Monthly Archives: December 2006

Volf on memory: Is it a sword or shield?

Volf’s second chapter (Memory: a shield and a sword) considers whether memory “saves us”–contributes to our well-being, or whether it leads us into destruction. He plays off Elie Wiesel’s idea that salvation is found in remembering and not forgetting. But is this always true, Volf asks, as memory of pain can lead to our inflicting pain on others.

Here are some of his ideas/questions from the chapter:

1. Remembering painful past events is going to happen.
2. Memory is not a passive event but somethings that “breaks into the present and gains a new lease on life” (21).
3. Not only does memory break in on our present but it also shapes our identity.
4. Our identity is not only shaped by our own memory but also by what other people “remember” and tell us about ourselves.
5. Identity does not develop from averaging all our experiences but collecting some “facts” and rejecting others. The experiences of trauma and abuse (especially as a child) form a rubric which shapes which memories are kept and which are rejected. (By the way, I am not suggesting that we often really forget certain memories. What we do is we file certain experiences away as “not really me” and so we do not let them shape who we are. If I see myself as a failure, then I am going to “forget” the various successes and remember the failures.

If memory is going to contribute to our well-being, how might it do that? Volf suggests 4 ways that must be interconnected:
1. Healing. The simple act of repeatedly remembering trauma and related feelings while viewing them in a new light–the light of truth from the Lord’s perspective. In this way Volf says that memory is the “prerequisite” for healing but interpretation is the means by which healing takes place.
2. Acknowledgement. Truthful remembering is part of the means of healing. “If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publicly, it remains invisible. To the outside observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator: both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other go unseen” (29). Truthful acknowledgement is a hairy subject. It suggests that victims may not remember accurately. While undoubtedly true that certain facts are not remembered correctly (we may forget a loving act by an otherwise abusive person or we may misperceive the intensity of some feeling), we must be careful not to assume that we have made up, wholesale, abusive histories.
3. Solidarity. Remembering our own suffering can make us feel connected to other people’s suffering and motivated to do something about it.
4. Protection. Volf quotes Wiesel again, “memory of evil will serve as a shield against evil.”

Finally, Volf concludes this chapter with a problem. He notes that “easily does the protective shield of memory morph into a sword of violence” (33). Memory all too often wounds. It maintains lies about oneself and the world. It condemns the victim and the perpetrators both to repeat and be imprisoned by the past. In order to avoid these problems, memories must be redeemed so that they bridge the chasm between adversaries and lead all to live in the present and not merely the past.

But, here’s a challenging question! Wouldn’t it be best for those who suffer abuse and trauma to forget it? Volf seems to suggest that that is what St. Augustine thought: “The life of the blessed involves not only remembering past wrongs but also forgetting–forgetting how suffering and evil felt.” (23). Forget abuse? No. But maybe fade the intensity and definitely change the meaning and interpretation of the self. Here’s why we might not want to forget.  If I believed that I live in a world ruled by a sovereign God, then I have to also believe that the experiences that shape me and make me who I am are part of his redemptive plan for me. This does not mean that Joseph’s experience in the jails of Egypt was good or bearable or something to celebrate, but that his presence in them shaped him in ways, though we might never know how, that enabled him to lead an entire nation. Maybe this is why many people who suffer greatly have the sentiment that they would not change the events for it shaped their lives.

A thought of hope for those struggling with the shaping power of trauma in their lives: We are not, as Volf points out, slaves to our memories and our past. We can be shaped by our hope for a future. We can resist certain distortions of the truth and demand that the promises of God for our present and future have greater power to stitch a different quilt (story).


Filed under Abuse, suffering

Sheer pleasure

Note to self: be mindful of the simple pleasures of life.

Sam in motion

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Ponder this: Fosdick on handling limitations

Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world – making the most of one’s best

Attributed to Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1878-1969

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Volf on remembering trauma rightly, ch. 1

Recently, Scot McKnight at JesusCreedbegan blogging on Miroslav Volf’s new book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World(2006, Eerdmans). It was his blog that turned me on to the book and I commend his blog as one of the best on the net. Rather than try to compete with his thoughts, I intend to relate Volf’s work to the clinical aspects of dealing with trauma. Continue reading

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Filed under Abuse, book reviews, christian psychology, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering

Pondering the death of a saint

Just returned home from a jam-packed memorial service for one of the deacons at my church. A man known for vigorous front-row worship, optimistic spirit, willingness to be direct, and love for all people, but especially the marginalized. His bio ought to be next to the dictionary definition of deacon.

Saw lots of acquaintances across the room that I hadn’t seen in a while. A former pastor, friends from another ministry. While I was grieving for the loss of this man, I also kept thinking about the fact that it takes the loss of a man’s life for good people to get together like this. Something’s not right with that.

Well, I take comfort in the fact that we got to share some good worship together. Ron would have reveled in it.

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I’m not an actor and I can’t play one either…

Just spent 30 minutes trying to film a 4 minute commercial for our counseling program. Made me have more respect for our dear president (though I had no teleprompter) who has to speak into the camera for much longer.

I made enough outtakes to last a lifetime. While shooting it I kept thinking of the SNL skits where Dan Aykroyd plays Julia Child (and maybe other bleeding characters too) where she ends up slicing off a finger during the show and uses some rather colorful language but keeps on doing the show. That’s how it felt…

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Andy Crouch on church and culture

Last week we had Andy Crouch (columnist for Christianity Today and project director for Christian Vision Project) at Biblical talking to us about the relationship between church and culture. It was a good presentation so I want to give some of his thoughts here (but mind you, my interpretations of what he said):

His descriptors of culture: It is urban, affluent (even the poor are shaped by America’s affluence), post christian, and thin (intellectually and relationally).

Question? The church is in culture but is she transforming or being transformed? Should it see its job as transforming culture?

Since the 19th century, the church has had these postures toward culture:
1. Condemning culture (the suspicion of christians of increasing worldliness)
2. Critiquing culture (a la Francis Schaeffer, take in culture but critique it)
3. Copying culture (the rise of the christian rock music scene)
4. Consuming culture (just use it, no critique)

#2-4 are what we call cultural engagement. Each one may be short-sighted. Andy suggested that these are all good gestures but not good postures or stances for the church. There are things we should condemn, things we should critique, things we may want to copy, and things we may want to just consume. However, he called us to look at the creation mandate for guidance on a different posture: Cultivate and Create. Adam was called to cultivate the garden and to create by naming the animals as he saw fit. (I’ve written on this as well so it was neat to see him say something similar). Our posture, says Andy, should be one of cultivating culture and creating culture. He showed us a short video from the Christian vision project of an artist in NYC (and two prominent pastors) talking about doing both cultivation and creation after 9/11.

Good things to think about… 

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Filed under Christian Apologetics, church and culture, cultural apologetics, Missional Church

Science Monday: Character fitness evaluations for counselors?

Brad Johnson and Clark Campbell published an article in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice on the problem of (not) evaluating the character of mental health professionals. They detail the practices of the bar associations evaluations of law students trying to pass the bar. For more than 50 years, students trying to become lawyers were evaluated for character fitness. Professors and other lawyers are required to report possible character problems for those trying to pass the bar. However, the authors admit that a mere 0.2% of those trying to pass the bar are excluded for character reasons. The system probably needs a bit of tweaking.

However, it is interesting that mental health licensing bodies only pay cursory attention to this issue. Continue reading


Filed under counseling science

First flakes

As I left my office last night–tired from a day of clinical work and a little cold from the rapid decline in temperature–I was met with a beautiful sight of fluffy snowflakes swirling around me. It was only a little squall that lasted long enough to blow on the road but not long enough to stick anywhere. But, the beauty of the flakes stopped me in my tracks. Shivering, I watched them blow this way, wheel that way in the spotlight from our building. Somehow I felt energized. Maybe it brings fond memories of Vermont winters. Nah, its just the beauty of God’s handiwork in making snowflakes for our and his pleasure.

I love winter if it includes snow. If we are going to have cold weather, let’s have a foot of snow to enjoy it. If not, let’s move to Florida.

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What makes for a great apology?

Last Sunday my small group used the story of Zaccheus to launch a discussion about what makes for a great apology. We know it when we see one and we definitely know when someone’s “I’m sorry” falls far short. But what are the things that make an apology meaningful? Here are some phrases I suggested we might hear in a great apology (order intended). Continue reading


Filed under conflicts, Repentance, sin