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:

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  • 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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Want Wisdom? First, LISTEN!

November 9, 2015

Version 2This page from the Rule of St. Benedict, written 700 years ago sits in a showcase in an Abby in Melk, Austria.  For the Benedictine monks, their Rule of Life begins with “Ausculta” which in German means, “LISTEN”.   For centuries, those who seek wisdom have realized the importance of listening.

Rewind another 2900 years to hear Moses teach the Israelite people that before they enter the Promised Land they need to listen to God. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  It’s a timeless wisdom; before we do anything of significance, listen to God.

When Peter, James and John stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, telling Jesus about their great idea of building tents to house Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  Once again we see how important it is to listen before doing anything.

But listening goes against our basic nature. On October 18, 2015, Reverend Chad Scruggs, one of our pastors, gave a sermon on the book of James showing us how we need to grow up.  We need to discipline ourselves to listen quickly (because we are naturally slow to listen) and to slow down our natural tendencies to speak and to express anger quickly. Perhaps James was thinking of the Proverb: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Why is listening so primary? What does it accomplish? As I look through the Bible at all the references to “listen,” I find that most of them have to do with listening to God. In those passages, we could just as well replace it with the word “obey.” For example, Proverbs 8:32-33 or Isaiah 46:12.  So listening to God is almost equivalent to obeying God. What do we accomplish when we obey God? We achieve oneness with Him and out of that unity comes wisdom.   But when we listen to other people, we’re not always instructed to obey. Listening well helps us create harmony and builds up others.  For example, Ephesians 4:29  In our church choir, our director often reminds us to listen carefully to the other singers around us and to the other sections. When we sing in tune with others, the result is harmony.   In our regular interactions with friends and family, we listen to understanding them more clearly and to respond constructively rather that react destructively. We minimize conflict, we contribute to a harmonious relationship, and we might even build intimacy. When we listen to someone else, we communicate respect and concern. We tend to trust others more easily when they are good listeners.

I’m beginning to understand why listening is more important than anything else we might be inclined to do. It contributes to unity and harmony. When we are one with God (through obedience) and one with others (through understanding), we begin to demonstrate wisdom in dealing with life.


Antithetical Complementarity

November 7, 2014

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Art does not often move me. I’m auditory; art is visual. But my son moves me and he is an artist. He recently commissioned a work by a Venezuelan artist, Rafael Araujo, and hung it in his office. My initial response at our family viewing/party was “l like it because I love him.” Then I kept looking. The more I looked, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Here’s what it stirred in me.

In the language of the artist, “Araujo creates an imagined mathematical framework of three dimensional space where butterflies take flight and the logarithmic spirals of shells swirl into existence.” What I saw was the stiffness and rigidity of the construction lines providing a realm within which the butterflies could flow along their patterned courses with fluidity. Rigidity and fluidity come together. Mechanical drawing all by itself is just that, pretty mechanical. A view of butterflies flying around by themselves is rather chaotic and, to me, pretty fluffy. Each has its own brand of “pretty” (or at least interesting) but when they merge in a complementary manner, mutually offering and receiving qualities to the other, they express a completeness that is fundamental to life. This concept resonates with my world of counseling.

I counsel couples. Often, one of them is very functional while the other is very aesthetic. So he leaves his “stuff” where things can easily be reached – in piles, in stacks, where he last used them. She objects to the visual clutter, the unsightly “mess” within which she cannot relax without putting it in order. The resolution of the conflict lays not in one side winning over the other, but in creatively finding ways for his functionality and her aesthetics to serve one another. Yes, to enhance and enrich the other so that the resulting unit thrives at a harmonious higher level.

Then, there’s the playful, spontaneous partner, tugging against the responsible, planned partner. One seems to be antithetically opposed to the other. Perhaps, with a little creativity, this couple can experience “planned spontaneity” or even “playful responsibility”. The goal is complementary enrichment.

Ultimately, beyond the possible myriad human experiences, I see a picture of the character of God himself! Is He a God of wrath or a God of love? Yes, perfectly! Is He just (executing justice) or merciful (granting grace)? Yes, perfectly.   God’s punishment of his people in the Old Testament was always accompanied with a compassionate plea to return to him so he could bless them. In his wrath, he never rejects his chosen people. He loves them. His holiness and justice require him to administer sanctions as consequences; his mercy and love require him to provide a way back to his caring arms and his blessings. So Paul can say

“ . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   (Romans 3:26)

and the psalmist can (without fully realizing it) anticipate how God’s complementary nature showed forth on the cross, where Christ took on the wrath of the Father and provided loving access to his eternal security.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.   (Psalm 85:10)

My friend, Dr. Larry Waters, recently presented a talk at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel in which he described the personal traits of that great man of God, Martin Luther. Listen to how he was described: “Rough and tender; poet and boxer; boisterous and devout; deadly serious and a possessor of keen wit; exquisitely sensitive and volcanic invective; and bold before men while humble before God.” I think that as we surrender our lives to God, we take on more and more of His characteristics even the blending of those characteristics that don’t seem to fit with each other.

Would that this goal of conciliatory complementarity would infect our political system. In the wake (wave) of last week’s election returns, I’m reminded of why I’m frustrated with politics. If God is present at all, the Republicans believe that their emphasis on balance budget, family values and small government is aligned with God’s priorities. But the Democrats believe that social need provided by the government is the priority that is closest to God’s character. Why can’t the answer be “Yes.” Then our work could be characterized by creating an enriched harmony of antithetical complementarity.

IMG_0040Back to butterflies. My son’s painting moved me because it pictures a timeless universal reflection of how the world ought to work. There is no winning in the war against one good thing versus another. There are no “trump cards” in the deck of antithetical complementarity. Real victory comes from rigid structure and free mobility integrating harmoniously in an organized fluidity.


Character and Quality Make Reliable Rehab Center

November 1, 2014

I like organizations that are led by men of character.  Robert Shryoc is one of those men and the Stonegate Center is one of those organizations.  It’s a Christian drug and alcohol rehab center for men located west of Fort Worth in the country.  Robert founded the center some years ago and continues as its CEO.  I had lunch with him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his world view and his attitudes toward treatment.  

He says that addiction is about impaired choosing.  The addict is a broken person who sees things in a distorted way and makes bad choices that make his condition worse.  Robert likes the Twelve Steps because they help a person gain (1) peace with God, (2) peace with themselves, (3) peace with others and (4) and enduring peace that comes from a transformed life from the inside out.

The program itself  works on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that pertain to addiction and recovery.  A typical day there is structured from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM but includes time to relax and reflect.  Robert says that real change happens IMG_0008in the context of real relationship, so community is very important at Stonegate.  I find that to be true in the personal counseling that I do as well.  Robert practices this with his organization as well, referring to specialists in the community and accepting referrals from other professionals in the community.

Another thing I like about the program is that it focuses on how to live a full and meaningful life beyond simply not doing the harmful thing.  In other words, let’s evaluate progress by the presence of good, not just the absence of bad.  It reminds me of the passage in Colossians 3:1-17 that uses clothing as a metaphor.  “. . . rid yourselves of . . .  and clothe yourselves with . . . “.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons the program has a 70% success rate.  I hope you don’t have a need for a recovery center, but if you do, consider Stonegate.  It’s a quality program run by a quality person of high character.


Turn Your Deepest Pain into Your Greatest Gain

September 16, 2013

ChapelOur natural reaction to pain and suffering is to avoid it.  Failing that, we seek ways to restore comfort and control.  Seldom do we realize  that something “good” can come from the “bad” things in our life.  I appreciated the opportunity to talk in our DTS chapel service about the overarching good that can be at work in the midst of our suffering.  Click on the photo above to watch the 20-minute video.

While preparing for this talk, I came across an excellent new book, Why, O God?, which provides more extensive insights on suffering.    For Bookexample, Dr. Mark Bailey’s chapter lists 50 examples of the sufferings of Christ prior to his final week that we call his Passion.  In two other chapters, Joni Eareckson Tada writes about what she has learned from her life as a quadriplegic.  Greg Hatteburg writes about how he deals with his wife’s MS.  Several chapters show what the Bible has to say about suffering, in the Pentateuch, in the Gospels, in Paul’s writings, etc.

If you’re suffering, this book addresses questions that could bring you encouragement.  If you’re not suffering, it can prepare you mentally and spiritually for its inevitability.


Counselor to Missionaries

August 19, 2013

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“Oh, what a need for what you’re planning to do!”  That’s the typical response I hear when someone learns of an exciting new ministry I’m starting.  Technically it’s part of member care,  (Member Care is the ongoing preparation and taking care of missionaries for strong personal lives and effective ministries.)   Not that member care hasn’t already been going on, but it’s new to me.  The question I have is why aren’t there more counselors doing what I’m doing?  When I put it together in the form of a job description, I begin to understand why not.

 

Member care requires a lot of travel.

I will be taking 4-6 trips a year to various places in the world.  I like to travel and I love to get to know people in the areas where they live and work.  The trips will not include all the comforts of home but I will experience how a lot of different people manage.

 

Member care requires a lot of counseling experience.

After 37+ years of counseling, I feel pretty comfortable helping people express their concerns.  I can listen non-judgmentally while discerning deeper issues.  People who are struggling don’t need as much advise or criticism as they need encouragement and clarification of issues.  They need to see how their behaviors impact others as well as how others impact them.   Generally speaking, we tend to evaluate others on the basis of their behaviors while we evaluate ourselves on the basis of our intentions.  What a wonderful opportunity to put my experience to work in the challenging situations involving individuals, couples and groups in conflict overseas where they are feeling stressed and alone.

 

Member care requires cross-cultural flexibility.

Having taught cross-cultural counseling and providing counseling in several different countries, I’ve discovered that a lot of things that we assume to be true here in the US do no fit in other cultures.  When I was in Zanzibar, for example, I discovered that there is no word for “depression” in Swahili.  It turns out that in their interwoven corporate society, they don’t experience depression like we do.  They help each other out of their down times.  We tend to push our rugged individualism beyond the limits of our abilities to cope.  Some places respond to stories, some to small group interaction, while others to applied Bible passages.    This leads to a fourth requirement that tends to filter out a lot of people.

 

Member care requires a deep knowledge of Scripture plus training in counseling. 

What a blessing it’s been for me over the years to see the ideas taken from my PhD in counseling turn into applications of Bible truths that I learned while getting my ThM in New Testament studies at Dallas Seminary.  The Bible is truth, but sometimes it’s hard for us to understand how to apply it.  Psychology seeks to apply principles in a practical way, but isn’t always anchored in truth.  How exciting to see the truth of God show itself in cross-cultural, practical and trans-historical timeless ways.

 

Member care requires submission to the authority and structure of a mission organization.

East-West Ministries, International has been so gracious to make a place for me among their missionaries so I can work on a team.  The job that needs to be accomplished is too big for one person or a small group.  East-West Ministries has missionaries in 40 countries and their vision calls for adding 200 more missionaries in the next five years!  That will require a lot of screening, training, developing, supporting and encouraging.  My first assignment may be to train counselors in China.

 

Member care takes a lot of money.

As a missionary, I’ll need to raise financial support, both one-time gifts and regular monthly contributions to pay for one-month’s living expenses (I cut back my Dallas Seminary contract to only 11 months) and for all the trips plus administrative expenses.   Will you consider committing to a monthly contribution?  All contributions are tax-deductible.

To contribute on-line, click here.  East-West has made it very easy.

I would very much appreciate your support in this important endeavor, both in the form of prayer and finances, however large of small.  Many, many missionaries don’t make it for more than a few years because their adjustments are more than they can bear.  My hope is that my encouragement and perspective will strengthen them in continuing with the Lord’s work.

 

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Good Counseling Comes to the Broader Community

May 8, 2012

Good counseling costs a lot of money.   But not always, thanks to Dr. Michael Leach.  He has opened Richland Oaks Counseling Center right in the middle of a multicultural area and commits to providing services that are

     accessible,

     effective

     and culturally responsive for all who participate.

Right across the street from Richland College near Abrams Road and Walnut St., “ROCC” provides easy access.

How does he do it?  First, he focuses on social justice rather than making a lot of money for himself.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  A highly trained and skilled therapist and educator himself, he opts to supervise doctoral students and master’s level students from Argosy University and other graduate schools in the Dallas area.

He holds to a vision of a community in which staff, clients and various community organizations join in supporting persons with mental health needs so that all persons have the opportunity, including the necessary services and supports, to participate, with dignity, in the life of the community, with its freedoms, responsibilities, rewards, and consequences.

So, here’s a good man doing a good thing in the community.  How can you benefit from this service?  Give them a call at 469-619-7622.  Check out their Facebook page by clicking here .  Then, give them a try.  Some cynics say about counseling, “What you want, you can’t afford and what you can afford, you don’t want.”  Here’s a refreshing exception.