Injustice of minorities at the hands of authorities: It begins with stories


In life we start with experience long before we can articulate reality. As we grow and mature we try to make sense of the world and our place in it. As we develop, we come to recognize that our experiences are always biased and in need of correction. Yet, no matter the need for correction, our experiences still shape us in powerful ways. Thus, if we are going to get a handle on the complex sociopolitical issues involved in the current distress of Black men being shot or mistreated by police officers, we need to start with their stories—not because these stories are all we have but because they are fundamentally shaping experiences for these men.

Full disclosure: I am lily white. While I am the father of two African American sons, I myself can never fully understand their experience. I have never felt that others are afraid of me solely based on the color of my skin. However, what follows may help majority readers prepare to listen to heart-breaking stories and to become a bit more aware of what it might be like to be a Black man in America.

Two personal stories first.

Since it is my blog, let me tell two of my own stories of interactions with authorities. First, many years ago I was driving my little VW late one Friday night through the rural pine barrens of New Jersey, on my way to a youth group retreat. I was by myself. At some point a car came up on my rear at a high rate of speed. I hoped he would pass me but he didn’t. After a few minutes, blue lights flashed. I was being pulled over. I checked my speed and was sure I had not done anything wrong. After stopping, I turned off my music, lowered my window and awaited the officer’s approach. With his bright flashlight in hand, he asked me if I knew why I was being stopped. I didn’t. He asked me to get out of the car. Now my heart started racing a bit. He told me I had been weaving (I’m sure I hadn’t) and whether I had been drinking (I know I hadn’t). He put me through my paces with touching my nose, walking in a straight line. Had I been doing drugs, he asked. Why were my eyes so bloodshot (hard contacts did that to me)? He asked me if I would allow him to search my car and to move to the back. He proceeded to take the next 15 minutes to rifle through my car: glove box, under seats, through my packed bag. The longer it took and the more silent he was, the more anxious I became. I found myself starting to panic. Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Intermittently, he would stop, shine the light on me and ask me quite gruffly, why I was anxious (which made me jump and become more anxious). At one point I put my hands on my head so as to get a bit more oxygen into my lungs–like you might do after running an 800 meter race. Finally, he stopped looking through my things and help up a small tube containing a tiny suction cup (used to removed a hard contact that had become stuck in the corner of my eye). What’s this? I tried to explain but stumbled over my words until I could show him out it worked. Abruptly, the officer told me he could give me a ticket for weaving and driving tired. He wouldn’t this time but he was going to follow me for the next two miles to a nearby convenience store where he expected me to stop and buy a caffeinated drink. Those two miles were the longest I’ve driven. I probably choked that steering wheel to death!

Thus ends my scariest interaction with American police. Not much of a scare really. It was, however, unnerving. I was not anywhere near home. I didn’t have any power. I hadn’t done anything wrong but was being suspected of many wrong things. You might argue that he was just doing his job but my experience was that I wasn’t believed when I gave my answers. Even though I passed the balance tests, I still wasn’t believed. I didn’t really have the right to refuse the search of my car even though the law said I did. He had all the power, I had none. I wasn’t really mistreated and went on my way no worse for wear. When I drove back by at the end of the retreat, I noticed being a bit on edge, looking around for police and being doubly sure I was driving in a straight line.

But stick with my story for just a minute more. Imagine further now that this happened on a semi-regular basis, maybe even only once a year. How would that shape my sense of self or my reaction to police anywhere? And what if the outcome were undeserved fines or handcuffs just to keep the officers safe? How would that influence my sense of place in the community, a place where evidently you are a cause of fear merely due to the color of your skin?

I did have another police interaction worth telling here. I attended a tiny bible college in Lenox, MA between 1984 and 1986. This school was situated on the edge of Tanglewood Music Center (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), a most beautiful and wealthy (and white) part of the state. Our study body, though small, was diverse with a number of students from the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA. One day, several of us decided to go play basketball at a local school. We piled into one of the Daye brother’s mammoth car. Likely there were 6 of us going to shoot hoops. What I know is that I was the only white person in the car, sitting in the back seat between two much larger African American men. On the way, (which couldn’t be more than 2 miles at the most) we were pulled over. No tickets were given but we were questioned as to where we were headed. What I most remember from this event is the questions I was asked. On several occasions I was ask, “Are you okay?” Taken off guard and, frankly, naïve to what he might be asking, I must have stammered out a yes. Either I was unconvincing or he couldn’t imagine why I would be with this group of friends. So, he asked at least 2 more times. As far as I recall, we went on to play basketball and never (sadly) spoke of that event. It wasn’t until later that I realized what the officer was asking and what message that spoke to my brothers–that they were a threat to me, that I must be there against my will.

Why and How to Listen?

In previous blogs I have covered the why and the how of listening to those who seem different from ourselves. Consider reading “Loving Your Cultural Enemies” and “On having Substantive Conversations about Race Relations.” Each of these short essays suggest the way forward is through listening and validating personal experiences because being heard, seen and understood tend to move us more quickly beyond simplistic diagnoses and blame-shifting. Think about the most recent argument you had with a family member. Did you make more progress debating or by acknowledging key points?

Try These Steps

  1.  Remember your own minority experience. Before you start listening to the stories of others, recall your own experiences of being different or objectified. Maybe it was the time you were the only one of your kind (e.g., a Baptist among paedobaptists, a man among women, an English speaker among non-English speakers, a democrat among republicans, etc.). While these minority experiences may have been a passing, superficial experience, they teach us about what it is like to feel like an “other.” Recall the experience and then try to imagine it happening every day.
  2. Read widely of minority experiences. Start here with Brian Crooks’ experience of growing up Black in Naperville, IL. Remember, our goal is not to verify a person’s facts so much as it is to understand that perspective. Look for the common threads of systemic cultural/racial blindness and/or oppression.
  3. Imagine how you would want others to respond if you had a story of mis-treatment by authorities. Likely, you would want to be believed and you might want them to ask how they could help. Work to name injustices without excuses, blame-shifting or “sin-leveling.” For example, just as you don’t ask a rape victim if she was wearing a suggestive outfit, you don’t ask a minority male if he was wearing a hoodie.

These are starter ideas to get ourselves immersed in the stories of others. Next we will consider what responsibilities we have when we learn of individual and systemic injustices.

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Reading the Bible as a Refugee


Because we are enculturated people, we always read Scripture from a particular vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider the lens we use and to try reading the Bible from the vantage point of others. I’d like to suggest that you take a tour of the Bible through the eyes of a refugee–a displaced person. Some 60 million people in the world today live displaced from their homes due to human and natural caused disasters. They have lost most if not all of their comforts (language, home, family, land, food, community, protection, job, etc).

Does the bible have anything to say about their experiences?

Right off, we see Adam and Eve, forcibly displaced from their lovely home, barred by an angel with a flaming sword, never to return. We often think about their culpability. It was their own sin that caused this trouble. Set aside that fact. Imagine what it was like for them to be removed from the best place ever to live for over 900 years in exile where nothing could compare to what was lost.

At the other end of the Bible we have John writing Revelation from…wait for it…exile on Patmos. In between these bookends, we have Abraham as sojourner. Israel moves to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved for 400 years. Generations later David in on the run from Saul. Still later, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are sent off to exile with only a small remnant able to return after 70 years. Displacement doesn’t stop at the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ first life experience is on the run from King Herod. Later, after Pentecost, Christians flee Jerusalem to avoid Jewish and Roman persecution.

But there is much more to see in the Bible than examples of displacement. Consider these biblical themes that relate to refugee experiences:Refugees from Syria

  1. God pursues displaced peoples. God chases down Adam and Eve after their sin. During the time of the Judges, God becomes impatient with Israel’s misery (10:16)
  2. God protects even within trouble. When Cain is exiled for murdering Abel, God marks Cain in order to protect him. Israel grows while enslaved. Exiles in Babylon rise to leadership.
  3. God sees our troubles and his moved by it. Notice God’s special kindness to Hagar.
  4. God wants to hear our complaints. With 1/3 of the Psalms in the form of laments, it is clear God desires our complaints and groaning.
  5. God invites us to share in his life by willingly displacing himself to share in ours. The incarnation reveals a God who willingly leaves perfection in relationship and community and lowers himself into a world of war and brokenness. His work enables us to enter in with those who have been displaced, “for such a time as this.”
  6. God prepares a place where we will one day be at home again. One day, we will all be at home in our true country with bodies that work as they were originally designed.

These truths do not remove the pain of displacement now. God’s protection in this world is not one that keeps us from all harm. In fact, our relationship with him promises that sharing in his death and resurrection we will face sorrow upon sorrow. However, knowing that God pursues us, sits with us, listening to our complaints, and provides blessings in the midst of hardship gives us hope for the day with all will be made right.

So, the next time you hear about the political and social challenges due to illegal immigration in the United States or the crisis in the Middle East and Europe, let that be a reminder to go to your Bible and read as if you are yourself displaced. Surely, we all need to work together to find solutions to these problems we face today. I suspect, however, we will be more prepared when we have the mind of Christ regarding displaced peoples. See how that perspective shapes how you live your life today and how you decide to respond to those in greater need than yourself.

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Is there a best practice in international trauma recovery work?


Yesterday I presented with Marianne Millen at the 2016 Humanitarian Disaster Institute conference here in Wheaton, IL. We reviewed some of the lessons learned through our experiences partnering with Rwandan institutions like the Bible Society (BSR) and with local counselors and caregivers. Check out our presentation here if you want to see our slides.

In short, partnerships are the way forward. But partnerships are not merely so that “we” can help “them.” True partnerships share resources, knowledge, and skills. They enrich both parties. I can attest that I have learned much from my Rwandan friends as they from me. I am a better therapist (and maybe teacher) from what I have received.

Partnerships rarely form quickly. They take time, can be messy, are likely more expensive than other intervention strategies. But as the Rwandan proverb says, “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And yesterday during a conference plenary, Sheryl Haw (Micah Global) had this to say, “partnerships are the realization of being on God’s mission and not our own.”

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4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing


[Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]

As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.

With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?

So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]

Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response

While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.

Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.HWT_USA_2014

While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.

But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce

There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.

To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.

Experiential learning trumps lectures every time

In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.

Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.

The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.

Good training hinges on contextualization

If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.

The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.

Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.

For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, teaching counseling, trauma, Uncategorized

Immigrant or refugee? 


Most Americans can tell the story of how their forefathers and mothers came to this country to settle as new Americans. They came for opportunity. They came to be with other family already arrived. But not everyone comes here out of desire to leave their own country. Some come only because home became “the mouth of a shark” (first heard this poem in a presentation by Diane Langberg this Spring).

To this point, you might find this Fresh Air podcast aired today with listening to. The Pulitzer Prize winning author frequently refers to his identity as a refugee, one who is in the US due to US waged war in Vietnam. Does he look like a refugee? As a professor and someone who appears to be well off, he appears as American as anyone else. And yet, his experience is one of being a refugee.

What is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? Not quality of life but it seems free choice. And I would add the component of time. His heirs will likely feel proud of their heritage but feel they are less refugee and more American. I do suspect, however, that it was easier for Irish and other Europeans to quickly integrate into the American persona than it is for most non-Caucasians.

What would make you feel more like an immigrant and less like a refugee? Or vice versa?

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New resource for adult males with child sexual abuse histories


Take a look at most books and resources for adults with abuse histories and you will discover that they do a great job illustrating the experience of females. The vignettes are often about the experience of young girls. The pronouns used tend to be female. These books are incredibly important and I wouldn’t suggest for a second that there are too many such books. But if you are a male and you have a history of sexual abuse, you may have to look far and wide to find resources that tell your story.

Look no further. Andrew Schmutzer, Daniel Gorski, and David Carlson have published, Naming Our Abuse: God’s Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016). All three tell their stories but do so in a way for other survivors to process (and re-write) their narratives as well. The book is written in 4 sections and is in the form of a journal with ample room for the reader to write along with the authors. The sections, The Wreck, Accident Report, Rehabilitation, and Driving Again, enable the reader to reflect on his own experience as well as move into next steps and ways to cope–first illustrated by three different voices and then followed by a good number of questions to engage. I would highly recommend that readers share the experience with a trusted friend and/or counselor so as to manage the response to the subject matter. As I said in my blurb, “…work slowly through this book, examining how you might tell your story (which has not ended!) to yourself.” Our stories are not over and it is important to examine how we may distort our own stories (or have them distorted for us by voices from our past or present).

One of the little treasures in this book are the letters the three men write to their little boy selves long ago. Read these letters and consider what you would say to your younger self from your present self (but avoid shaming and judging that child that you were).

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Alternative to talk or pharmacological therapies for depression?


For many of my clients, medications are necessary for their moderate to severe depression. With SSRIs or mood stabilizers, they are able to function at home and at work and can better benefit from talk therapy. But in every case my clients report side effects from their meds. It is always a bit of art-form to balance benefits and side effects. That is the world we live in and the best we can do now. One of the key problems with all psychopharmacological interventions is that drugs provide a systemic solution when often we may need a targeted approach. Consider a person with ADHD who takes a stimulant that will help them focus in class yet must deal with increased blood pressure, heart rate and potential for insomnia. The stimulant does not just target the frontal lobe but impacts the whole body.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could target an intervention to a particular part of the brain?

“The brain is not a bowl of soup and you add the chemical and you stir,” she says. “Chemicals work within networks, within systems, within pathways. And where in the brain a chemical may be working is as important as knowing what chemical you should use.”

I read the above quote in this news item about the problem of rumination in treatment resistant depression. Helen Mayberg, author of the above quote, is researching Broadman Area 25 and its connection to the problem of rumination–where a person struggles to turn off negative thoughts about self and the world. She and other researchers are wondering why some people do well with talk therapy while others seem not to benefit. Instead of looking at the possibility of a less helpful form of talk therapy, they wondered whether the problem is that the person cannot get away from their negative thoughts enough to engage in the work of counseling.

One of the interventions being tried is to practice disconnecting from ruminations by paying attention to what is going on in the present. To help with the learning of this skill one researcher is testing whether 5 sessions of having an electrode on your wrist create an itching sensation while the patient practices paying attention to a decreasing amount of electrical stimulation.

Sound crazy? It just might be. I am always wary of any “5 sessions or less” advertisement. But before we toss out the idea, if a targeted treatment could help turn down the volume on a rumination, wouldn’t that be a help to many?

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Should churches allow concealed weapons in worship?


Do you know if your church has a policy about weapons on church property? Do you know who has a concealed weapon (legally permitted to do so) with them on Sunday morning? 

Last Sunday a local church experienced a tragedy of a shooting during morning worship. One person dead and many others likely traumatized. I do not know the circumstances and so this post does not comment any further on what took place there nor make any assessment on what transpired there. We, the public, simply do not know what led up to the shooting nor can we evaluate any justifications one way or the other. So, we allow the authorities to investigate without further comment and we pray for those involved. 

And yet, the tragedy can encourage us to have conversations about weapons in our church services. As far as I can see there are two main arguments used in this discussion:

  1. Individuals with conceal/carry permits provide additional security and can thwart attacks and potentially minimize harm by those intending to engage in mass violence
  2. Individuals with conceal/carry permits but without extensive training may unnecessarily escalate violence by using weapons too early in a conflict; thus all security should be handled by official “officers.” 

I would imagine that many of the arguments used turn on personal experience or knowledge of specific cases. It is easy to imagine a situation where many are killed in a church (consider the shooting in South Carolina in the last year) and where a person with a weapon might have been able to stop or prevent mass killing. It is also easy to imagine where unnecessary harm results from someone with a weapon without proper crisis training. So, our capacity to tell stories of each situation do not help us come to a wise decision on whether to allow weapons in worship services. 

So, what questions should we be asking?

I will suggest a few, but I would love to hear your suggestion questions that need asking/answering in order to answer how a church will handle the issue of guns on site.

  1. What is the statistical probability of violence in church? It does happen, no one can fully predict violence, but probability statistics are still important.
  2. What levels of risk are acceptable for a church community (no option will remove all risk)? 
  3. What are the options for security? (No weapons, paid security with and without weapons, volunteer specially trained members, no policy at all)?
  4. What minimal training would we require to allow members to carry weapons? 
  5. What notifications and communications should be made to the congregation about policies and procedures? 
  6. What biblical and theological arguments will we prize in determining our choices? 

As we consider the best way forward, do remember to pray for those whose lives have been upended by violence this past weekend. It is easy to backseat drive bad situations. But rarely do we have the facts to do so. Better to pray and ask for God to bring his healing power to all involved. 

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A moment at a refugee camp reminds us of the human tragedy around us


Just over the nearest mountain stands the Syrian border (approximately 6 miles across the valley). The Beqaa valley, known for its wine and farms displays its fertility even through the Spring chill rain. The mud clings to your shoes as you step carefully hoping that it doesn’t suck your shoe off your foot. You move down the dirt road between the refugee homes and are at a loss for words as what constitutes a home.  A “home” is a plastic covered wooden frame covered in plastic wrap and weighted down by tires and other heavy objects. This is a “good” or “5 star” camp in that the homes sit on poured concrete and have diesel powered heater/stoves. You step inside of Ramy’s (not his real name) home where he sits with his wife and a younger relative. Ramy is 24 and has been married for just just one month longer than his 2 year stay. He fled his home, walked over the mountain and arrived in Lebanon without legal status. What would make him flee his home and leave his parents behind? He had a choice to either take up a gun and fight in the civil war or try to get to another location to find a better life. While he doesn’t worry about being killed in battle, life is not easy for Ramy. Ramy cannot work. To pass the time he volunteers in the camp children’s activities. For this help, he is given some small token gifts from which he has to pay rent to the camp leader (who in turn pays the local farmer who has rented the plot as a camp. 
The camp is a good one, comparatively safe and secure, and relatively clean. Of course, this day, everything is wet and dark, lighted by one bare bulb and the glow of a TV. (Yes, some homes have a TV). With nothing to do at the moment, Ramy sits drinking hot sweet tea his wife has prepared. We drink with him.

Ramy worries about his parents and extended family. He can talk to them by phone every few months. He learns they have very little food. Unlike well-to-do migrants, Ramy hopes for peace and the right to return to his home city. Here, he worries about his wife, getting enough food, and whether he can spare some small change to help an elderly couple who can do nothing to provide for themselves. 

Ramy’s relative Mohommed, just 17, rarely speaks or makes any eye contact. He stares off and mindlessly smokes a cigarette. Though he too has no legal status or right to work, he has found a way to make a bit of money on building sites when he is allowed to stay at the construction site to sleep. It is clear he has seen and experienced much that is not good. 

Saying our good byes and offering our blessings, we leave the dank cushioned hut and move on to a small hut, better lighted and full of laughter. An aid worker is teaching English to children between 7 and 14 and a few mothers as well. The children practice identifying letters and writing both capital and lowercase English letters. Through giggles and “Hello, and how are you? My name is…” We learn that the woman reciting English has 9 living children and 2 dead ones. She smiles easily but pain is not far away. 

Soon, our time at the camp comes to a close. We file back down the road as clouds race by and the stench of human waste burns in our noses. We get on the bus, wave good byes and realize how welcomed we were. From there we go to a cheap restaurant and make our way to a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Though we look out upon beauty, our hearts and minds are with the children and their parents preparing to sleep on cushions wrapped in a thin blanket and with no hope of it being any different tomorrow, next week, or ever. 

What can we do when our best options seem to be bearing feeble witness and trying to avoid the problems of tragedy tourism (a word used by our aid worker)? What can we know other than these few things:

  • this is not the way it is supposed to be 
  • few people outside this region given their pain a second thought (Think otherwise? Consider the “temporary” Palestinian camps swelling from 40,000 to 600,000 since 1948. These only come to mind today when a political leader is killed in a car bomb in one in Sidon)
  • while there are no simple answers and relief aid is not always the best solution, the human tragedy is still real. For this couple, that teen, those children, they suffer. 
  • And finally, and maybe most challenging, we know that God loves these refugees who do not yet know him. His heart breaks for them no less than it did for Ninevah. Our received blessings are not because we are more loved
  • We lament and ask again what can we do with what talents we have for the good of these brothers and sisters.

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Making the Church a Safe Place for victims of abuse


This Saturday I will be attending and presenting Cairn University’s Faith in Practice conference hosted by their counseling center and department (free but you need to register). I will be speaking about how we can make the church a safer place for adult victims of abuse and trauma. If you want to peak at the slides, click here: 2016 Cairn U Presentation.

The presentation that I will do will only be one hour so that limits what I can do. What I wish I could do is also talk much more about the systemic factors that make churches less safe places for vulnerable people. While we can all grow in better understanding the nature of trauma and how to walk alongside victims, our institutions can be systematically harmful, even when the individuals within the system have no intention to hurt others. Thus we need to keep examining the ways our systems operate that can be toxic to some. While this presentation doesn’t cover these questions, it can be good to ask,

  1. How do we handle recent or older allegations of mis-handling difficult cases?
  2. How do we handle allegations of child abuse (the victims, the family, the alleged perpetrator and family, and congregation)?
  3. Are we a safe place for people who are broken and not all tidied up?
  4. Does our system allow for ongoing lament? (Corporate and individual)?

 

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, church and culture, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering, trauma