Giving Grace To Yourself When Change Is Slow


Have you ever struggled to change a habit, attitude, or thought process and wondered, “Why can’t I just change this in my life?” Maybe you wish to think different thoughts or feel differently about a person. Maybe you want some cravings to go away. But it just seems you aren’t improving as you hoped.

Without excusing your flaws or ignoring bad patterns that need change, you may find that giving grace to the challenge of change actually helps you make the change more quickly.

Consider this silly example of change. The seminary where I work poured a new walkway between my small building and our main classroom building. Now, instead of a step up to get in the building, it is all level ground. I have used this walkway for fifteen years as I walk from my car into the building and for the past two as I have walked between the two buildings.

Here’s the problem. I am almost falling down every time because my brain wants to step down when leaving the building and to raise my leg up higher as I enter the building. Either I am tripping as I leave, stepping down only to find that there is no step or I am entering gingerly trying not to look foolish. My body and brain have one expectation and unless I concentrate, I keep doing what I have always been doing, which no longer works.

If this is true about a walkway change, it stands to reason that other more emotional and relational changes would be even harder to manage. Consider some of these

  • the loss of a loved one: coming to terms with someone who is no longer there
  • trusting someone who has shown themself in the past to be trustworthy
  • trigger fears in public spaces after a trauma
  • eating habits after years of over or under control of food
  • having a positive thought after years of negative rumination upon waking
  • avoiding porn when bored
  • choosing a soft response when angry instead of yelling

So, change is hard. How does giving grace to myself help me? 

Imagine for a minute that you make a mistake. Now, consider both of these self responses and how it would impact your capacity to keep working at change:

  1. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why are you such a failure. You are a waste of space and energy in this world. Lots of people change, why can’t you? You say you are a Christian but I fail to see any maturity. 
  2. [sigh]. Change is so hard. You’ve been thinking and responding to this situation like this for decades. So, it’s not surprising change comes slowly. Good thing God is gracious. Lord, I may not be able to stop the first thought but thank you for helping me catch myself just a bit sooner. Now, deep breath, try again, here is what I want to think/do/say…”

Which of the above two examples of self-talk will help you move forward and which one leaves you stuck in a perception of failure?

Notice the problem that keeps us stuck longer is shame (and our responses to it) more so than our particular changes that may be coming slower than we want. Sometimes pride is the barrier more than the behavior we want to change.

Today, watch your self-talk and instead of beating yourself up with shame talk, just acknowledge the flaw/failure/sin and remind yourself that right now, you can choose a different response. See how that influences your attitude and your energy for change.

2 Comments

Filed under addiction, christian counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

Rwanda 2015 Trip Recap: Deepening Relationships


9 mental health professionals representing Global Trauma Recovery Institute travelled to Rwanda a couple weeks ago to continue the work of learning from and with trauma healing specialists in that country. This marks my 6th trip to this lovely, complex little country. While the centerpiece of this trip was once again the Community of Practice bringing together Bible Society Rwanda volunteers and Association of Christian Counselors for training, much of the heart of this trip was the support and encouragement of our friends.

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

  • Sandtray training. At IJM Rwanda’s new office location one of our team, Rowan Moore LCSW, provided a short lecture and demonstration of the value of sandtray work with trauma victims. It is true that telling the trauma story can be a significant part of the recovery process. Yet,
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    “telling” is not only with words. In fact, telling” need not use words. Enter sandtray work. After the presentation, the 35 plus participants made their own sandtrays and shared the meaning in small groups. As a parting gift, our team left two sandtrays, 25 lbs of sand, and a suitcase full of miniatures to be used. Special thanks to the sandtray company that donated the two trays.

  • Pastor training. A friend invited us to a gathering of Evangelical Free pastors to talk about domestic violence and addictions. These pastors received study bibles and training the night before and returned the next day to consider how to address issues of domestic violence in the church. Rwanda has made massive progress in dealing with gender inequality but such shifts have created a fair amount of instability in family dynamics. The training looked at what the bible says about relationships between husbands and wives and compared current culture with what we read. One of the primary outcomes of this training was a request from the pastors to do it again but with their wives present.
  • Rwanda life immersion. On such a short trip, it is hard to get fully immersed into the country. Yet, it is important to try to do so. Why? Because we have much to learn from our Rwandan brothers and sisters. And if we hope to be of any help or support, we must continuously learn about this country and people. Otherwise it is sheer arrogance that we have anything of value to offer. Some of our engagments came in the form of Sunday worship, meals together, play and discussion time with orphans, listening to personal stories, visiting a family, hearing about the value
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    of the trauma healing work of the Bible Society in a remote village not far from the DRC border, and visiting museums to learn more about the genocide and aftermath. A few of our team stayed extra days after the main trip to spend time in the homes of our friends. This kind of immersion provides rich conversation and encouragement to both Americans and Rwandans.

  • Church training. Two of our team spent a day with a local church talking about domestic violence in a style of dialogue education. They reported that the conversations were stimulating and the challenge clear that culture sometimes trumps the bible. But the pastor indicated that the material presented would be re-presented again to a group of men a few nights later.
  • Community of Pratice. Once again, we facilitated lessons on domestic violence and crisis counseling. These lessons are less about lecture and much more about discussion and application. The conversations about domestic violence were lively to say the least. But the most important par
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    t of the days were planned and providential conversations regarding cases or personal life experiences. This kind of sharing seemed to provide encouragement for all.

  • Case presentations. One of the pleasures of this trip was to listen to cases presented to us in large and small groups as well as in private. Why a pleasure? Several reasons: the immense professional growth we have witnessed over the last 7 years, the opportunity to encourage and validate the hard work they are doing each and every day. Many of these cases were hard to hear with terribly graphic details of suffering. But little bits of light are also evident as the clients were obviously growing in hope as they were cared for by our friends.

There were many more wonderful experiences too complex to explain here. Some went to a refugee center to see gifts of bibles and sewing machines (gifts from a PA congregation) while others of us participated in a community service project in a small village. All of us enjoyed intimate conversations with fellow team members as we traveled, ate, and shared rooms.

Celebrating GTRI grads in Rwanda, courtesy Heather Drew

Celebrating GTRI grads in Rwanda, courtesy Heather Drew

Some may wonder whether this kind of short term mission is worth the effort and cost. I’ll leave the final evaluation up to others, especially our Rwandan friends. However, our initial evaluation is that both Americans and Rwandans have been encouraged and strengthened in the work we do. And the relationships have been deepened. This deepening will not be on hiatus until the next trip as many maintain daily text, email, and SKYPE conversations throughout the year.

Thank you for those who prayed and supported this trip.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Volunteerism in Africa: To Go or Not to Go?


From time to time you can find essays identifying serious problems with volunteerism by Americans in developing nations. Last year I wrote a short response to acknowledge the real problem with some trips but countered with several reasons why not all trips are created the same and how some short-term trips can be beneficial.

Now, one year later, I have just returned from leading another Global Trauma Recovery Institute group of mental health professionals on a trip to Rwanda (my 6th trip to this tiny country). And once again, I just finished reading an essay by Heather Ruiz who documents some of the more egregious problems created by short-term trips–unneeded “help”, creating a culture of dependency, and a false perception of a need to develop.

Wrestle with the Problems

As a leader of short-term trips, I highly encourage anyone planning a trip to wrestle with these issues. Do not easily dismiss the reasons your trip might not need to happen. If you are unaware of the complexities of “help” I urge you to read the following books:

Preparing to Go

If you decide your trip is still in the best interests of those you will visit, consider the following preparations as absolutely essential:

  1. Pray. Obviously.
  2. Study the region. Know its history, culture (from multiple vantage points), its successes and struggles. Know who is providing aid/help/ministry in this region. Try to make contact before you go to see if you can learn from them.
  3. Ensure you have been invited. Don’t go if you haven’t had a solid invitation, a “come over and help us” request.
  4. Find a cultural guide. Having a bridge person is essential. Such a person should be well-respected by many and already considered a leader among her people.
  5. Examine goals. What really is your purpose? How will you know you have achieved your goals? For example, just because you want to teach pastors how to preach and you deliver classroom training doesn’t mean you have met your goal. Key Question: Did you ask who
  6. Think about after you leave. What do you expect will happen after you leave? Benefits? Struggles? If one of your goals is “relationship strengthening” then consider how this will continue after you leave. Be realistic. How has your work supported local leadership. How will it make their job easier?
  7. Review training materials. One of the biggest failures I have made is not to have my training materials reviewed prior to departure. Review by multiple eyes can catch obvious cultural disconnects. Don’t lecture. Always use dialogical forms of education. You may not be able to cover as much material but what you deliver will be better and more useful. You will learn what works and does not work.
  8. Stay in locations that benefit the local population. Consider your footprint. How will you ensure you are not a burden to your new friends? Try to stay in locations that provide local jobs and where profits go back into local ministries.
  9. Working with children? Plan ahead what you will give. Likely, you won’t be the first to arrive at their village. We’ve had the experience of children asking for things like watches, bracelets, money, candy, etc. Re-read the essay by Heather Ruiz (above) as to the impact of gifts. They aren’t always helpful. Of course it is nice to please children with a treat. Buy a local treat and share that with them.

Telling Stories When You Return

I confess that I have had many judgmental thoughts when viewing social media pictures of (primarily) white people hugging little African children. Do they not understand how such pictures foster the “great white hope” mentality that is so destructive to Africans and Americans? I have been a bit sheltered from this during my trips to Rwanda as I mostly interact with other counseling and ministry professionals. Also, I tend not to take pictures because I do not like the way taking them makes me feel distant from my friends and even at a zoo when taking pictures of strangers.

And yet, I want to convey my experience to my friends who have prayed for me and who sacrificially supported the trip. Work to share stories (only with permission if identifying information given!) and pictures that show the strength, fortitude and honor of the people you met. Consider, for a moment, what the reverse would be like if they traveled to see you and brought back pictures of you, your family, and the interior of your house to share with their friends. How would that feel?

And if you are going to share pictures of children mobbing you, make sure you first ask yourself about the meaning of the mobbing. Why are these strangers holding your hand, fighting to be next to you, jumping in your lap. Sometimes it is as sweet and innocent as children getting the opportunity to meet

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

someone they consider exotic, sometimes it may be due to a lack of parental love (once a child asked if he could make an application to join my family), or worse, it may be learned behavior and lacking the feelings you might expect (once I watched a group sing a song but there was no music in their eyes, just rote behavior).

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Missional Church

How childhood trauma could be mistaken for ADHD


This article: (http://acestoohigh.com/2014/07/07/how-childhood-trauma-could-be-mistaken-for-adhd/) was sent to me by a GTRI student (Thanks Charity!). Worth the read to consider how we may mistake hyperactivity as evidence of ADHD vs. evidence of hypervigilance and PTSD. Given the high prevelance of ADHD diagnoses in areas where there is also much trauma (urban and impoverished settings), it stands to reason that there could be significant misdiagnoses. I began to understand this problem some 17 years ago during my pre and post doc experience in small town Concord, New Hampshire. We saw all sorts of boys first diagnosed with ADHD, then diagnosed (and heavily drugged) with bipolar disorder. Back then we called them emotionally-dysregulated. Nearly all had been subject to domestic violence and had witnessed their mothers abused by boyfriends. A large number had seen their mothers had guns held to their heads. Such experiences shape a child and so it stands to reason that a brain bathed in the hormones released during terror and horror would have an impact. It is also true that in this same population there was a high incidence of tobacco use, also known to be highly correlated with ADHD diagnosed children.

My suspicion is that one day we will find syndromes that encompass both diagnoses but that will not be until we have better understanding and technology to assess what is happening in the brain during an episode of “hyperactivity.”

Check out the above article and if you are a clinician, consider alternative explanations for ADHD diagnosed children. Do you see signs of emotion dysregulation? And if so, how might that be more central feature of the treatment plan?

2 Comments

Filed under ADHD, trauma

Love your neighbor? Love your enemies? What does this mean today? 


The greatest two commands for all christians: Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). As Jesus says, “there is no greater command than these.”

Not hard, right? 

Wrong.

The Luke version of this story tells us that the one questioning Jesus about keeping the law follows up with a self-justification question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Like him, we want to know just who we have to love. But of course, just a few verses before (6:27, 35) Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to do good to them who hate us. So, whether enemies or neighbors, we are called to love both.

Let’s admit that some neighbors are pretty easy to love. Tomorrow I am leaving for Rwanda to love my Rwandan neighbors. But you know what, it isn’t a hard thing to do. Besides the 23 hours of travel to get there and being away from my family, I can’t say it is much sacrifice. I’m given far more honor there than I deserve. The weather, food, and company are hard to match. If love is a sacrifice, this is hardly love.  

Some neighbors are hard to love. They don’t treat us with the honor we think we deserve. They ask for things and don’t give back. Even worse, some neighbors hate us and seek to harm us.

Think for a minute: who do you find it hard to love? Is it a near (actual neighbor) person? A far person (a politician or person who represents an ideology you hate)? Have them in mind yet? Now think about what it means to love them. Since love is both doing things for someone and NOT doing evil to them, consider both the positive and the negative sides of your love. 

Here’s some examples: What does it mean to love ISIS fighters? Do we pray for them even as we highlight victim stories? What does it mean to love Barack Obama (if you are opposed to his presidency) or Donald Trump (if you are opposed to his desire to be president? Do we gloat at their failures? Getting closer to home, what does it mean to love a person on the other side of you in the Same Sex Marriage Supreme Court ruling or in the race debates? What does it mean to love the person who swooped in and took your parking spot? 

A Few Thoughts on What Love Means

Some might think that “love your neighbor/enemy” means never speaking up when wronged, never seeking justice, never making a stink. It does not. period. You can love your enemy even as you seek justice. Speaking the truth can happen…IF…it is done in love. So, what does speak the truth in love mean? 

  • Making sure that truth spoken is really true. Not exaggerating the flaws of the other; not engaging in slipperly slope argumentation. Straw men and exaggerations are not true. 
  • Making sure that love is the agenda for the truth. Speaking up for the sake of destroying a person’s career is not love. Though, speaking up to protect victims is love and to stop a person’s sinful behavior is also love.

Loving your enemy means being willing to forgive even before the forgiveness is sought. Of course, seeking and offering forgiveness does not mean justice and consequences for evil are not felt. But it does mean that I do not participate in an “eye for an eye” or vengence. As we remember, vengence is God’s to wield. 

Finally, loving your enemy is not merely avoiding revenge but requires us to “do good.” How do we seek the welfare and the peace of a city (or a person) who does not consider our needs or treat us fairly? 

Hard questions, but let us seek to be a community of people known for insane love of victims and perpetrators, willing to tell the truth and to see the prosperity of those who do not love us in return. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Justice, love

Restoring Pastors to Ministry After Affairs? Possible or Impossible?


In recent weeks there have been sad and public accounts of pastors removed from their positions after being caught having sex with someone not their spouse. These pastors (mostly men) are gifted speakers, writers, and leaders. They are good at what they do. It seems is a shame that they no longer use those gifts to lead God’s people. It is also a shame that God’s good name and the spouse/kids are dragged through the mud.

But can there be redemption? Could the pastor who loses integrity regain it and with it regain a pastoral position again? After all, we are all sinners and no pastor ever is without sin. Indeed, it seems God uses those who are moral and ethical disasters to lead his church. There’s David the rapist and murderer, S/Paul the terrorist, Abraham the liar, and Peter the wishy-washy, self-protective and impulsive “rock” of the church. Certainly, if God uses these people to write huge portions of Scripture and to build the church then why can’t a pastor who strays also be used by God?

No reason…any some possible reasons at the same time.

First, let’s call “affairs” with congregants what they are–pastoral sexual abuse. Now, not all sexual activity between a pastor and a congregant are the same. Having sex with a person you are counseling is not the same as developing a relationship with someone who is a bit more your equal. And yet, both would still not be an affair but an abuse of the position of pastor since the pastor has the obligation and moral responsibility to protect the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.

Reason 1: The greater the misuse of power, the less likely a power holder should get that power back. An accountant who steals money is less able to return to being an accountant than a painter is returning to another painting job who happened upon some money on a desk and took it.

Stories of redemption in the Bible aren’t road maps for what should happen today. They tell us much about the amazing grace God bestows on sinners, but they don’t tell us what we should do when we encounter a fallen pastor. In fact, if we want to stack up the restored leaders in the Bible against the cursed leaders, I think our few positive examples of restoration would be vastly outnumbered by the stories of permanent removal. And on top of stories, we have some very serious warnings about bad shepherds (Jer 23, Ezek 34, 44, Matthew 23). The Ezekiel 44 passage denies false shepherds from ever speaking for God ever again but does show kindness in allowing them to help out with the sacrifices.

Reason 2: Human gifting does not necessarily lead to spiritual authority and leadership. Value to the kingdom continues even if “ministry” is only that of behind the scenes support services.

Finally, desire for the position is not always evidence of readiness. Recall in Acts 8 that there was a magician name Simon who wanted the ability to cast out demons like the apostles. He must already have had some capacity as he was famous. But he wanted more. He wanted the position of power. When confronted he begs for mercy and help.

Reason 3: Tears, passion, vision, and drive are not enough of a reason to place someone back into public ministry.

Now, none of these reasons are enough to always say no to return to pulpits after sexual infidelity. While a return may not be probable, it can be possible. Every situation is unique. That said, unless the disgraced pastor has evidenced many of the signs of repentance (taking full ownership, accepting consequences, giving up control over recovery process/submitting to the work of therapy, seeking accountability, pursuing utter transparency, and not placing demands to return to the position) for a long season, it is doubtful that a return to leadership is right. Frankly, one of the best signs of repentance is not being so worried about reputation and not seeking a return to a previous level of ministry.

9 Comments

Filed under adultery, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring, Uncategorized

Do Psychotropic Drugs Cause Violence and Aggression?


There are no adequate words to describe the recent racially-motivated mass murder of nine church members by a 21 year old, yes disturbed, male. Grievous…insane…terroristic…nothing truly captures the gravity of the situation.

As the details of the shooter’s life begin to surface, there have been several reports that the young man was taking Suboxone, a prescribed medication in the opiate family to help avoid the massive withdrawal symptoms from things like heroin or abused narcotic painkillers. As a result, there are a number of articles touting a connection between Suboxone use and aggression.

But do psychotropic drugs cause violence?

At best, we only have correlations between aggression and drug use. Thus, we need to be very careful when we blame violence on the ingestion of substance, whether prescription or otherwise. Correlations do not tell us causation. Even when we have a direct positive relationship (e.g., increased use of substance A followed by increased behavior B), we still do not have enough to say that there is a direct cause.

Correlations between prescriptions usage and violence do exist

There are a few studies that indicate a correlation between prescription drug use and violence. However, the relationship is connected mostly by those who stop taking their medication. It may be that the cause of violence is the noxious side-effects leading to a dis-use of the med resulting in an increase in psychiatric symptoms. So, do psychiatric symptoms correlate with increased violence? One study completed on a large psychiatric inpatient population determined that the rate of violent behavior one year post psychiatric hospitalization stood at about 27%. The numbers go higher if the person also has a co-morbid substance abuse problem (interestingly, men and women have about the same rate of violence but male violence tends to have more victims).

Certain medications seem to encourage more anger, aggression, and violence. Opiates tend to have a mollifying effect. People who use them may feel euphoria or calmness at first. As the narcotic wears off, there may be in increase in anxiety, pain, or agitation. There are, however, some who report increase angry and violent thoughts. One particular study suggests that prior personality factors may influence aggressive responses in an individual.

Suboxone is one of those drugs used to combat opiate abuse. Itself an opiate, if taken for a long period of time it becomes the addiction without the euphoria. The goal of the medication is to get off the opiate onto Suboxone and then slowly taper on Suboxone to the point that opiates are not longer needed.

There is little evidence that SSRIs and other psychotropics cause or even encourage violence. What is true is that violence, like everything else, is a multifactored event. Those prone to addiction, isolation, delusion, paranoia, impulse control problems may have increased risk to resort to violence. Those with particular personality features may be prone to violent responses. Certainly, environmental factors are also in play: culture, education, economic resources, history of victimhood all have potential impact on the choice to use violence to solve problems. And finally, faith and character (which itself is developed due to nature/nurture) plays a significant role in how we see others and whether we afford them with kindness and compassion.

If nothing is to blame, is there anything we can do?

It is good to resist the impulse to blame any one thing for the cause of violence. However, it is legitimate to take each of the factors commonly present in violence and to examine them one-by-one to see how we may intervene. Talk about gun availability and gun cultures. Talk about mental illness. Talk about medication (mis-use, over-use, adherence). Talk about racism and prejudices? Talk about poverty. Talk about substance abuse. Look for small ways that we can intervene and begin to change the way we talk about violence in our society. Look for the micro-aggressions and decide to stand against them early and often.

Will we always have individuals bent on destroying others? Yes. But, let us be known for being peace-makers.

4 Comments

Filed under Psychiatric Medications

Why study professional counseling at a seminary?


Not long ago I was asked about the benefits of learning professional counseling at a seminary. So, here’s my initial response:

Biblical Seminary, where I teach, offers a MA degree in counseling that leads to thbts_0314_l_bts_cnslngtxt_rede Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential here in Pennsylvania. In fact, the graduates of our Graduate School of Counseling have been licensed as professional counselors in 9 different states (PA, NJ, NY, DE, MD, DC, TX, MI, and GA) since our licensed oriented program began in 2005.

Counseling degree programs take many forms but usually include coursework in basic counseling skills, models of counseling, human development, psychopathology, marriage and family systems, psychological assessment, group and career counseling, research and program design, and finish with practical, hands-on, supervised training at a location providing counseling services. Of course there are lots of other courses you might take such as trauma counseling, play therapy, addictions, counseling and physiology, history of counseling, and any course specifically focused on a particular counseling model or problem (e.g., eating disorders, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc.). As a result graduate programs differ from one another most often on the basis of the elective courses they offer. These differences may be the result of faculty research and practice interests.

So, you might think it doesn’t really matter much where you take your MA Counseling courses. Aren’t all counseling programs about the same? While there is some truth to this–Helping Relationships probably teaches the same counseling skills at Biblical or a state funded university–the culture and mission of the school can make a huge difference in the educational experience. Rather than put down other programs, consider these benefits from studying counseling at a seminary.

  1. Mission matters. Biblical’s mission is to follow Jesus into the world. I suspect most counseling programs want to graduate students who care about others, who see their calling to be one of service (vs. making the most money possible). But who are we serving and who do we represent? And WHY do we serve others? Questions like these are front and center at BTS. Our goal is not just to reduce negative mental health symptoms (as great as that is). Rather, it is to love well just as we have been loved. Notice that our mission is to follow. From our perspective, counseling is first God’s mission. Thus, the  power to help others grow and change does not reside in the counselor but in the Spirit. Personally, I find this quite freeing. I have a significant role but I don’t have to be the one manufacturing change.
  2. Theodicy matters. We live in a fallen world. Diagnosing the cause and symptoms of a problem is good. Knowing what to do about it is even better. And yet, the existential question about who we are, why we suffer, and where God is in our struggle is on the minds of almost everyone who comes to counseling. People come to counseling because they want answers or at least find hope when answers are not available. Seminaries are well-poised to address the deep theological questions and concerns on the hearts and minds of suffering people, not merely to have the right answer to give but to struggle with and learn what hope looks like when the current scene is dark. At Biblical, we talk about building a working theology of suffering, trauma and recovery. Our work with the text of Scripture in counseling classes has little to do with finding proof-texts and everything to do with engaging God with the subject matter of our lives. Existential angst is not a new subject and so seminaries may have better access to philosophical and theological literature (think: Augustine, Gregory the Great, Kierkegaard, etc.) beyond that written by modern mental health providers.
  3. Character matters. A good counselor develops a solid knowledge base. Competent counselors need to know about problems and effective interventions. Counselors need to know how to read between the lines and to develop trust-filled working relationships. But I would suggest to you that the character of the counselor matters as much as what the counselor knows or can do. Seminary oriented programs provide ample opportunity to focus on developing the character of the counseling student. For example, our program’s first two goals are: live grace-based lives increasingly characterized by wisdom, the fruit of the Spirit, and love for God and community; Demonstrate a commitment to humble, learner-oriented ministry in a world marked by cultural, theological, and philosophical diversity. These goals are first at BTS because without them, the skills of counseling will not be used well. Since the human condition is one marked by blind spots to character flaws, a seminary education encourages students to look a bit deeper into their own character and see what God wants them to see about themselves.

Can you get great counseling education at a university? Absolutely! And yet, a seminary may provide you a unique learning environment to develop great counseling skills as you deepen your relationship to God.

4 Comments

June 15, 2015 · 10:58 am

Lamentations as Comfort for Trauma Victims? Consider Lamentations as a Teacher for Counselors


The book of Lamentations is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I have often thought it would make dramatic theatre to have it read with modern-day images flashing behind the reader connecting today’s crises with the cries from the destruction of Israel.

What if we read it as a lament about the problem of child sexual abuse in Christian communities and the resulting discipline of the Church for covering up and denying the problem for so many years?

Sadly, this small book of poetry (written in acrostic format) of five chapters, languishes in most churches. I cannot recall a single sermon preached from this book. It could stand to use someone extolling the virtues and values of this book.

Enter Chris Wright’s new commentary “The Message of Lamentations” (IVP, 2015). I received my copy today in the mail. It is entirely readable. He provides a good overview of the structure of the book, illustrates the heart of the poetic style yet never loses touch with the practical value of the cries as he proceeds to exposit the book.

Having read his introduction, here is why Chris says this book is for today’s suffering:

  • It is a memorial. Even though the exile ended and Israel was restored, that “does not erase the suffering of those who went through the horrors of 587 BC.” Later he tells us, “It compels readers forever afterwards to look and listen, to remember and reflect. ‘The biblical book of Lamentations refuses denial, practices truth-telling and reverses amnesia.’ (p 35, quoting Kathleen O’Connor). No cover-up, no quick reminder of heaven to erase the pain of today.
  • It is a voice. “…the poetry of Lamentations gives voice to those who were rendered voiceless in the vortex of violence.” The book lets the voiceless speak.

And that, as is well-known, is a vital part of any hope for healing from deepest trauma…. And we may want to step in with our comfort or corrections, our advice and solutions. But Lamentations simply makes us listen to the voices of the sufferers–in the profusion and confusion of their pain, the bitterness of their protest, their shafts of self-condemnation, their brief flashes of hope and long night of despair, and their plaintive pleading with God just to look and see. And if in the midst of these voices there is accusation against God, Lamentations lets us hear that too…. This book forces us to listen to every mood that the deepest suffering causes, allowing the words that emerge to have their own integrity and authenticity, whether we approve or not. We are called not to judge, but to witness. Not to speak, but to listen….”This is what really happened,” they say, “this is what we went through, and this is what we felt.” (emphasis mine; ibid)

Chris goes on to talk about the confession of sin in the book and makes it very clear that lamentations is not meant to be a theology of suffering and sin applied to every situation where people suffer. Surely there are proper times of confession and the book of Lamentations records the confession of sin for Israel’s rebellion. Chris goes on to point out that even if all of the suffering can be attributed to sin, such sin cannot erase the suffering being experienced. To do so would erase the reality of experience. I find counselors all too interested in sorting victims and sinners. At one level, it doesn’t matter. Suffering is suffering, no matter who experiences it.

  • It is a protest. No matter the cause, the immensity of suffering as found on the pages of Lamentations and in sexual abuse produces cries of protest. Chris denies that protest is blaming God. Rather, our protests assume God’s capacity to right all wrongs and confusion as to why it has not yet happened. He calls such protest evidence of spiritual “vertigo.” And he notices that such statements of faith and protest are seen together in the final verses of the book. “You, Lord, reign forever…Why do you always forget us…?” (p. 40)
  • It is our home and we share it with God. He quotes O’Connor again. Lamentations is “a house for sorrow and a school for compassion.” Lamentations is the home for our tears and a home where God too weeps for us.

We counselors bear witness to pain and suffering. Lamentations teaches us to listen. It teaches us to express spiritual vertigo with our clients and to wait for God’s answer (notice God does not answer in this book; thankfully we have other books that do give us a direct answer).

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews

Are all sins equal? The dangers of leveling all sins


There but for the grace of God go I.

Humility requires that we do not think too highly of ourselves; that we do not think ourselves better than anyone else. We all struggle with the same weakness–the desire to love self more than neighbor and to be our own god. We are all easily deceived, born into sin.

And yet, the evidence of humility is not equalizing all sins. Sadly, treating all as human has led some Christians to believe that it is wrong to point out the sins of others, to seek justice after wrongdoing. The error in thinking goes something like this:

  1. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We all deserve judgment. No one can earn God’s love.
  2. God’s love is a free gift for all, not based on merit.
  3. Therefore, we must treat all sinners the same; that grace means the same treatment for all.

But ask victims who have heard this stated something like this and they hear, “since we’re all sinners then the way you were sinned against is no different than the way you sinned against God.” So, if there are no differences, then what happened to you (victimization) is no different than what happens to anyone.

Get over it. That is the message we send to victims when we level all sins.

So, consider this question: Does Jesus differentiate between sins? Do some sins result in more judgment and consequence? What about how he speaks of those who hinder the little children from coming to him? How does he speak to those who understand the depth of their sin vs. those who deflect or deny their sin?

Some years ago I was speaking to a large gathering of church leaders about the care for victims and sex offenders. I suggested that sex offenders did not have an automatic right to attend worship but that we could find meaningful ways to bring worship to sex offenders. One leader stood up and accused me of making multiple classes of sinners and ignoring the sin of victims (in his mind they would forever control the lives of the offenders thereby becoming abusive to the offenders). He claimed that I did not believe that God can restore and redeem the worst of sinners. This leader believed that all sin is forgiven (as do I) and thus all consequences should also be erased.

Leveling sins actually harms both victims and offenders. If consequences are erased, then offenders risk remaining unaware of unique temptations, unaware of how they may follow Zaccheus and pay back above and beyond what the Law requires. Victims continue to have little to no voice because what happened (and continues to happen) to them is just commonplace.

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling