Monthly Archives: February 2009

Scandals and privacy: Why we want both


I was listening to a news story about the Alex Rodriguez steroid scandal yesterday and reading the third chapter in Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex” book and I  got to thinking about the confusion in our culture: We demand privacy AND we love the scandal. Follow me for a minute:

1. A reporter asked the “man on the street” whether he thought Alex was no longer a role model for his sons. The man replied something to this effect, “What Alex puts in his body is his own business. Stop reading his mail. He has to make his own decisions and so do my sons. It’s a matter of privacy.” So, this man argued that what Alex does with his own body should be his own business since at the time of his taking the steroids it wasn’t illegal.

2. This thinking is commonly found in conversations about sex as well. Winner, in chapter 3, discusses our culture’s acceptance of the mantra, “what two consenting adults do is none of anyone’s business.” In fact, it shouldn’t even be the topic of conversation. FYI, Winner is arguing the opposite–that what you do in the bedroom is a matter of concern for the Christian community. So, Christians should care about their neighbor’s sexual ethic as it impacts the whole community. 

3. Yet, we love the scandal. As a culture, we are more prone now than ever to air someone’s dirty laundry. Haven’t we just been bombarded with some actor’s profanity filled rants? Obama appointees Some actress’ sex tape is “leaked”? Now, Alex Rodriguez is a juicer. I’m sure Joe Torre’s book about his Yankee years will sell big. Why? It’s going to have juicy, PRIVATE, details. We love the scandal. Just not our own.

By the way, the church really isn’t any better. We’ve all heard and repeated things like: “Did you hear about ____ son and what he did?” “Did you hear about ___ down the street and that their pastor was caught doing ____?”

Point: We want the freedom to do what we want in private without others finding out. We don’t want friends and family prying and asking those direct questions about our sex lives or other potentially embarrassing activities. Yes, I know, many of us are in accountability groups because we know we need people prying. But, really, does any human since our fig-leaved first parents really want accountability? No, even though we know that when we have folks asking us the tough questions, we’re less likely to be outed in a scandal.

2nd point: Oh, and we love the scandal for personal reasons. It makes us feel better. I, for one, would NEVER take steroids. That makes me feel better, even though I might have my own private struggles with being honest about taxes, time sheets, how I parent when no one is watching, etc.

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Filed under Christianity, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, Psychology

Do you see your body as good?


At church on Sunday I attended a class discussing Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity” (Brazos, 2005). Her thesis (in the second chapter anyway) is that the church tends to have one of two responses to singles about sex: either be honest and loving (e.g., go ahead) or just don’t do it. She suggests that we look at the larger context of the “say no” passages in order to see God’s larger view of sex as good in the right settings. I won’t go any further here with that thesis but all that to say:

Winner wants us to think about the body as being good. And since the body is a sexual entity, that sex is also good. Got me thinking that most of us don’t see our bodies as something that is good. We focus on the fall and the brokenness we see. We see our lack of health. We see insatiable desire. We see danger. We see something that doesn’t measure up to the image we most want to see.

But here is the challenge. Did God make your body? Is it good? If you only focus on what is not good about your body, what are you missing? How are you marring the true story about your body?

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Identity, Psychology

Do you need an expert counselor?


Have you ever had someone approach you as an expert in something? Feels good, even if you demur the attribution. Occasionally someone makes such a comment to us counselors, “I heard you were the best counselor to deal with ____ and so that is why I am here.”

I’ve been counseling long enough to know that while I do know something about some problems, the person giving me this compliment on the first meeting is also signalling me something about their thinking. Generally, they are signalling that that want me to fix their problem. Not always but often they want my expertise to rub off on them with minimal effort of their own. Although that is a good thing to consider when finding the right surgeon and yes you want to avoid incompetent counselors, good counseling is mostly accomplished by the hard work of the counselee. So when you consider what counselor you might need, consider the following:

1. Is the counselor promoting themselves as expert? Be wary. Experience is good. Identity as expert may not be. Promoting oneself as a “nationally recognized speaker and counselor”? Run!

2. Is the counselor known to be a talker? One who hands out “the 5 secret steps to solve…” Stay away.

3. Is the counselor known for listening skills? Are they willing to learn? This might be your best shot. Well, it would also be good if they have heard of your problem before too…

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The God I Don’t Understand 7: How does the Cross work?


My apologies to those waiting for the next chapter in Wright’s book. Some other writing assignments require me to put down my fun books and pick up some work-related reading these days. But enough of my excuses… In chapter 7 Chris Wright admits that one answer to the question, “How did the cross achieve salvation for us?” is simple and from Scripture: “Because it did.” But he like many others would rather not stop there. And he contends the bible doesn’t stop there either.

He reminds the reader that evangelical interpreters of the Bible regard the most helpful metaphor of the cross as judicial–substitutionary atonement. There are other metaphors used in the bible to explain the “how” but 1 Cor 15:3 underlines and emphasizes that Christ’s death on the cross was sacrificial and substitutionary. Here Wright brings up the controversy surrounding “penal substitution” and the grounds by which some reject this forensic focus to substitutionary atonement. Of the 7 reasons he lists, the primary ones (in my eyes) are the sense that penal substitution focuses too much on guilt, portrays God as mechanistic or always angry, and emphasizes the only way to deal with sin is with violence.

Wright believes the arguments for rejecting penal substitution would be good if in fact evangelicals held them. But he fears that the arguments against the penal metaphor are caricatures. From this point he looks at how the bible paints God’s love and anger. His anger and love must be, he contends, taken together as part of a whole, rather than having one negate the other. The two expressions are not contrary to each other any more than we may be angry with a loved one for bad behavior and yet still love them at the same time. He suggests the Cross satisfies both God’s love and anger.

He further rejects the conflict between God the father and Jesus the son. God is not the angry father and Jesus the loving son who steps between us. That viewpoint would destroy God’s essential unity (see John 17 for this). He uses extensive quotes from John Stott here to bolster his argument

Finally, he addresses the concepts of guilt and shame. The argument has arise that penal atonement only makes sense in cultures with a “developed sense of personal and objective guilt.” Shame cultures, it is suggested, would not be able to identify as well. Further, in a postmodern world it appears that shame is the more likely experience (of not being internally consistent with oneself). But Wright says that both shame and guilt are addressed by the cross and both are related. He points to Ezekiel who talks about being shamed and feeling shamed (36:16-32). The cross (and the forgiveness behind it) takes away the shame quality even though they still feel it when they remember what God has done. Wright suggests that ongoing feeling is healthy. He quotes from another of his books

Israel were not to feel ashamed in the presence of other nations (36:15), but they were to feel ashamed in the presence of their own memories before God (36:31-32). Similarly, there is a proper sense in which the believer may rightly hold up her head in company.

He then talks about how God in the OT and Jesus in the NT publicly affirms those who were shamed. God removes their shame, no matter what others think of them. They now hold their head high. And yet, Wright tries to articulate that this person may still feel shame when remembering past sins but he is quick to point out that this feeling does not crush but fuels “genuine repentance and humility and for joy and peace that flow from that source alone.”

While the content of this chapter seems a bit more about confronting a wrong he sees in the penal substitution debate than about answering how the cross works, nonetheless I find his writing about guilt and shame quite helpful here–especially how he distinguishes the kinds and sources of shame. I think it might be helpful for those who trust in Jesus but who struggle with shame to consider for a moment what their shame drives them to do. To hide? To be grateful for God’s restorative work?

Next week, we’ll look at his final chapter on the cross.

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Filed under anger, Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, Uncategorized

Try your hand at diagnosing clients…


Ever wondered if your counselor really knows what is in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM, ver. 4TR)? Or do they just do the flip and dip method (let the large book open to any page and blindly point to a spot on the page)? Let’s hope not. Well, some professors are trying to increase the accuracy of their students via video vignettes.

One such person, Dr. Aaron Rochlen of U. Texas, has a website with 5 video vignettes available on his website (http://www.edb.utexas.edu/psychopathologypractice/index2.html) for students to watch and then try their hand at giving a DSM diagnosis.

Warning. Site is free. There are no answers given so don’t bother submitting your diagnostic considerations as they won’t go anywhere unless you send them to someone. Second warning: At least one of the “clients” uses some curse words.

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Filed under counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, teaching counseling

Improving Case Conceptualization?


For my counselor readers: What books or other helps have you encountered that improved your ability to conceptualize cases?

When we teach counseling skills we do the following (we do more than this but this is the general trajectory):

  1. Build basic helping/counseling skills (if you can’t connect with a person and build a trusting relationship, any knowledge you might have will be useless!)
  2. Expose students to a wide variety of problems (so they can understand and describe common problems in living or common pathologies–even if they are not sure of the causes of these problems)
  3. Explore human growth and development from a descriptive and biblical viewpoint (this at the same time as #2 so that they learn about common problems  and sufferings as well as what healthy and Godward lives look like in a fallen world)
  4. Teach case conceptualization (marrying client information (e.g., background info, presenting problems, attempts to solve the problems, etc.) with theoretical understanding of the person/problem/desired outcome.
  5. Build intervention repertoire during fieldwork.

#4 is the hardest, especially in a generalist program that doesn’t spend a great deal of time on theoretical models (we teach models as part of every course and our model of Christian psychology (biblical anthropology along with process oriented model) isn’t as defined as the old models (e.g., Rogers, Freud, etc.).

If you were teaching counseling to practicum students who needed help with conceptualizing cases, what resources would you turn to?

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, teaching counseling