen’s Gift. It’s been translated into several languages (it’s a bestseller in Italy right now).  She and I coauthored a book called Little Bead. It’s a coffee table book with a simple message even kids can get. The gorgeous pictures depict the bead-making process in Ghana and we have explained how this models the way God transforms us. A copy of it recently auctioned for $100. Right now it’s selling for $40, which includes a $10 donation to a Ghana project.

Tim Keller says

Doing justice in poor communities includes direct relief, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation and social reform. (p. 78)

It seems to me that Gina Calvert is participating in several of these areas.

This is another example of good people doing good things.  When more people, like Gina, are moved by the indwelling Christ to reach out to the vulnerable areas of our world, we see the proper fruit of faith which is good works.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)


Listening

February 21, 2011

We don’t do a very good job of listening.  I work real hard to listen to my clients as they express their personal issues.  Often, I miss what they’re saying and need some help.  More often, they miss what each other is saying and need a lot of help.  So if we don’t listen well, we don’t understand what’s really going on with the other person.

Some years ago, Wiley Miller wrote my favorite series on Non-Sequitur cartoons.  The first panel showed what one person heard; the second showed what the other person heard.  For example:

What She Heard – “Anything less than absolute perfection makes you an utter failure as a wife and mother.”

What He Said – “Mom is coming over for dinner.”

Or another . . .

What He Heard – “You’re way too stupid to be trusted driving in bad weather!”

What She Said – “Drive carefully, dear.”

Someone wisely said, “If we have two ears and one mouth, we ought to do twice as much listening as we do talking.”  Certainly, one of the reasons we don’t hear so well is that we are too busy giving our answers.  Proverbs 18:13 says,

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

So we ought to be working hard to make sure we listen intently so our responses are to the point.  Ken Boa writes a wonderfully clear article about what the Bible ways about the importance of listening.

Just to illustrate the point more vividly and visually, take a look at Clement Valla’s artistic project.  He asked 500 people to use an online drawing tool that lets users do just one thing – trace a line. Each new user only sees the latest line drawn, and can therefore only trace this latest imperfect copy.  Watch the distortions that take place over the sequence of 500 attempts to trace a line!

A Sequence of Lines Traced by Five Hundred Individuals from clement valla on Vimeo.

It’s amazing to me that we’re able to communicate much of anything, given our poor skills.  In the meantime, let’s be patient with one another, not expecting to be heard precisely right the first time.  We need to work on clarity.