soul warfare

So much of the work I do with clients revolves around discovering a soul language. Finding ways for the mind to understand the language of emotions expressed in the body (i.e. crying or rage or terror), rather than assuming that feelings are dangerous and shutting them down.  

In the theological circles I have been a part of the past several decades has, for the most part, interpreted Scripture in such a way as to make the mind the most important part of the body.  In fact, it might be fair to say that the mind is the only important part and the rest of the body is simply dragged along for the ride, for better or (more often) for worst.  We tell ourselves that if we just ‘believe’ the right things, then everything will be fine.  And when we are angry or frustrated, we assume that we are the aberration; we assume that those feelings are rogue agents sent as temptation to undermine our ‘correct’ ideas.

Within these circles we have made our minds responsible for controlling everything that happens in our soul and then wonder why our thoughts are rampant, insistent and vigilantly searching for the next ‘threat’ to our well-being.  We perceive emotions to be conducting guerrilla warfare against us and organized by a soul that is the epicenter of all that is unholy.

As a result, we have created a theology that has inadvertently pitted mind against body against soul against spirit, and then wonder why we experience being at war with ourselves.  And, when we add the complicated and complex factor of trauma and/or childhood wounds into the mix, all manner of inner hostility can be unleashed with toxic confusion.

So yes, much of my work with clients is to help them untangle fact from fiction regarding the function and design of the soul, to demilitarize and ‘decriminalize’ emotion, to practice expressing feelings (especially anger) in relationally useful ways, to bring curiosity to understanding the presence of feelings as something that can teach us – about ourselves, about our relationships, about our situations.  To discover pathways that cleanse the soul of buried and toxic feelings because too much emotional clutter means that there is no space for the emotional states we actually want to foster: peace, joy, hope, love.

Peace, joy, hope and love do not naturally grow in a combat zone.  When we are at war with ourselves, how can we ‘believe’ God?  In the traditional Jewish culture (and still to this day), ‘belief’ is both ‘correct’ theology (mind) and action (body, soul).

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength.”

If we are actively engaged in the kind of battle skirmishes that aim what the mind believes against what the body (and soul) experience, then there is not much energy left to love the LORD.  There is not much energy left to believe God in ways that compel us towards the ways in which Jesus behaved – with kindness when others were unkind; to bless those who were hostile and condemning; to pursue those on the fringes; to empower those who had been stripped of voice and/or influence; to acknowledge God with awe and affection.

We have blamed ‘emotion’ as the culprit stealing our spiritual inheritance, but I would like to suggest that perhaps ‘emotion’ has simply been wrongly accused.  Perhaps the actual culprit has been the ideas we have accepted about emotion that have paved the way for all manner of distraction and struggle and defeat.  Perhaps the problem has more to do with what we think about feelings than about what we actually feel. 

And maybe, if we could accurately interpret what we feel with a language that connects body and soul and mind, faith would not be such a terrible burden to accomplish but a gift to be received.

Posted in organic faith, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

matthew 18

Matthew, the gospel author, shared a moment in which Jesus told a story to answer Simon Peter’s question of how much forgiving was enough and not too much.  In response, Jesus told a story of a man who indebted himself to the ruling authority without any way to pay.  In fact, the amount is so egregious that one has to wonder if the king ever really expected the man to repay it.  The king’s generosity came to the forefront when the debtor was at his wits end about even making a payment on such an enormous figure.  Ugly crying and writhing were likely involved. 

The man promised to repay everything ‘next time.’  At best, that promise was a serious inflation of the man’s ability to raise that kind of money.  At worst, it was a lie.  

The king, by law, had every right to throw the man into prison and force him into hard labor until the amount borrowed was repaid.  An amount that would have taken more than several lifetimes to do so.

Instead, the king looks at the sniveling, impoverished man before and does the unthinkable.  He erases the debt.  

Bear in mind, that small countries have begun with less than what this man owed.  

All gone.  As if he had never borrowed anything.

Relieved and elated at his ‘fortune,’ the man left the king whistling happy thoughts when he runs into a friend who owes him about four months wages.  He grabbed him by the collar and shakes him with entitled fury.

“Pay back what you owe me!”  the man screams.

The friend breaks down into ugly tears and writhing, promising to repay everything.  

Instead, the man ordered that the friend and his family be taken to prison and forced into hard-labor until the man saw all of his money returned to him.

Employees of the king saw what happened and reported it back to their boss.  When the king heard, he ordered the man back to face a new judgment.

“I cancelled all that debt of yours simply because you asked,” he said.  “Why couldn’t you have also done this for your friend?”

And thus, the man who had only recently been alleviated of his heavy financial burden, found himself headed to prison to be tortured until he repaid everything he owed.  

Which was never (ever) going to happen.

The point of the story is that we who have been forgiven of so much by God have no right to hold onto grudges who have indebted themselves to us in some way.  Forgive others as we would like to be forgiven.

Perhaps it is the consequence of my current profession, but I hear a lot of reasons for people to struggle legitimately with erasing soul debt incurred by the (sometimes criminal) selfishness of others.  I grapple with the way in which forgiveness is often taught from the pulpit, as if it is easy and flippant in light of what God has done through Christ.  I struggle with the moral superiority with which forgiveness is demanded, without any apparent understanding of damage that soul debts incur, all the while hiding behind ‘it’s what the Bible expects.’

Well, yes and no.

There are several worthy posts out of this passage in any number of directions.  But the one I want to focus on here is an application of this passage that I have never heard preached.  

I was standing in my kitchen recently, expressing the extent of my unhappiness with myself about some clumsy, klutzy thing I had just done.  Not for the first time, that passage flashed to mind, but this time it came with intense clarity.  Only moments before, I had received a gift of extraordinary generosity, a gift I needed in order to pave a path forward with the work that the giver and I were committed.

What I thought had come to an unhappy end, with the gift, became a new beginning.  

But there I was – standing alone in my kitchen lashing out at yet another mess I had inadvertently made with shaky and unsteady hands.  (As if lashing out would make me less clumsy in the future.)  The mess was inconsequential, however, to the eruption happening in me.  How, a little voice asked in the background, did we get from generosity to this ‘uncharitable’ attitude so quickly? 

How, indeed.  

I was not shaking out a neighbor for an underpaid debt.  Instead, I was steering all of that venom in my own direction because my clumsy klutziness, for whatever reason, agitates me beyond words.  

Theologically, I do not believe in ‘self’ forgiveness; I believe that forgiveness, as described in the Bible, is always depicted between, or among, at least two.  I also believe that when we do not understand our own debt before God, forgiveness becomes harder to extend to others.  

The man in Jesus’ story understood what was offered to him.  What he did with that revealed his true (lack of) appreciation for the king’s generosity.  Twice.  First in the king’s willingness to continue loaning him the money when he could see that the man would never be able to repay.  And then a second time when the loan(s) were erased.  

So much of preaching this passage is about the forgiveness we fail to offer to others, but I would like to offer an additional application.  The practice of forgiving others begins with the practice of ‘self-compassion.’  The practice of embracing the less-than-acceptable parts of ourselves as a stepping stone towards embracing the less-than-acceptable parts of others.  

‘Self-compassion’ is rather scorned in evangelical circles because it is often described in ways that are at odds with evangelical theology.  It is at odds because so much of evangelical theology has lost the language for addressing (or even acknowledging) the needs of the soul.  (See also, in defense of soul

In other words, we can act a lot like the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 when we withhold the generous grace from ourselves that we extend to others.  When there is no room for the generosity of compassion towards ourselves, then there is no place for others’ generosity towards us to land.  An ‘uncompassioned’ soul is one that is in chronic deficit of what we are meant to have, namely joy and gratitude and peace.

As Lent begins in a few weeks, perhaps this is an opportunity for us to practice a form of self-denial of the harsh ways we treat ourselves and, instead, practice extending compassion to ourselves in ways that reflects the generosity we have been given.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

finding whole

(This is the second follow-up to on rifts & rudders and a part to play.)

Knowledge is not the same as belief.

Knowledge resides only in one place: the mind.  Belief, however, as understood particularly within the Jewish framework (within which Jesus lived and taught) encompasses every aspect of a person’s world, so that being and doing were synonymous.  Being and doing were natural extensions of each other and therefore reflected what it meant to be whole.

“Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” Jesus told his disciples (and anyone else eavesdropping on the Sermon on the Mount) (Matt 5:48).  Somehow the word ‘perfect,’ however, has been interpreted over the centuries as ‘do everything right so you can receive praise, or at least not endure punishment.’ Instead, the word ‘perfect’ from the Greek is better understood as ‘whole.’

Be whole – so that your doing reflects your being – just as your Father in Heaven is whole.

Mending rifts, therefore, is the process of being made whole. Whole between mind and body, whole between body and soul, whole between soul and spirit. The journey to ‘whole’ can only come when each of the parts, parts that learned roles and functions as ways to survive in a broken world…all because we are born fallen and broken from God, can exist in peaceful cohesion. Whole is a reflection of an entire self all moving in the same direction.

Finding our way back to whole is essentially the task of exploring what keeps the ‘parts’ functioning in their rigid roles, discovering what is needed for each ‘part’ to let go of the rigidity and join the self, a self that can trust enough to surrender into God’s whole self.

These days, trauma is defined less by the situation and more in terms of how the person perceived/ experienced the situation.  Trauma essentially says that ‘I am powerless to protect myself [or someone I love] from being destroyed by [such and such].’  When trauma enters the soul’s landscape, trust (the ability to predict future behavior based upon previous behavior) is often the first casualty.  The ability to predict that another will behave as they have committed and we expect.  The ability to rely on our own ability to know when something is wrong; to know when someone cannot be trusted.  

Those two abilities have inordinate influence over whether or not we are willing to rely on God.

Mending rifts requires cleaning all the wounds of distrust’s infection.  It means acknowledging all the places and ways in which that injury has impacted us, and it means acknowledging all the ways in which we have coped to protect ourselves from further pain, whether or not the coping did.

Mending means allowing each ‘part’ to tell its story, and then to invite the ‘part’ into a different role by teaching it alternative responses to similar (or at least triggering situations).  It means practicing new behaviors that are authentic to how the client is becoming.  

Mending means inviting ‘parts’ that are reluctant to change the space and pursuit needed for such ‘parts’ to be safe enough to explain its hesitation.  

Mending means allowing the whole self to grieve and mourn and lament with what has not been tended to for such a long time.

Mending means allowing each ‘part’ to begin to see God’s presence in the midst of what must be released and what will be kept.  

Mending means beginning to understand God as whole and how he wants to reproduce Christ’s whole-self in (and through) our whole-selves.  Mending means believing Jesus the way Jesus believed his Father, getting to know each through practicing spiritual disciplines for both spirit and mind.

Mending means accepting our wounds in the shadow of Christ’s wounds, rather than keeping wounds in the foreground of every interaction with God.  (And sometimes with others, too.)

Mending means allowing injuries to recede into the background as awe and respect and wonder of who God is fills all the space that used to be consumed by our pain.  Mending means that as that space is now filled with God, we will naturally tend to the wounds of others.

In short, it is harnessing the power of grace towards self as much as it is towards others…and in so doing, harnessing the power of grace to mend all rifts whole…and reflect one Light.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

a part to play

For those among us who do not spend much energy pondering in self-reflection, this post might be a bit of a stretch in attention. This post might sound too ‘twilight zone’ meets ‘new age’ mysticism. These can be weird concepts to those among us who have not spent decades in a profession mapping the design and function of the soul. So I thought I would take a post and lay out some working definitions on behalf of a couple of follow-up posts to on rifts and rudders to illustrate one way to mend the rift between mind and soul. It will certainly not be the only way.

A large portion of my work with clients centers around helping clients identify the various ways the clients have organized their internal worlds: how clients believe the world works, essentially.  Ideally, we grow up in a stable, secure families where we know we are accepted no matter and at the same time, challenge us when we need it.  Healthy families are able to absorb change without resorting to rigid control as a way to preserve the family against changing.  Healthy families can evolve without losing their core values, without losing what it means for them to be a family.  

For instance, a healthy family would be able to absorb the death of a loved one by practicing rituals and traditions around what was meaningful for the family, allowing each member to express grief differently while being able to gather together to remember the loved one well.  Unhealthy families move to extremes.  Grief might be forbidden.  Grief might be shamed.  Grief might be consuming.  No one in the family is allowed a different option; we must all do the same together, or the ‘lone ranger’ will face rejection in some form in the family’s attempt to gain conformity.

We also internalize those rules as we grow up and figure out how the world works.  Children only know of the world what they experience in their families; they assume that in whatever way the family operates is the way every family operates.  We might grow up in our cognitive understanding that no two families are necessarily alike, but how we internalized that imprint early on stays with us.

Here is where it gets a little weird.  We can accept, tolerate or reject pieces of ourselves, known as ‘parts.’  The best way I can define a ‘part’ is by example.  Imagine you are at a Christmas party and all of a sudden you crave your grandmother’s hot cocoa.  Because, in addition to the unique way she made it taste so good, it was the place you knew you were safe from the harsh of life’s winter.  You might refer to that as simply a memory, but I would ask how old did you feel in that memory?  

If a memory is positive, returning for a moment to when we felt safe inside a cup of hot cocoa is also a way to embrace ourselves with acceptance. At the same time a memory can also reveal to us something we only tolerate about ourselves, perhaps the fact that hot cocoa was the only holiday splurge because of poverty. Or perhaps the memory points to something we reject about ourselves, such as how we enjoyed hot cocoa with grandmother because a peer had spurned us.

Of course, an adult can recall a memory without emotionally returning to the age one was in the memory.  When we re-become that age on the inside, though, we may have found a ‘part,’ the piece of us that was glued into that experience.  Like families who are unable to absorb change, ‘parts’ are also frozen in time.  They developed because they were part of how we learned to cope within a world that was not as safe and secure and/or stable as we needed.

Healthy emotionally development allows us to grow into a whole sense of self.  We can appreciate what is good, and we can accept and endeavor to minimize what hurts ourselves and/or others.  In short, we can be honest about who we are without sliding into self-deprecation or whiplashing into self-aggrandizement.

We know who we are, for better and for worse.

When we grow up in unstable (physically or emotionally) families and/or circumstances, our ability to grow into a whole self can be stunted.  We rely on ‘parts’ of who we are to help us navigate the uncertainty.   ‘Parts’ can be the side of ourselves that only we know, but they reveal themselves in their rigidity and their inability and/or unwillingness to allow the other aspects of our personality to mature.

‘Parts’ force us to behave as an adult as we did when the ‘part’ was formed to survive. This is known in professional circles as coping.

Consequently, what we needed growing up to survive becomes toxic to us when we are ready to pursue what we want as adults: relationships, career, faith, etc.  Our minds might have grown up with us, but the rest of us might still struggle to keep up.  We can often see ourselves as the ‘part’ we relied on to endure painful circumstances (externally or internally) with which we did not know how to process.  For instance, we might be in a staff meeting with conflict, and become aware that we feel the same age as we did when our parents fought that eventually led to a divorce and the loss of access to a parent…Hence we behave in the staff meeting the same we did when our parents fought.

We become the peace-keeper.  We become the aggressor.  We become the defender.  We become invisible.

No matter the circumstances, this is the role we automatically step back into.  In that moment, we have slipped back into our childhood. We slip back into our coping.

Most of my professional experience in mending rifts between minds and souls is anchored in childhood, and therefore most of the work I have done with clients has revolved around childhood wounds.  As a result, that will be the focus of the next posts on this topic.  But it can certainly be applied to other life stages.  A divorce that the partner never saw coming can sever mind from soul while the abandoned spouse sorts through the wreckage between what was believed and what was experienced.

Regardless of the season that the severing happened, however, what I can say with fair confidence is that the more extreme the pain, the more extreme the role(s) the ‘part(s)’ will play. In that way, identifying the ‘parts’ can also be a barometer for the amount of stress within someone who lacked the skills to navigate it in ways that maintained the bond between mind and soul. Think of it as the more stress in the system, the harder each role has to fight to maintain order. The harder the fight, the more extreme the position the role has to play.

Mending the rifts between mind and soul is not really mending one rift.  It is often repairing an entire network of rifts, developed into ‘parts’ in order to function within the family (and/or to function at all).  It is hard, long work, necessary for the one whose faith otherwise languishes beneath the weight of  what one ‘should’ believe.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

on rifts and rudders

For awhile now I have been disenchanted with what appears to be a wide-spread perception among my corner of Christendom: what you believe will save you if (and only if) you believe the ‘right’ doctrine.  I have long grown weary of sermons that have harped on adjusting one’s theology to what has been deemed ‘correct’  and expected (demanded, in some cases) ‘correct’ behavior to follow.

“Just believe and then you will do what is right.  And then you will feel what you are supposed to feel.”

As if it happened automatically.  Like magic.

And despite the fact that no single faith tradition has a completely ‘correct’ theology, we have insisted that our way is more correct than another.  Increasingly, I have resisted this approach, if for no other reason that it seems to violate everything I know about how the soul is designed.  The soul is comprised of more than one’s beliefs.  And while I believe that behavior stems from what we know to be true, it is more often connected to what we want.  And somehow there has come the great divorce between belief and affection.  One will save; the other is suspect and will lead astray and must be shunned at all costs.

Recently, as I stood at my favorite overlook staring out into the river, I was not thinking about any of this particularly.  I am not sure I was thinking about anything at all, to be honest.  And yet, as I watched the water flow over rocks and logs, something became clear to me.  

I work with people who, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, wrestle with the impact of trauma (small and big), including on their faith.  They become people who struggle to carry the burden of their souls against the expectation that believing alone is enough to ‘feel better.’

No.

What I understood in that moment is that the good doctrine, the good theology, was supposed to empower the mind to influence the manner in which the soul develops. In trauma, however, part of what gets severed is the mind’s ability to influence anything in the soul. As if the boat’s rudder becomes detached from the engine. The rudder flails away at the dock in a flailing effort to influence the engine, which zig zags in uncontrollable energy across the bay and out into the dangerous open ocean.

Maybe with too much emphasis on what we “should” be thinking and doing and feeling, everyone’s rudder disengages from their engines.  All I know is that how we preach the good news seems anything but ‘good’ to those with trauma.  What I know is that how we preach Jesus’ story seems only to reinforce all the ways in which traumatized people see themselves as broken instead of on the way towards healing and being made whole (i.e. “perfect”).

People with trauma often either work very hard to contain the emotional chaos within (the anger, the fear, the shame, the sadness) and/or they spew it at everyone and everything around them.  On Sunday morning, a preacher tells them that all they need to do is ‘believe’ a little harder that God is good, to trust God a little more and then all the anger [rage], all the fear [crippling terror], all the shame [self-hatred] will sort itself.  So they repeat and rehearse and remind themselves of what the preacher said all week long, but instead of feeling better and making better ‘choices,’ all that effort has the opposite effect.

Why doesn’t it work for me?  they each wonder.  Their go-to-conclusion is that, like their traumas, what is not working must be their fault.  God must be mad at me, they think.  I am too broken for God to fix, they sulk. Even God is disgusted with me, they determine.

This cycle carries on week after week, month after month, year after year…decade after decade.  They either learn to wear a mask to hide the inside they think is unacceptable, they lash out at everyone and create self-destructive reputations or they leave.  They leave the church or they leave the faith.

If you are someone who has tried hard to make the gospel work for you through sheer self-effort and just cannot get your soul to ‘obey’ what your mind acknowledges as true, may I suggest the possibility that your mind and your soul suffered a severing?  And beating yourself up does not mend that rift any more than setting a house on fire takes out the trash…

What we mentally acknowledge to be true will never heal us and it will never save us.  But, what we believe – both mind and soulwill.  Maybe it is time to focus less on believing and behaving our way into the good news and more time finding the paths and people who can help us heal what trauma has severed. So that the good news can be well and truly good.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

an afghan reckoning

“This is not Vietnam,” the president said this evening.  He had previously promised that whatever happened in Afghanistan when this country withdrew its military, “it would not be another Saigon.” 

I am not sure how President Biden defines the differences between the images of the South Vietnamese scrambling onto the roof of the American embassy in a vain attempt to get onto the last military choppers airlifting American personnel, and the images of people in Kabul attempting to storm the airport and force their way onto the last of the planes airlifting American (and some Afghan) personnel out of Afghanistan, but to me the parallels are self-evident.

Afghanistan, like Vietnam, seems to be another place we thought we could militarily defeat an enemy that has way more experience at being against us than we have in being for anyone.  And we probably could have defeated the other side, if we had the stomach for the kind of violence that such a defeat would have required.  We did not.

Afghanistan, like Vietnam, seems to be another place where we talked a grand vision, had little substantive understanding of the arena in which we invited ourselves, zero plan how to accomplish stated goals and no defined end game.

Afghanistan, like Vietnam, is another place in which we leave a long list of broken vows. 

Whether or not I agree, I understand why the president made the decision to withdraw.  If something is not working and is not going to work no matter how much money and effort is poured into it, then why continue?  If the army that we trained and supported never really saw themselves as anything other than an American extension, then of course they are going to melt away because they have a lot more to lose than we do.  We were always going to go home; they were always going to have to stay.  

Here is the thing: the tragedy of Afghanistan is not in the ending, as unimaginably horrific as it is to watch.  The ending was always preordained by its beginning.  There was no plan.  There was a failure in decision-making.  There were misunderstood values, mostly centered on the over-developed American hubris that relies on the belief that American money and American fire power are all we need to defeat anyone or anything around the world.  We thought we could build an army in our own image and that it would save Afghanistan.

Instead, all we replicated in the end was the trauma that put us in Afghanistan in the beginning. Yes, there were a lot of gains under American rule, but those gains were never rooted in Afghan soil. They were American gains under American rule with American support, on American terms. Very little about them were intrinsically Afghan.

And now, as a country we are once again asking the predictable self-reflective questions.  Namely, was the war that had overwhelming popularity in the USA twenty years ago really worth the fight?  Regardless of how that question is answered, I do not think that is the most fundamental question.  A truly self-reflective question might be whether or not attempting to root American democracy around the world the ‘American way’ is really the only way for others to be free?  

America has fantastic values.  And yet, so often how we apply those values around the world belies our culturally ignorant arrogance.  Do we want to be a nation that takes careful assessment of the cost of its commitments and follows through no matter what?  Or do we want to continue replicating the mistakes of the past, regardless of who is in office, because the DNA of how great America is just runs too deep to change?

Afghanistan; used from Unsplash
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

touchy comfort

The standards have changed, men complain.  I am a huggy, touchy person.  I am that way with everyone.  I don’t mean anything by it, and certainly not anything inappropriate. Women are just so sensitive now because of the #metoo movement.

What is often left unsaid, however, is the question why should ‘he’ have to change his behavior because one woman somewhere misinterpreted ‘his’ motives and complained?

Embedded in that unspoken question, however, is a noticeable absence.  

Men do not want to change their behavior because men are comfortable with hugging and touching women whether or not the women want it.  The question focuses on what men want: to be comfortable.  No where in that question is there space for men to explore what it means for the women around them to be comfortable.

And therein lies the entire problem.

Men will say that they have lost power when it comes to knowing the ‘rules’ of what is ‘acceptable’ to do around women.  However, the reality is that men are only now waking up to the bitter truth that not all women are comfortable around whatever behavior men deem ‘appropriate’ to extend to women.  Not all women are comfortable with whatever kind of attention men decide to offer to women.

And we have not been for a very, very, very long time.

Until the last few years, it has primarily been women’s responsibility to make ourselves comfortable with the men in our circles.  If ‘he’ wants to be touchy and/or huggy, then it was up the woman to accept it, preferably with a smile.  To do otherwise would brand her all sorts of derogatory names behind her back, and sometimes to her face. If ‘he’ wants to say things to her or about her that she finds demeaning or threatening in some way, it was up to her to adapt and accommodate and excuse.  In some cases, even defend.  

Women have carried the burden of men’s attention, while men acted as if they were bestowing the gift of their presence.  That all women everywhere would be blessed simply by what men chose to do to them.  

No.

I am not advocating that every unwanted touch or smile or statement need to be considered criminal.  I am advocating, though, for men to realize that if they want their presence and their behavior to be a blessing, then they need to find out what actually is a blessing to the women around them. 

Each woman will define that differently, in large part based upon the level of relationship she has to the man…and based upon the history she has had with men before.  And what men are learning in real time is just how often that history has been marred.

So, men: please stop complaining.  Instead, be curious.  Ask questions.  And make one of the questions you ask permission for the touch you want to offer.  If she says no, keep your hands to yourself. Preferably with a smile.

And for those who already do, thank you. More than you will ever know.

This is what it means to live in community, to make space for the other. This is what it takes to allow all of us to bloom where we are planted…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cosby, part 2: the trauma of betrayal

For eight (8) years, she was America’s enviable role-model: the woman who seemed to know how to have it all: a successful and lucrative career in law, an adoring and respectful husband, five children ranging from adult to preschool.  She was smart, funny, capable, beautiful and just flawed enough for the rest of us to relate to her. Of course, her life was fiction, but Phylicia Rashad made us want to believe that her Claire Huxtable was as real as the rest of us.  Phylicia played the loving, independent-minded, supportive partner to Bill Cosby’s character, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.  Together they created a family-oriented narrative that millions of us lived vicariously. And, she gave us someone to whom women could aspire, regardless of cultural narrative.

Only in the last few years, though, have we learned just how fictional Phylicia’s acting partner really was.

So, it does not come as much of a surprise to me as it seems to have for so many others that she perceived Cosby’s conviction and incarceration as a “miscarriage of injustice.” 1  With more than 60 women having come forward with allegations against the former Fatherhood celebrity, Rashad’s celebration of Cosby’s release, however, has infuriated many within Hollywood and beyond.  

Almost immediately the recently appointed Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University attempted to mollify the rising backlash.  She stated that she “fully supports survivors of sexual assault.” 2

How was that possible?  Could both be true simultaneously, I wondered?  

According to University of Oregon Professor of Psychology, Dr. Jennifer Freyd, however, the answer might be as complex as it is simple.   She is the author of Betrayal Trauma and lead co-author of Blind to Betrayal. To Freyd, there are at least two defined components to trauma. The first is the physical shock of the assault itself.  The second, which Freyd might argue is more psychologically damaging, is the betrayal of someone whom we once perceived as good; perhaps even someone upon whom we once considered necessary for survival in some way.   

Namely, when we are attached, we can lose the ability to identify the wrong.  We have trouble recognizing egregious behavior as egregious.  Instead, we find ways to deny, ignore or defend such behavior, even when reality is painfully clear to anyone else.

He could not possibly cheat on me, says the woman holding a photograph of her husband French kissing another woman, because he says he loves me all the time

As an example (not necessarily included in the book), for instance.

According to Freyd and Birrell, when the attachment is strong and complicated by factors that create some sense of dependence: financial, emotionally, professionally, etc. that produces a powerful drive towards blocking out information that would threaten the attachment.  This can be done in little ways, of course, without much issue.  When we are willing to ignore huge, potentially life-altering facts, though, is when rejecting reality becomes most acute (Freyd, 2013).

As I read Rashad’s response (and others’ reactions to her), I cannot help but wonder if her response belies betrayal blindness.  How hard it must be to accept the person that you spent so many years developing a professionally lucrative and personally affectionate relationship was also mercilessly preying on others.  We often ask how someone could not know but there are all kinds of reasons for that, and betrayal blindness is only one reason.

What I know is that stones are easy to throw when we have no experience of what it is to be on the other side of them.  In an era where reckonings are happening in so many facets of a culture that has yet to reckon with its inability to address power differentials effectively, there is enough responsibility for everyone to share the load.

The question I am left with is how do I want to publicly respond to someone who may be suffering from a traumatized attachment?  Do I need to use my words to make others angry at her?  Or do I want to use my words in such a way as to hope that one day she will see the error of her ways and discover what it means to usefully come alongside survivors of sexual assault?  If I want her to practice empathy on behalf of assault survivors, then I want to be willing to model practicing some on her behalf, too.

Notes

1 Phylicia Rashad’s tweet (June 30, 2021), which reportedly has since been deleted. See also: Note #2.

2 Rachael Shewfelt. “Howard University says Dean of Fine Arts Phylicia Rashad’s tweet in support of Bill Cosby ‘lacked sensitivity’.” Posted July 1, 2021. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/howard-university-says-dean-phylicia-rashad-tweet-support-of-bill-cosby-lacked-sensitivity-195748033.html

3 Blind to Betrayal, Jennifer J. Freyd and Pamela J. Birrell.  2013.  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  Hobolken, NJ.

Phylicia Rashad and Bill Cosby playing opposite each other in The Cosby Show, circa mid 1980s.
Used without permission
Posted in #whyididntreport, fallen leaders, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

memorial day (2021)

For most of us, this national holiday joins so many of the other ones as a day off from work, an opportunity to find a good sale, to share food (and often drinks) with family and friends, to sit around a fire pit or a pool and laugh and swap stories and tell jokes. 

Memorial day, however, is not really like any of the other holidays because it is not intended to ‘celebrate’ anything.  It is intended to remember our losses.  Together.  To have a day of communal grieving.  The first commemoration began out of the horror of the Civil War.  

NBC Chicago posted several facts about the holiday, including the following excerpt:

“In 1869, the head of an organization of Union veterans Maj. Gen. John A. Logan established Decoration Day as a way for the nation to honor the graves of those who died in the Civil War with flowers, according to the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.

“This is a portion of the official order written by Logan:

“The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

(https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/5-facts-about-memorial-day-and-meaning/2521561/ )

In a year when, for a completely different reason, we have seen graves and death of loved ones buried in almost every city, village and hamlet, that comment struck me as particularly relevant.  These days we are also in a civil war of an entirely different kind.  We are at war, particularly within the majority culture, over how to be civil with each other.  To disagree and still respect.  To set aside differences when needed for common values.

As a culture, we are losing our ability to mourn communally.  We are losing our ability to understand life from someone (anyone) else’s perspective, particularly when sorrow is involved. There can be no shared grief if there is no empathy.  

Our military families need us to demonstrate solidarity in their losses.  They bear those losses every other day on their own, invisible (or worse) to a nation that seems to think it is entitled to such sacrifices.  Is that what we think?

Is that what I think?

At 1500 hours (3pm), is the official moment of silence to honor the fallen – to remember in previous wars the sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty and twenty-one year olds whose lives were ripped from them on the battle field (and so many more who relinquished their lives after they returned home because of soul scars that refused to heal).  (Yes, sixteen-year-olds even died in Vietnam.) To remember that this day is available to us because of graves filled all around the country with the men and women who died on our behalf.

So, on this Memorial Day after so much death this past year, may I encourage each of us to join the moment of silence to remember, to acknowledge, to express gratitude for the pain and absence others have suffered for our continued freedom?  And may I go a step further and encourage each of us to be on the look out (perhaps pray, if that is your spiritual practice) for a military family to whom we might come alongside – whether for a specific project or to invite over for a meal and to hear the story of their loved one’s absence or to encourage in some small way over this coming year?

Perhaps the memorial you need to mark this year has nothing to do with the military, however.  Maybe this year the deaths you want to remember has to do with the pandemic.  It would be another post for me to point out some of the parallels, but sufficed to say, I think that would be both appropriate and respectful to those for whom we made today a national holiday. Maybe it is the first responders or the people on the medical frontlines to whom you want to reach out. Again, I think that would be very appropriate.

Either way, let’s find a way to peak beyond the fun and laughter and the food and the unofficial start of summer in order to re-discover a more meaningful way to honor those who gave everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

art of perseverance

Anyone who has been following me on social media for the last few years has had a bird’s eye view of my photographic travails.  I admit, I bought this camera on the rebound, flushed with euphoria over the possibility at starting a ministry helping low-budget brides and raising money for organizations fighting global poverty.  My first digital camera had ended up ‘baptized’ in the Indian Ocean, thanks to a friend who borrowed it for a humanitarian trip; it never worked the same again.  

This was going to be my fresh start.  I was returning to my roots, having shot film on and off for most of my life.  How hard could it be??  I naively thought that a camera that could do more could also make me better.  So, I plowed ahead and created a ‘brand’ and took as many pictures as I could to understand my new ‘mate’ as best as I could.  I knew pretty quickly that we were not developing any real chemistry, so I reached out for help but the help came and went before ‘Cam’ and I overcame our challenges.  We did not speak the same language, and the distance between us was revealed constantly in the resulting images.

Because of a series of health challenges that ultimately landed me with a chronic condition diagnosis, the dream of the ministry essentially died; there would never be enough energy for 15-hour wedding shoots.  At the same time, the friction between Cam and I continued to polarize, so even if I had the energy to make the dream work, I knew I would never be good enough for brides to be confident with the quality compromise.  So, the dream died twice.

Instead, I refocused my energy towards what I could control.  Namely, food.  The results were mixed.  Somedays, magic happened, but most of the time, it did not.  The shots were mediocre (at best).  People kept telling me to just lower my standards, but I seemed constitutionally incapable.  I was beyond frustrated and desperate that the only ‘quality’ to which I could attain would be pitiful.  A defeat intensified by the sheer volume of people I knew who had flourished with great ease. I could not bear to be a failed ‘wanna-be’ photographer.

And yet, the more I practiced, the worse I became.  I focused on developing proficiency over my lack of technical prowess because I believed that once I had mastered some level of competence, I could relax and enjoy it all, again.  Instead, the opposite happened.  And I began to hate the very medium that had gripped me since I was five years old. 

Huge lapses of time transpired, neither of us talking.  At one point, more than a year unfolded in deafening silence.  The lapses were punctuated with a half-hearted attempt to shoot something, but the results brought fresh and deepening waves of despondency.  The fear that I would never be the kind of photographer some deep, unrelenting part insisted was possible.

Mostly, though, I hated my camera.  I hated almost everything I shot.  I despaired of ever improving.  Even while passion continued to entice me back with the aspiration of making a different ending the one that was so obviously true.  

This went on for nearly eight (8) years. 

Recently, however, I started dabbling in an artistic discipline for which I have no aptitude yet enjoy for its own delight.  That has taught me any number of lessons that I am still identifying, including (and especially) how to enjoy the process of creating.  I could no longer remember how to convey a story or set a mood or invite an experience. 

I had lost the ability to make art.

In the past couple of months something shifted.  What I have so fiercely gripped and petulantly demanded and forcibly extracted from ‘Cam’ has softened.  I am learning to relinquish my expectation that the camera produce what I want from it: professional-level photos that would pave the way for me to improve some small corner of the world.  Instead, I am just concentrating on taking pictures together, again.

So, if you have been trying to make a hard thing happen, whether it is a creative project, or a faltering relationship, or something else, and you are sticking it out because you believe beyond belief that something good can be forged from the ashes of despair and decided failure, then I am here to tell you not to abdicate your hope.  Sometimes, though, what we are convinced we must clench in our fingers is the very thing that we need to let go in order to receive what it is we really want.

I do not know if I will ever be a photographer whom others will consider talented, but this I know: making art is not about the end product.  It is appreciating the journey towards making art as the art of appreciating the journey.

 Epilogue

The really crazy thing out of all of this is that what kept me going for so long was the dream that I could progress, and now I stand in the encouragement that I have.  The photos I am taking now are consistently better than what I was typically shooting before.  I am even discovering all kinds of menus on my camera that I never knew existed while I was so narrowly focused on mastering one technical aspect. 

It is almost as if, as I relax and enjoy the sheer fun of it all again, the camera is ready to invite me in and share some of its secrets.  A hard-won victory, for sure.

old canal engine room @ riverfront park
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment