Treating a whole population with suspicion always ends badly

I’m currently reading Spectacle, the telling of the story of Ota Benga, a Congolese man held captive in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo and placed on display in the zoo’s monkey house. This tragic story reveals our ugly history where Americans, by-in-large, believed in the superiority of the White races. But in chapter five, the author talks about another incident, The Brownsville Affair, during that same year. It is this affair that I wish to highlight.

The Brownsville Affair

In late July of that year, there was an altercation between a black member of the infantry division and a white man. The white man was killed. A mob ensued and when it was over, three more lay dead. Fast forward a few weeks into August and suddenly a bartender (white) is killed. The suspicion is instantly laid on the infantry, despite their white officers reporting that every infantry member was in his bed at the time. Evidence was planted to try to incriminate the men. When the men were interrogated, they denied any involvement and of course could not say who had killed the bartender.

But the people of Brownsville continued to accuse the men. And the decision was made to castigate them all for a so-called “conspiracy of silence.” The decision went all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt who signed the order having 167 men dishonorably discharged as punishment for a crime they did not and could not have committed. Here Pamela Newkirk recount Roosevelt’s comments

Despite pleas from black leaders, including Booker T. Washington, Roosevelt would sign the order denying the men–who had been deprived of legal counsel or a hearing–back pay, pensions, and eligibility to serve in the future. Roosevelt, considered a racial moderate for his time, unapologetically defamed the innocent men, saying, “Some of the men were bloody butchers; they ought to be hung.”

Not until Nixon, did this injustice be made right (and then the “justice” did not include any form of restitution.

The Trajectory When We Dehumanize others

Notice the trajectory:

  • One person of a group (a minority group) does something wrong.
  • Later, another ambiguous thing happens and blame is laid at the feed of an entire population.
  • Facts are not sought out but evidence is created and “justice” delivered because “these people” are butchers.

Is it any wonder that such minorities don’t feel particularly warm feelings when thinking about national pride. How could they? We’d like to think we are well beyond the years that we would place a human in a zoo to be gawked at. Indeed, we are. We’d also like to believe we are well beyond the years where we would demonize and be suspicious of an entire population of people. We are not there yet. There might be people who are butchers among the innocent. So, let’s ensure they don’t remain among us and accuse them of a conspiracy of silence for not pointing the guilty out. Let’s keep them all out just to be sure.

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Filed under Christianity, Civil Rights, Good Books, Historical events, Justice, News and politics, Race

Do men need sex? Wants vs. needs and the making of weak men

A bit ago, I wrote a piece challenging Michelle Duggar’s advice to her newlywed daughter about how to be sure to always be ready for sex.

“And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels. ‘I’m still here for you and I’m going to meet that need because I know it’s a need for you.’ ” (emphasis mine)

That advice, in my opinion, makes men out to need sex to such a degree that the lack of it will lead to bad things like porn and adultery. Sex is treated as the glue that holds fragile men in the marriage and the lack of it kills the marriage because men can’t function without it.

Interestingly, comments on that blog and other social media, by women, suggested that indeed sex is a need, not just a want.

Now, I just read a piece by a not-surprisingly anonymous blogger entitled, “How a husband can enjoy sex that is grudgingly given by his wife,” which argues much the same thing. While there are a million things wrong with his post, I only want to highlight the “need” language used in it. When illustrating how a wife might be allowed to (rarely) turn down her husband’s request for sex, he suggests she use this line with him,

“Honey, I know you really need it, but I am just really sick tonight, can I make it up to you tomorrow?” (bold mine)

And when he talks about the problem of the wife not wanting sex the way the husband wants,

But then we have the conundrum, women don’t always feel like having sex. Even women that have a healthy view of sex don’t always feel like having sex as much as their husbands do. (emphasis his)

One could argue that for some this is true, some men feel greater sexual desire than do their wives. But it is only a conundrum if such feelings/desires for sex are evidence of some innate need that if not met will lead to trouble.

Maybe from this quote you are not sure that this blogger believes sex is a need for men. Well, he also believes it is a need for women as well,

You need to realize that this is a physical need that you have as a man. You also need to realize that whether your wife knows it or not she needs to have sex too. Your marriage needs sex at regular intervals. If you don’t have sex with your wife at regular intervals, even sometimes when she is not in the mood but consents anyway, you will open yourself to temptation. You will find yourself becoming distant from your wife, because this is the primary way that you as man feel closeness with your wife.

But even if you realize and accept this truth that you need sex and it needs to happen even if your wife refuses to “fake it” and bury her wrong attitude then what?

What is probably most controversial in this blog is that he advises men to go ahead with sex when a wife is giving sex in a grudging way. He recommends that a husband not look at his wife’s face but focus on her body. You see, sex is such a need, it would be best to just muscle through it, don’t look at her face, so you can fulfill that need. Really!

Is it a need? Is it a want?

So is sex a need? Even if you believe it is a duty to provide sex to your spouse, does that make it a need equivalent to, “if I don’t get oxygen, I will die”?  Will the absence of it lead to bad things? It seems that some have  bought into this little formula: SEXUAL DESIRE = NEED. UNMET NEED = DANGER that will lead to  temptation, straying, or some such pathology.

What do we do with single men who want to be married? Is God unkind to them?

I think our troubles begin this way: We often baptize desires as needs, expect needs to be fulfilled, are angry when they are not, make demands of others to fulfill our wants and excuse ourselves when we use illicit means to get what we want (either by outright force, manipulation, or secrecy).

Notice here the author conflates desire with need. Yes, many men and women desire sexual activity. We are designed for it so it is not surprising when we like it and want more of it. But it is also designed to be used to connect us with our spouses. And when it is used to only fulfill one person’s needs, then it is not being used as designed.

And when we see it as a need, we are encouraging men to see themselves as weak and incapable of living without sex.

Further, arguing backwards does not make it a need. For example, you could show that those in sexless marriages are more likely to cheat (example; I don’t know if this is true or not). This information still does not make sex a need. At best it can only tell us it is a powerful want.

Consider for a minute how we might respond to these two different equations:

  • Sex as basic need + unmet need = ???
  • Sex as powerful want + unmet want = ???

How would you conclude these two equations? The first is more likely to focus on ensuring the spouse is not selfishly withholding such a basic need. The second is more likely to be concluded by addressing the one who has the want and how they plan to address that want.

A Better Equation

Maybe this is a more accurate equation: Sex as a powerful want + partially unmet wants + brokenness (bodies, relationships, desires) = grief over losses + opportunity to rely on Holy Spirit + pursuit of loving our spouses more than ourselves. This equation better acknowledges wants, sadness the happens when wants are not met, the reality of broken wants and broken bodies but also points to a better goal of reliance on God and the focus of love more than getting something.

It is painful to have unmet wants/desires. Those desires do not have to be wrong (though we are never fully right either). But our wants are always given to God and made secondary to our command to love the other well. Yes, part of loving the other may be talking about desires and hurts. But surely let us get rid of the idea that failing to have sex leaves men or women in some greater danger than those who have sex as much as they want.


Filed under marriage, Relationships, Sex, Uncategorized

Should you get a doctorate in counseling or psychology?

Over at the BTS faculty blog, I’ve written about the pros and cons of getting a doctorate in a mental health field. Of course, I focus on what I know and play to my biases. You can read that post here.

That post is missing a link in the first paragraph. Here’s the link to the APA book.

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Life in desolate places: Meditating on the state of my soul

[First posted on Sept 21, 2006]

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25

Forgotten Places

Forgotten places. Desolate faces of America whiz by my window on Amtrak train number 143 this morning. The sky is blue, the air crisp—a beautiful day. But I see many things that haunt me. Rusting steel, broken cars, abandoned buildings with broken windows, graffiti and forgotten parking lots litter my view. A collage of images zip by: a faded orange cone, a shell of a love seat, candy wrappers, and even discarded piles of dirt (probably contaminated at that).

These are sights suburbanites rarely see. We tear down old factories to make room for more Applebee’s restaurants, bookstores, and condos. We cart off rusty fences, brick facades, steel girders, and cement barriers. But where do they go? To be forgotten along our railways. I guess no one lobbies to clean up these “districts.”

Oh sure, I see many living things: plentiful sumac, vines, poplar and scrub pine abound. I’m amazed at how life thrives in these places. Blacktop gives way to grasses and little trees. A blue heron deftly moves among tires in a swamp and nabs a little fish. A man reads a newspaper in the morning sun in front of a burned out building. A beautiful 20 x 10 oasis appears in the midst of a brick and pavement housing development. The graffiti consists of vibrant colors and shapes that could easily be displayed in an art museum if not drawn by discarded and forgotten people.

I can’t decide if life growing amongst rubbish is a good thing or not.

We learn to live with a tremendous amount of debris in our lives. We clean up the exterior. Yet, we hide all sorts of things in the dark and hidden corners of our lives. Sure, we know it’s there and glimpse it as we race on by. But soon we’re on to something else and the desolate places are quickly forgotten again. That angry thought, that gluttony, that jealousy, that surge of despair, that demanding spirit—we see it but quickly move on to the next thing. If it lingers a bit so that others see it too, we have deft excuses: It was a mistake, a reaction caused by exhaustion, or miscommunication.

Somehow a once vibrant street decays and becomes a desolate place. I think it must happen slowly so that we rarely notice it until we are left with nothing. “Quite often,” Leo Tolstoy lamented as he looked back on his life, “a man goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him.”  How does this happen? Thomas Brooks, a great Puritan writer, says that if sin were presented to us without its usual glitter and paint, we’d surely fly from it. So, self-deception must happen slowly in our hearts until we wake up and notice that rotten and broken things are everywhere, no longer occupying just the secret places of our lives.

I contemplate these thoughts on my trip. I am thankful for the time to reflect on how easy it is to go on without noting the trash that piles up in my life. And I’ve decided that the life that grows up amongst the trash isn’t sad but an amazing sign of God’s grace. This life I see reflects God’s mercy and handiwork and plan for my future. In the words of C.S. Lewis, it’s winter, but Christmas is coming.

Dear Lord, show me those piles of refuse. With your grace, let me linger there so that I may turn from them and fly to you!

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. Daniel 9:17-19


Filed under Meditations

Watch this on shame and trauma

A couple of years ago Diane Langberg spoke on shame and trauma for the American Bible Society. I highly recommend this 56 minute presentation. She talks about the experience of shame, the stickiness of self, communal forms of shame, and the myriad ways we respond to shame across various cultures.

We watched it again in staff meeting today. Make sure you catch her discussion of what some cultures believe cleanse shame. And then notice how that is close but a huge distortion from a Christian view of what heals shame.

Watch it here.

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Spiritual Competencies for Clinicians

I will be presenting a 2 hour seminar at Penn Foundation today on Spiritually Informed Practitioners: Exploring Challenges and Opportunities. Over the last year or so I have been part of a multi-faith working group, Standing on Sacred Ground, that has been thinking about how to educate mental health practitioners to recognize, value, and work with the faith of clients (rather than see it as something automatically pathological or insignificant). Given the historic divide between mental health and faith communities (there have been haters on both sides) few clinicians have much training in understanding faith, religion, and spirituality beyond “be respectful.” Thus, religiously committed individuals often have had their faith marginalized or pathologized.

This presentation will look at roots of the historic divide, explore the complex relationship between faith and recovery, provide opportunities for MHPs to examine their own biases, and examine several key spiritual competencies needed for adequate provision of care.

Interested in the slides, check them out: Spiritually Informed Care.


Filed under counseling, mental health

Advice to Young Marrieds? Why Michelle Duggar’s Newlywed Sex Advice Hurts Women AND Men

A couple of days ago my social media sites were all a rage about some advice given by Michelle Duggar (19 Kids and Counting fame) in one of her blogs. Here’s the oft-quoted part,

She told me: “Michelle, I know you’re so excited. You’re a bride-to-be, but some day you’ll be at this point. I’ve been married three years and I’m still happily married. I have one child, we’re expecting our second and I’m big pregnant. You’ve got to remember this. Anyone can iron Jim Bob’s shirt, anybody can make lunch for him. He can get his lunch somewhere else. But you are the only one who can meet that special need that he has in his life for intimacy. You’re it. You’re the only one. So don’t forget that, that he needs you. So when you are exhausted at the end of the day, maybe from dealing with little ones, and you fall into bed so exhausted at night, don’t forget about him because you and he are the only ones who can have that time together. No one else in the world can meet that need.”

“And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels. ‘I’m still here for you and I’m going to meet that need because I know it’s a need for you.’ ”

No wonder the rage. The message is quite simply awful in its meaning. Here’s my take on what she really says:

Your husband’s sexual need is so great you can never turn him down or bad things will happen. Always be ready no matter what has been going on in your life. Put a smile on and do it! The only way he’ll really know you are “there for him” is your sexual availability.

Okay, a little context is in order for those, like me, who have never seen the television show. The blog, entitled, “Michelle Duggar’s Advice to Newlyweds,” begins with a fan question: What advice will you give Jill [her daughter] as a newlywed wife to keep in mind throughout her marriage? She gives three points: be available (quote above is from that point), talk about disagreements in private, and get marriage advice when you need it. And while the context is all about what she wants to tell her daughter before her wedding, she does conclude with a single sentence to the guys about not approaching marriage as if they are all “macho” and above the need for advice and help.

The problem

The problem with this advice is there is a bit of truth in it mixed with a significant dose of false conventional wisdom. It is true that we need to pay attention to the desires of our spouses. It is true that sex can be more important to one spouse than the other and so it if you are the lower-desire-for-sex spouse, it means you one form of love for your spouse is to care about their desires. But notice that “care about desires” does not mean you have to do whatever they want when they want. That is the false conventional wisdom in her post. Men have this need, so the thought goes, and a godly wife will always meet it because that is what love does.

Some Better Sex Advice for Young Married Men

Sex is not the (sole) definition of emotional connection. You want a good marriage and the probability of a decent sex life? Connect with your wife’s emotional and experiential life. Regularly explore her dreams, fears, and aspirations. You may be shocked to find out that you didn’t marry someone who thinks exactly like you. Allow her to have her own thoughts and feelings. It won’t diminish who you are.

When you come home at the end of the day, seek her out. You may have had a hard day at work but your wife still needs you to be present. Ask about her day. Notice what needs to be done around the house and do it, without being asked. And when you see she is burdened with care for the kids, the house, or her own health, step it up a bit without looking for a pat on the back. Only you can offer that kind of support.

Remember too, sex is a great thing but it isn’t intended to be an antidote to herb (or your) boredom, sadness, or tiredness. Find out what helps her to be ready for sex and yet be understanding when she says “not tonight” (note: when you want sex, be sure to ask not hint). She’s not a vending machine that always responds because you put in the right amount of money. When she declines, stay close to her. If she says yes only to avoid your cold shoulder, you are ensuring that sex is all about you and not at all about her. Do not make sex the requirement for your love, compassion, and interest in your wife.

Finally, and most importantly, remember that sex is a want, not a need. Sure, it is a powerful want and a good desire. But that does not mean it is a must-have. Treat it as a right and you will kill your love life. 1 Corinthians 7 doesn’t give you the right to demand sex. Notice that your body is not yours to control. That control is given to your wife. Yes, the point of the passage is mutual care for each other. But in a broken world, that does not mean that we mutually care for each other in the exact way we want to be cared for. And so we will have times of unfulfilled desires. Do not believe for a moment that her lack of availability is what tempts you to porn, masturbation or other forms of infidelity. It’s not her, it’s you!

Obviously, there is much more sex advice to be given to young married couples. Find a good book and read it together. Stay away from blog posts (even this one!) as your final source. But if you are in need of pithy bullet pointed sex advice, try these:

  • Don’t be selfish
  • Laugh a lot (especially at yourself)
  • Don’t keep a record of wrongs
  • Do repent quickly
  • Make and keep a tradition that is something you both love
  • Don’t ignore or withhold what makes your spouse feel safe and significant

You do these well and I would bet your sex life will be just fine.


Filed under marriage, Sex

Useful Book on Narcissism

Craig Malkin of Harvard Medical School has written a popular, easy to read book on the topic of narcissism and its opposite end of the spectrum, “echoists.” Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad–And Surprisingly Good–About Feeling Special (Harper, 2015) is worth your read if you think you might be on the spectrum or if you live with someone who does.

In the beginning he sets out to destroy the myth that narcissism is always destructive and that all narcissists act the same. To help describe the continuum of egocentrism Malkin defines the low side as “echoists,” those who have too little of it who feel special in becoming invisible to others only known for the help they offer to others. Further, he also describes narcissism as something that may ebb and flow, rather than a consistent trait. Malkin describes the continuum well with many real life examples. With a better understanding of the spectrum, it may help us look more closely at less pathological forms of egocentrism and be less likely to lump everyone together.

Worried that you might be a narcissist? Want to see where you fall on the spectrum? Try out his assessment tool.

In his book he describes the root causes and the experience of being around subtle and extreme forms. Unlike other researchers, he outlines ways that egocentric people can grow empathy toward others. This idea flies in the face of conventional wisdom that a narcissist can never change,

The problem is we’ve all had it drummed into our heads that narcissist can’t change. They think they’re perfect just the way they are, the argument goes, so why should they even try? But unquestioningly accepting this idea backs us into an impossibly tight corner….We’ll fall silent or vent our anger, or…we’ll try a little of each. And none of these reactions will make the relationship any healthier

When we withdraw, by swallowing our words or walking on eggshells, we only strengthen people’s narcissism. In fact, echoists and narcissists often pair up to create a “love” that’s toxic to them both.

What can we do? For those who are not extreme narcissists, one way to encourage growth is to validate their experiences even while we say “ouch” letting them know we are hurt. Too often our anger or our silence is the primary response. While validation and pointing out our pain is not a guaranteed solution, combining validation plus vulnerability can enable some to experience compassion for self and other at the same time.

Check out the book!

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Filed under personality, Psychology, Uncategorized

Spiritual Trauma and Abuse: Assessments and Interventions

Today I will be presenting a break out at the AACC World Conference on spiritual abuse. If you are interested in seeing slides of my talk, click: Spiritual Abuse.


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Counseling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: Phase 2 mis-steps and correctives

Today Dr. Diane Langberg and I will be offering a 3 hour pre-conference CE training at AACC’s 2015 World Conference here in Nashville, TN. Our focus is on some of the common counselor mistakes made during the phase of processing the abuse history and all that happens as a person tries to see self and history through different eyes. We focus on the relational approach to repair the mistakes we make. I have a small bit on reframing resilience and posttraumatic growth. Our perceptions of recovery and where we (counselors and clients) should be headed sometimes need to be examined.

For those interested in seeing the slides from my portion of the talk, click: AACC WC Pre-conf 2015

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