Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Main Concern with BLM

In light of the shootings this week, I’d like to offer some of my concerns. Last week, I posted something on Facebook that detailed my frustrations with the BLM movement. My wife thought I was too harsh in my criticism of “Black Lives Matter” (BLM), so I took it down. She brought up some very valid concerns: I can’t make a general statement about the whole movement without coming across as overly simplistic and that some things simply need to go into a blog.

My one main concern

I won’t go into depth about BLM and I would like to make this brief and to the point, after all, this is a blog not an essay. I’d also like to preface that I’m not an expert on criminal law nor an expert on what’s best for battling racism. I’m not an authority on these matters and am speaking like a concerned citizen.

However, I still have one serious concern about BLM, especially its approach in battling racism and its reaction toward police officers: BLM’s justification is not from particular research or the courts, but rumors, cell phones, and false reports. Therefore, its energy is reactive, not logical or consistent. This movement differs seriously from the tactics used during the early civil rights era, especially those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had definitive evidence of racism and wanted to use the courts to address the loss of civil rights. BLM does not use the courts, but are often angry at the courts even if the courts have a varied jury. The foundation of their energy is “what was heard on the rooftops” and not conclusive evidence.

Let’s take three cases (Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and Michael Brown) that BLM often used in justifying it’s “proof,” i.e. that “white officers target blacks and that blacks are the victims of racism.” Each one of these cases are very different. Only one of them involves a supposed white on black crime (Brown), whereas the other two involve a Spanish-American and a group of six police officers (three of which were black) on a black person. One thing in common is that each of these cases were dropped in a judicial system because the evidence against the accused (the officers and Zimmerman) were inconsistent and did not prove criminal intent. These courts had several people of color on the jury, and witness testimony in each of these cases thought the officers were innocuous of any crimes and thus set free.

Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because every time a black life is taken, BLM is there to assume the worse before there’s been an investigation. BLM seeks to ride the wave of assumption and vague eye-witness testimony; not logic, not consistency of evidence, nor an objective arbiter. BLM is ready to condemn and pounce every so-called crime without any proven evidence of a crime. This states the laziness of the movement, but even worse, our own. Especially when we pat ourselves on the back as if we’re battling racism. We’re not. We’re worsening it because now more reaction is against the officer, which leads to more black deaths.

How is that possible? Thus far, we’ve had two deaths this past week (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile). And what has the BLM done? They’ve already made a case without going to the court and are telling us, the audience, that their narrative (white officers target blacks and that blacks are the victims of racism) is a truism. But is it?

What do we know about these two shootings thus far? In Alton Sterling’s case, we know that a phone call was placed stating that “a man with a red shirt is waiving a gun.” We know that Sterling was a known convict with a serious criminal record. We know that his records show that Sterling was a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal record that included convictions for weapons offenses, confrontations with police officers, property crimes, and domestic violence and other batteries. We know that when police arrived, they likely knew Sterling, especially if he had a record. We don’t know whether Sterling was reaching for his gun. BLM condemned this white-officer on black crime by using one public video. However, a second video just came out that seemed to show Sterling reaching for his gun (http://www.allenbwest.com/matt-palumbo/newly-released-video-destroys-liberal-narrative-on-alton-sterling-shooting). That’s what we know and what we don’t know. Can we prove the officer wanted him dead?

In the second case, Castile, we have even less evidence of what occurred. Which makes it more problematic. We know that Castile’s girlfriend started recording after the incident and not during. We see an officer aiming his gun at Castile and clearly agitated. Which begs the question, was this officer agitated because Castile was reaching for his gun when the officer told him not to? We don’t know. Were the officer and Castile arguing prior to the incident? We don’t know. Again, this case seems more problematic because there’s so much data that’s missing; but that’s also a reason why we must wait and we not assume too quickly.

The question for both of these cases and for the three mentioned above is, “Can we definitely state these cases are clear indications of a white officer on black crime?” We can’t. Which is why courts are set in place. Since the beginning of human civilization, courts stop our immediate reactions from getting the best of us, especially our slow reasoning. We’re quick to condemn and we’re quick to call the guilty, innocent. What we need more than anything is a just court. You are not a victim, black or white. You have a voice, but you also must use your voice reasonably and justly. We do not have the right to condemn officers who have not been condemned in the court of law anymore than we have a right to set free people who may have attacked police officers in the process.

We need peace. But we’re not going to get it from this movement of reactivity.   

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Conservative Redux: My struggle to find an answer in suffering.

I was shoveling snow this morning and when I took a break, I noticed the numbers of my neighbor’s houses: 24, 26, 22…it was the last number that struck me. That was the age I first became a Christian.  I have wonderful memories since that time and several blog posts would be needed to write on the ways God has changed me to be a better man, husband, and father. However, one negative thing I recall was my deep committed self-assurrance in the face of suffering, especially my insensitive words toward hurting people. Some of those memories are quite horrific: I remember saying to a girl in a bible study who likely struggled with major depressive disorder that medicine was useless (she pleaded for help in the group and conveyed suicidal thoughts). I told her depression was big because her faith was small. I told an anxious teenager who struggled with stage-fright  to “get over it and trust in Jesus.” The worst memory of mine was saying to a grieving parent a year after the death of her son that if she continued to weep and be depressed, it could mean she was worshipping an idol. These were my patterns. My foundation was that the Bible was a counseling manual and was sufficient to offer a reason(s) for every difficult situation: Grief? BAM, here’s the answer, Romans 8 seemed appropriate. Depression? “Sure, let me quote you a Psalm.” Anxiety? “That’s easy. Just believe and God will heal you.” Looking back, it was a natural response because it was an ingrained response. I needed control, and fundamentalism—or “bible-onlyism”—provided me with answers to difficult circumstances.

One troubling memory is that of people in the church, especially some in higher authority, seemed to praise me for saying those things. Let me clarify, what I said during those circumstances came from my mouth and no one else’s. I'm not here to write another post on how the church is awful and we should move on from traditionalism toward some form of self-esteem-deism. No, I take full responsibility for my words: “Every small word,” Jesus says, “will be accounted to you in the day of judgment.” However, no one rebuked, corrected, or challenged me when I said such things; if anything, my system encouraged it. When I first became a Christian, I didn't know what to say to a grieving parent, or how to comfort an anxious teenager, or how to help someone overcome depression. But, my particular system provided me tools (more like ammunition) for offering answers to suffering people; yet, isn’t that ironic? My harshest words were toward people who were vulnerable. Not to self-assured-bullies—if anything, I often felt compelled to nominate them as leadership material. Not to the dying, I had to make sure I spoke “gospel-centered” words to them in case they died that night. Not to the intellectuals, I was taught to disregard them as pagans because their presuppositions were not Christ-centered. The harshest words of mine were toward the saddened, the anxious, the confused, and the fragile. 

Now, sixteen years later and still a Christ-follower, I’m asking, “Why?” Other than the fact I was still quite immature. The only sense I can make is that suffering people were the only threat to my system and demanded an automatic response from scripture. This was the threat of Job’s friends, who knew scripture better than anyone at that time: they could handle him for a week or so, but once he uncomfortably exposed his grief and despair, they became uncomfortable because it poked holes in their system and they verbally attacked. Like Job's friends, my threat were Job-like people: people who exposed me to what they were feeling at the time and in their darkness, made me uncomfortable because I didn't have an answer for them. Which, was uncomfortable because no immediate answer meant either I didn't know the Bible or they didn't. If there wasn't an answer, that would conclude the Bible was insufficient; which, couldn't be the case because I was taught the Bible always provides answers and if they're struggling to find an answer, it was my responsibly to figure it out or help them find it. Sermons and lessons were often apologies (defenses) on "how to give an answer" and help people figure it out. If it came out rude, well I was to confess my sins, but expect to be rewarded for my bravery. But looking back, this system was not teaching people on how to grieve, but how to offer people pity. Nietzsche believed that pity was the worst insult you could give because it creates a sense of self-righteousness. I believe he was right. When you offer pity, you're not doing it for the person, but for yourself, so that your conscience is not harmed when you go home. Pity is a way people manipulate God to reward themselves, not an act of kindness toward the individual. Looking back, I was very good at pitying people.

Does this still go on? Yes. I look around and this threat-perspective toward suffering people continues within many circles. When I hear of a friend whose child has a terminal disease receive a rebuke for his anger because he was “questioning God’s providence,” when I hear of a divorced woman isolated from others in her bible study because there was no adultery involved in her divorce, and therefore her divorce was labeled “unbiblical" (regardless of the fact there may have been abuse); or when I hear of a young man struggling with clinical depression and subtly told, “You don’t believe the gospel enough.” I’m not only asking “why,” I’m left baffled and confused on why these self-proclaimed biblical-counselors are continuing to offer their harshest words toward the vulnerable. When I said those words years ago, I was considered “bold,” “audacious,” and “intrepid;” and even though I take responsibility for my words, they were a natural response from an ingrained system: a system uncomfortable with suffering people.

Today, seminaries continue to nominate inexperienced people to achieve an M.Div. and in three years, send them off to be a pastor. This is unfortunate because pastors are likely going to give ingrained responses to suffering people—just to survive as a pastor. Many newly-appointed pastors have confided their frustration at how ill-equipped they are to answer those suffering in their congregations. Earnest young pastors, who dearly love their people, want to say the right things. But, as a counselor I can tell you, suffering people often don’t need answers because an answer will never comfort them. If they had one, would that provide solace? Rather, hurting-people need our ability to grieve with them and not pity them. How do we accumulate those skills? One-way is to go through the school of suffering, but this school can’t be forced because it doesn't have an admission application. Another way is to utilize people within the church and community who can offer this compassion. Who are they? They are the people who are curious in every difficult situation. They are secure in people's grief and are not uncomfortable when they’re weeping. They’re not offering timelines to “get over it” and they stay away from models that will help people within the church/community because they acknowledge that even though they’ve gone through something similar, they’re quick to point out it’s not the same and cannot be predicated to an A-B-C/1,2,3 format.

Looking back, I’m no longer bitter toward myself nor toward others. I used to apologize for my kind of fundamentalism, but I don’t anymore because it brought comfort to where I was at the time. I needed it, but after seeing and experiencing personal depression, anxiety, heartache, slander, and the death of a parent and friend, I needed to move on from the simple answers and explore God’s “mysterious and sweet providence,” as William Cowper says.  

Today, counseling in the church has gotten somewhat better and more open to mental health, but many issues still seem to automate a response of, “That must be an idol” or “You can have anxiety for this long, but over time, we need to focus on sinful patterns in your life.” Those issues may demand those eventual responses, but they should not be our automatic and cookie-cutter reactions to them. Mystery was looked down upon in my fundamentalism, but we need to abandon our quick, predictable diagnosis and offer each person empathy within the harsh mystery of suffering. I ask, “What will it take for a generation of some fundamentalists to stop their cycle of insensitivity?” Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” In my early years, it seemed right to prevent them; all for the sake of “serving Jesus”: and that’s not only baffling, it’s troubling. Which means that maybe my biggest prayer should not be for God to give me words, but for God to grant me the ability to shed tears.   

“God, grant me to cry with my friend. Amen.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to keep going as a therapist.

Someone recently asked me what keeps me going as a therapist, so I decided to offer my thoughts. Hopefully, these tips can apply to anyone in a field with people: from pastor to social worker. Now there are plenty of good therapists who don't follow this advice, but in my opinion, if a therapist doesn't want to quickly burn out, some of these things may be helpful. These tips are things that I've learned from much more experienced therapists and stuff I've gathered in the few years I've been in this field. 

 As I always say, I'd love your feedback.  

1. A therapist needs to be good at setting up emotional boundaries--being able to separate his/her personal life from the client. When you go home, don't bring your problems or the families/client's issues to your children, spouse, or roommate. They don't need them. It's not fair to you or your family. It's also not fair to the families you're helping because if you can't separate your work from your private life, you'll likely become bitter.


2. Therapists are careful not to see people solely on the basis of their diagnosis. It's important that clinicians use the DSM as a tool to assess a problem, but not as an absolute rule to interpret a family or an individual. Stay curious about each client and don't assume or predict your clients' motivations and dreams. People are complex, and if one thinks they can solve people, they'll likely burn out from too high or too low of the clinician's expectations. I've found that seeing people as merely their diagnosis will prevent one from being curious and joyful with people, which can cause a quick
burn out.   

 
3. Therapists need to stays humorous. They laugh at themselves because genuineness is just as important as professionalism. Your clients can only be helped when someone points out their strengths and flaws and this often doesn't come by putting on a therapy hat. In other words, if a client is annoying, then it's likely they are annoying a lot of people in their social network. Be genuine. Be real. You're not rude to them, but you're not fake. People are coming to you because they don't see their blind spots. Trying to be "the therapist" without being yourself will burn you out fast.


4. Finally, a therapist is gracious to him or herself. This is a good transition from the previous point. Therapists mess up, a lot! I still remember one of my first cases in graduate school where I literally got up immediately after the session, turned out the lights and closed the door--with the clients still in the room! To this day I have no idea what was going on in my brain to do that. My common sense just turned off. But, I eventually built a great relationship with that person and ended up having some powerful sessions. Even after years of experience, if good clinicians have invested in their clients, they can use their own mistakes as a path to build trust and intimacy between themselves and the client. I had a therapist who called me about a scheduling mistake. His tone was a little harsh and he came across as defensive. The next session, he was very apologetic and told me, "Peter, my tone was very rude when I spoke to you. You actually didn't mess up on the schedule. I did. I got defensive and I'm sorry." It was actually a wonderful session after that and my trust in him exponentially grew toward an incredible journey. Your client may appreciate your mistakes more than you do from time to time and hopefully, prevent early burn out because you're gracious not only to him or her, but to yourself. In Christian terms: you're leaning on the cross just as much as the people you're preaching to.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mothers, be the bad guy once in a while. It's good for you, your children, and your husband.

I counsel numerous families per work for in-home therapy. One of the biggest problems that counselors see in triangular families (father, mother, child) is that the mother is often seen as the nurturer and the father is seen as the disciplinarian. I know many of us in New England are uncomfortable with gender roles. After all, we know plenty of men who are more sweet and kind in their tone, whereas their spouses are what we'd say, "wicked blunt." Now, rather than trying to prove this argument, because you and I know there are too many counterarguments to make this a deductive and sound argument, please just go with me for a minute. If you know the frustration, then keep reading. Also, if you're offended at my description of men as disciplinarians, that's fine, feel free to switch the genders.

What happens when the mother is always seen as nurturer and the father is seen as the disciplinarian? In dysfunctional families (which just means families that are not accomplishing their goals), the child will often hide behind mom's nurturing nature/aura/personality and use it as leverage when dad tries to set limits. Over time, the child will even ignore dad's pleadings, and he will then be seen as the bad guy. Eventually, mom can be tempted to play into this role when she really should join forces with dad when the child is being wilfully disobedient or ignoring him. After all, look at mom, she's so calm while dad disciplines the kids. But if this pattern goes on for years, it's much harder to break.

Don't we all want to be seen as the cool and collected ones, bringing peace when there's a disruption in the system? That's a tempting role to play. The problem is that rather than bringing peace into your role as nurturer, you're actually bringing serious chaos. When mom believes she needs to always play "nurturer," the kids will eventually ignore dad to the point that he becomes angry and isolated. When dad becomes mad, mom needs to be nurturer because dad's anger loses control as he storms out of the house. This doesn't excuse dad. I can write another blog entry on the need for men to be clear in their communication style and to not overreact. But dad is losing patience with his wife and the children. Slowly, he may just back off completely, and unfortunately, this cycle happens too many times. When these families knock on my door, mom is at the point of walking out because dad's not intervening. Dad's at the point of not caring and refuses to intervene because he thinks mom is covering up for child when she needs to be firm. This is what marriage and family therapists call the vicious cycle.

How do we stop this? We must acknowledge that both partners are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones. These learned roles have been going on for years. It likely went on with their parents. Mom is going to have to be firm; something she may be terrified of doing because she'll have to take the risk of "losing her child," in that her child will not want to go to her for comfort. What gives her this logic?

"Dad's firm with the child and our child is not close to him. If I'm firm, then my child will not want to be close with me either. My husband and I aren't close right now. Where would that leave me?" 
This actually makes sense. What needs to happen is a slow process of dad playing nurturer while mom plays the disciplinarian. Rather than bringing disunity, they have (for the first time in their marriage) something in common, something to laugh about, and something they can work towards. It's important dad doesn't play the "I told you so" game when she tries to perform this new role. If anything, his role most likely needs to be more nurturing and listening. IF he plays that game with her, she can turn it right back on him while he plays that game with his kids. "Yes honey, you're not supposed to tell Cindy to "just get over it." She'll only cheer up if you take her shopping and buy her ice cream afterwards."




Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls: Gossip

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls: Gossip: I love to gossip. If you think you don't, either I doubt you're being honest with yourself or you have few friends. I apologize for ...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Gossip

I love to gossip. If you think you don't, either I doubt you're being honest with yourself or you have few friends. I apologize for being so black and white, but I believe it's in the nature of human hearts to see gossip as a wonderful opportunity to step up on an available pedestal. We look for opportunities to establish ourselves, to prove ourselves, and to justify ourselves. Gossip is fun because it's a way to readjust the focus on our faults and for a moment, forget our shame. I wonder if the same people who are addicted to television, electronics, sex, etc., are also addicted to gossip? An addiction is established when the endorphins are released for a moment when we see a threat. Over time, this high becomes sought for, to the point that we seek it at the expense of seeing or dealing with our regrets and any dragons that may lie underneath our bed.

One of my favorite stories is Oscar Wilde's masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book is about a man named Dorian who makes a deal with the devil to stay young forever. Dorian never ages, but a portrait of him does. When Dorian does bad things, the bad things are immediately reflected in the portrait. Dorian does wicked things in the novel: he commits affairs, he murders, cheats; all the while, he's beautiful while the painting of him becomes more distorted.  At the end of the book, he decides to look at the painting, knowing that although he has the face of an angel, the painting will resemble his character. He goes to where the covered painting is and uncovers it, and behold, he's a monster. At that moment, he can't live with himself anymore, so he slays the painting and in turn, kills himself. In the end, the picture becomes beautiful again while his human form transforms into the old and ugly man he really is.

I wonder if  this is why we love gossip? We hide our own shameful pictures in the attic as we continue listening to stories of other people's sins. We flatter ourselves thinking their stories will redirect others and ourselves from the painting upstairs. This cycle keeps us from going to the attic, even locking the door at the top of the stairs. Gossip is an opportunity where we can forget by losing our sense of shame, even at the expense of stepping on another's reputation.

Yet gossip deceives us. Its tasty pleasures make us forget that one day we'll have to uncover that painting, either through broken pride or exposure. With his sword, Dorian sought to slay the monster he saw and in the process destroyed himself. If we continue with gossip, our sword will only get sharper and the desire to slay, much greater.

If you want to destroy gossip, then you'll need courage to unlock the attic door and look at your own painting. You may see a monster. You definitely won't see an angel. But you'll be reminded of who you are, what you've done, and you'll need grace at that moment. It'll be the most difficult thing you've ever done, but it's the only way to slay the painting without harming yourself. Why? Because at that moment, you'll need grace. Grace kills gossip without killing you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Collusion

While practicing for my Marriage and Family Therapy Exam awhile back, (I can use some prayer when I take that test; it's on November 2).As I was studying, I arrived at a term that I often deal with when I’m interacting with families, called collusion. According to the Family Solutions Institute, Collusion is,


A family system defense mechanism in which members cooperate by unconsciously sharing thought and feelings. The defense is used to protect members from threatening outside forces. For example, both spouses and children may collude to perceive an alcoholic member who induces friends and family to drink with him, as simply a light hearted partygoer.”

In my profession, I often visit families who’ve been called out by the system. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) may have entered their homes based on a report that a child was abused, neglected, or may be living in an unstable environment. Based on the reported risk and degree, DCF will often send a social worker to the family and proceed to tell the family how to do things better, what to change, and where to go for better resources—so the reported abuse never occurs again. In some instances, where the risk is high, the child may be taken from the home until the caregiver is healthy and ready.  

As I was thinking on this term, I imagined what it must be like when a family has been called out for their mistakes, especially serious ones. How would I have handled it if a social worker came to my home and offered my parents solutions? (I had loving parents by the way, just imagining). I began thinking, how is it like for the family; especially for the person filed on? Maybe a mother, in a pretend scenario, is thinking,

“Who the hell are you to tell me how to run my family? Where were you when my drunken husband came home and went straight to bed? Where were you when my girl was crying and hitting me that night, right after my husband and I got into a fight? And yes, though I reacted and spanked her too hard, where were you? Now you’re coming to me on a sunny Friday with a Starbucks latte to tell me “How to raise my child?”
The mother in this scenario has a point; especially if the social worker has not made any effort on knowing the family, on building a relationship, or on knowing her emotional language. Let me clarify, I’m not advocating the mother’s reaction. I’m thankful for DCF and that parents are held accountable. Even in this pretend scenario, we need people to advocate for the child and help them grow in a safe environment.

Nevertheless, what often happens in the scenario is a defense mechanism called collusion, protecting members from threatening outside forces. It’s not just the mother who gets defensive, often excusing her actions, but the family members. The kids are defensive that their mom is being called out. The alcoholic father is defensive because he’s thinking, “What she did is nothing to what I do to myself every night. What I’ve done to my wife last month. What I’ve done to my kids last year. Why are they so tough on her?” The family in this story begins to collude and become defensive over their dysfunction, to the point where it’s normal—even part of their defined system: “Leave her alone! Mom’s just an emotional person!”

After thinking of this family, I began to wonder, “Do I do this with the church? Or, does the church do it to itself, to others?” Do Christians protect its members from threatening outside forces and excuse their mistakes as functional, normal, even part of the system? Let me explain, when a Hindu neighbor happens to tell you that you come across as arrogant, do you collude by ignoring his concerns on presuppositional terms saying, “Well, he doesn’t know Christ and if he did, he’d realize real love is converting people as my church commands me to do (protecting his members). I have to be dogmatic at times, it’s for his soul.” In this example, the Christian has colluded salient pride by detouring the Hindu’s concern into a more spiritual response, such as, “I’m probably coming across as arrogant because I’m just convinced of my position.”

Whether you’re a Christian or not, I’m sure you can think of times you’ve colluded in order to protect yourself.

Another clarification, there are times we may be called out on things that we don’t need to repent of or change, such as someone calling you arrogant because you happen to remind them of their mother. That’s really their issue, not yours. It’s not your fault you and his mother have the same taste in Italian food. Or that you happen to watch the same television shows as her.

But, how often all of us, regardless of personal belief, can collude! In what ways do you see the act of colluding, as in your church or at your work?


Your thoughts,


Peter