Category Archives: Christianity

Confusing Culture and Christ?


The Christmas season is a good time for Christians to examine who they really serve. Sometimes, in the chaos we call “life” we can lose sight of who we worship. Last September Diane Langberg gave a twenty minute challenge to her audience about the dangers of confusing culture and Christendom with Christ. In her talk she explores the deception we mistake Christendom for the church. When we do, we fall prey to blind guides and to the temptation to protect institutions over being the hands and feet of Christ to the vulnerable. We fall prey to seeking power (or maintaining it) over speaking and being truth.

And for those who are not tempted to mistake Christendom for Christ, another danger exists. It is easy to become jaded with the church and want to abandon her as unhealthy. We can trust in our shrewd critique of the wrong things within the church. Yet, she calls us not to be toxic or arrogant. That will not serve the church well.

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Lessons learned in the Middle East


I traveled to Jordan in early November to do trauma recovery training/equipping work for Jordan Bible Society as a volunteer representative of the Trauma Healing Institute. Today, I posted a blog on the BTS faculty blog page on some of the lessons I learned there. I encourage you to check out those insights. The title of the post says, “5 Lessons Learned…” but in fact there are 6. Consider it your Christmas bonus (wink).

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A Meditation for you during gun control/rights debate


The American conversation is all about the guns these days. Let everyone have open carry. Disarm everyone who has weapons designed for war. These are some of the arguments we might hear.

Everyone has an opinion as to what to do about the problem of gun violence and terrorism. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr. suggested that everyone who could should arm themselves, including his students at Liberty University. Taking a different point of view, The New York Times posted this editorial on their front page suggesting that we not only ban certain weapons but also require those who already own them to turn them in.

While the discussions often center on what rights the 2nd amendment to the constitution allows, let us not forget that these discussions, for Christians, must be had in the context of how God calls us to be with those who persecute us and how he calls us to act when we see oppression around us. While we discuss the best way to defend ourselves and our families, and when we discuss what to do about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country, consider meditating on these two passages and have them shape your discussion of how we ought to respond as individuals and as a community:

Romans 12:14-21 (NLT)

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

20 Instead,

If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Isaiah 58:2b-4a, 6-14 (NLT)

They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.

13 “Keep the Sabbath day holy.
    Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
    and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
    and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
    I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

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Filed under Christianity, Meditations, News and politics, Uncategorized, Violence

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

On having substantive conversations about race relations


Maybe it has always been this way, but it seems harder these days to have substantive conversations about race relations. I think the same struggle exists when you try to talk about sexual identity, gay marriage and anything else that is a hot button issue today. Does it seem that way to you?

In the realm of race relations, we have dueling images (Baltimore burning v. images of a black man being beaten by police), dueling sound bytes (Baltimore mayor portrayed as giving permission to rioters “space to destroy” property v. Franklin Graham’s “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else, Listen up” comment) and dueling diagnoses (racist cops v. thug culture). These seem to generate much emotion and quick reaction but little in the way of deep conversation and understanding.

Who should we blame?

It is easy to lay blame at the feet of ideologically-focused cable “news” programs. Their incessant demand for sound bytes and finding “breaking” news requires that they pump up anything that might be controversial to keep the viewer on the channel. But the only reason these stations need to do this is because of the proliferation of choices from where we get our news. If the show doesn’t deliver, we’ll find our news elsewhere on the television or, more likely, online.

We could also blame twitter and other micro-blogs that allow us to make a point in less than 140 characters. These formats provide “data” but without context enable us to believe we have facts when we only have a single data point.

But in truth, we need to lay most of the blame at our American culture’s feet. We want sound bytes. Like fast food, we want ready-to-consume information pre-packaged and simple. And we are an increasingly angry culture, angry and feeling lost in a sea of divergent opinions. Maybe this is because the comfort we once had living in a homogenous society where everyone appeared to think and believe like us is no longer present.

What can we do?

First, let’s be honest, in some settings and with some people, we may not be able to have substantive conversations about race. The environment may not be right, the other person(s) may not be interested or able due to their pain. In these cases, let us follow the advice of Solomon and remember there is a time to keep silent (Eccl 3:7a). Of course, if  you do remain silent, remember not to gossip about it later.

When we do decide to try dialogue, let us endeavor with God’s help to do the following:

  1. Be quick (first) to listen. Our temptation is often the opposite. We have much to say and we want a hearing. Follow the admonition of James to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jas 1:19-20).
  2. Listen to the story behind the opinion. Sometimes we jump to debating facts, especially when those facts are part of the other’s experience. We may be quick to dismiss experience as anecdotal. Yet, the story of pain, confusion, and racializations are worthy of our attention because we are listening to the life and challenge of an image bearer.
  3. Give the best interpretation of what was said. When emotions run high, it is easy to react to things we hear that sound wrong to us. When trust is low, it is likely that we will provide the worst possible interpretation rather than the best. 1 Cor 13:7 reminds us that love “believes all things.” So, give the best possible interpretation of what was heard. If you aren’t sure what the person meant, ask, but do so without thinking you already know the answer. Assume your partner has truth to tell you.
  4. Avoid equalizing pain. Sometimes we fear giving credence to another’s opinions for fear of negating our own opinions. It is quite fine to acknowledge systemic abuse against one people group in one sentence without needing to equalize pain by pointing out an opposing fact (even if it is true). When we try to equalize, our dialogue partner will likely believe we have just negated their point.
  5. Avoid using some impersonal extreme case you heard to make your point. While extreme personal stories need to be listened to and cared for, we can be tempted to tell of an extreme case or fact to make our point. Remember, there are fringe stories but these fringe stories rarely tell the main problem. However, if you believe the other side is using an extreme case, don’t jump on your dialogue partner but listen for substance that you can agree with.
  6. Be willing to confess corporate sin. Both Nehemiah and Ezra confess sin that is not really their own but owned by all of Israel together. Be willing to own and confess the sins of your “people” even if they are not your own sins.
  7. Underline shared truth and shared goals. While you may disagree on most things, be on the lookout for where you can agree and highlight shared truth or goals.
  8. Finally, determine one way to move the conversation to action. Dialogue and understanding are good. Action is better when we work together. Find one thing you can do with your dialogue partner.

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Filed under Christianity, Civil Rights, Race, Racial Reconciliation

What does recovery look like after traumatic experiences


After trauma, what does recovery look like? Is it possible to “move on?” How can you when you can never unsee or unremember what happened to you? 

Is it possible to experience joy rather than emotional pain when remembering past or ongoing hurts? If so, just what does that look and feel like for the victim? What can be expected if I am “healed”? Can I be free from the typical experience of trauma (e.g., Hopelessness, despair, anxiety, confusion, shame, anger, loss of identity, feeling stuck but the demand to act as if the trauma did not take place, and spiritual angst over the goodness and love of God)?

As Diane Langberg has so aptly reminded us, “Trauma is the mission field of this century.” Around the world there is much openness to talk about the impact of trauma and to use spiritual practices as part of the recovery process. In Christian language, we talk about healing the wounds of the heart and one of the best programs out there is the Trauma Healing Institute’s, Healing the Wounds of Trauma. This program is based on the strong Christian belief that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures,  is in the business of healing wounded hearts. At the heart of this belief sits two important passages:

Isa 61:1-4 The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor, and our God’s day of vengeance, to comfort all those in mourning, to give for those in mourning in Zion, to give them a head wrap instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. 

2 Cor 4: 16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but even if our outer person is being destroyed, yet our inner person is being renewed day after day. For our momentary light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure and proportion, because we are not looking at what is seen, but what is not seen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is not seen is eternal.  

These two beautiful passages present a picture of recovery. Good news, release, favor, comfort, joy and beauty in place of mourning and oppression. Renewal in the face of affliction. But what does this mean in real life? Does a “double portion” instead of shame feel like to a victim of sexual trauma? What does renewal and release feel like after a natural disaster? 

Prognosis for Complete Recovery?

If you suffer a serious knee injury requiring surgery, you will need time for rehabilitation. But rehab does not necessarily mean you will recover the full range of motion you once had, or that  your knee will be entirely pain free when you are finished with physical therapy. Your prognosis for recovery depends on many factors such as age, extent of injury, physical health prior to the accident, and availability of quality care. Even with the best care provided to top athletes, recovery may not lead to return to top form. For example, an Olympic skier may be able to ski again but not at a quality that allows for competitive skiing. 

What about the prognosis for spiritual and emotional recovery? Of course, just as in the knee injury example, the answer must be “it depends.” Still, considering the two passages above, words like liberation, joy, release, and renewal shape our imagination for recovery. Do we imagine complete recovery to top spiritual and emotional form, without pain and limitation? It appears to me that we sometimes imagine emotional and spiritual healing without taking consideration the reality of broken bodies and a fallen world. We are not guaranteed a pain free life or faith without distressing questions. In fact, Paul’s beautiful words in 2 Corinthians bear this out. afflicted in every way, persecuted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, always carrying around death, burdened, groaning and more. Yes, he also says not crushed, not despairing, not destroyed, but alive. But both must be considered together at the same time if we are indeed to imagine our prognosis. Recovery means comfort and lament, joy in mourning, perplexed while trusting, dying yet alive. 

Sprouts of Justice and Recovery?

Isaiah describes sprouts of justice and righteousness beginning in the recovery of the oppressed (Isa 61:11). As a gardener, I see sprouts as the beginning of hope. After planting seeds, the tiny sprouts give me hope for a later harvest but that hope is still tempered with the knowledge of the challenge of getting sprouts to develop into fruited plants. I have to be vigilant about bugs, weeds, and drought. I need to cultivate and fertilize or my sprouts will not turn into much. And even if I do everything right, the seed may be weak or the weather may mean I only have spindly or stunted plants that cannot bear much fruit. Yet, the sight of sprouts brings the hope that empowers us to keep at the gardening work. 

So, what are these sprouts of justice and recovery that victims of trauma may first see that encourage hope and further empowerment? Consider some of these: 

  • Capacity to Name Truth and Justice

Recovery begins when oppressed people find words to name injustices done to self and other. For example, a victim of domestic violence may become well aware of the subtle signs of verbal and emotional coercion, long before any physical violence. They become the canary in the mine, aware of poison that others may not yet sense. 

As this capacity grows beyond a mere sprout, the person may be able to speak the truth aloud, even with courage to say it to leaders. 

As naming capacity grows, it moves from awareness of personal risk to capacity to notice and care for the injustices others experience

  • Accepting weaknesses without hopelessness

Part of recovery requires honest reflection of the damage done. Signs of recovery include the ability to recognize limitations and working within capacity without self-hatred (though there may be lament for losses of previously held abilities). When we truly accept the “new normal” we then can stop evaluating daily life from the perspective of who we used to be

As we accept our limits, we can then begin to see the opportunities we do have even within our limitations

  • Identify resilience and new capacities in the midst of struggle

There may be new capacities we never observed before (e.g., the capacity to speak up to power, the ability to withstand rejection, increased empathy for the pain of others). We now notice these resiliences and growth as they stand on their own

Though we will not call the suffering good, we will be able to identify blessings that we have received in spite of and as a result of the trauma experienced 

Be Careful Not to Damage the Sprouts

For those who are not attempting the impossible, to “move on” from trauma and abuse, it is good to remember that sprouts are tender and can be easily damaged with too much interference. You may need to leave a few weeds you see near the fledgling plants so as not to disturb their roots or bruise the green shoots. How do we do this to the sprouts of recovery? We may unintentional limit growth by questioning why the person learning to speak the truth isn’t doing it in a even-tempered manner. Sadly, too often those in domestically violent marriages are told to stop being so dramatic and to calm down when they begin to speak about the truth of the violence they have experienced. Or, we can point out the sins of the victim as if somehow their responsive sins eliminate their right to speak up about the trauma they experienced. Or, we can hear someone accepting brokenness and accuse them of not trusting God for complete healing. 

Nurture recovery as you would a tender plant. It is a scandalous act of grace! By paying attention to safety needs, by bearing witness to trauma, by being willing to lament and to stay connected, we provide a greenhouse for such plants to grow into levels of recovery never before dreamed of. 

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling skills, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd

Knowledge vs. information: When trauma stories change you


Last night in our Advanced Global Trauma Recovery Institute (GTRI) course web conference, we were discussing the weight of listening to trauma stories. This conversation spawned from our delving rather deeply into the systemic torture, trauma, and loss of identity occurring in post-WWII eastern Europe (specifically in Romania). We considered the question

What should we do when we are overwhelmed with the weight of trauma stories around the world? Especially, what are we to do when we can do little to nothing about the new stories we hear every day? How do we respond to temptations to despair?

Knowing or just information?

During the web conference, Diane Langberg pointed out the common phenomenon that sometimes we hear of atrocities but do not really know about them. We hear information on the news about various tragedies (e.g., ISIS, Boko Haram, shootings, suicides, etc.) and sometimes fail to process it. One of our students reminded us of a bit of dialogue in Hotel Rwanda between the hotel manager and an American journalist,

Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.

Not far from the truth, right? However, when someone takes the time to really listen to trauma stories, something changes in that person; they are no longer able to go about their life as the did in the past. When we choose to sit with stories of pain, we gain knowledge that changes our view of the world. For example, when we take new individuals to Rwanda, we often hear, “I remember hearing about the genocide….but I didn’t know. I knew but I didn’t know what I know now.” The same thing happens when individuals are willing to learn about racism, domestic violence, gender based sexual violence and the like.

When you see something in detail, you can’t unsee it. You will be changed.

I know…now what?

Once you know, really know, the depth of suffering of a community, you are changed. That knowing often creates deep pain, especially when we can do nearly nothing about it. So, now what? What can we do? Here are a few things that may be overlooked as insignificant

  1. Listen. Wait, didn’t we already do that? What good is hearing more about the story if I can’t do anything about it? No, listening is part of the solution. Individuals and communities who are enabled to tell their trauma story benefit from repeated truth-telling. They benefit from “being seen and heard.” It matters that those from outside cared enough to come and hear of the pain. Do not underestimate how such listening may empower a trauma survivor to move towards healing.
  2. Lament. Laments are conversations with God about the brokenness before you. Whether done in private or in public, these laments help us to communicate to God what we find intolerable, to ask God to do what is impossible, and to look closely for his response. Laments hand the problem back to God. “Do something Lord!” Laments also tell victims that their pain is real and not merely an emotional weakness on their part.
  3. Look for seeds of healing. If you are hearing a story of tragedy, then you are also hearing a story of survival. While being careful not to dismiss losses and pain, we can also point out signs of life, of resistance, of resilience. These seeds do not deny the damage being experienced. Jeremiah’s plaintive sigh, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed…” does not undo his previous tears, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”
  4. Do one thing. If you are in direct contact with the person who is suffering, you can check in with them, find out what would be helpful. If you are not in direct contact, then do any number of “one things.” You can pray daily. Ask not only for restoration and justice but also for God to direct your response. You can tell one person about what you have learned. You can look for ways to identify how the seeds of the same tragedy might be in your own environment and not just “over there.” You can give an alternative points of view when you hear someone speaking naively about the situation. Start a conversation with friends.
  5. Remember. Look to find God’s view of the situation. How does He feel about injustice, whether minute forms in us or the massive ones we see on television? What reason might God have for waiting to bring all things under his control?

 

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

Turn the other cheek? Does this apply to abuse victims?


The Christian Scriptures teach followers of Jesus to forgive as we are forgiven, to love our enemies, and to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge when mistreated. Does this mean that victims of domestic violence and abuse need to, sometimes quite literally, take it on the chin without seeking protection or justice?

There are a good many resources out there right now that help teach Christians how we should respond to domestic violence and abuse. If you want some in depth argumentation why victims do NOT need to just take it, you can consider my top 3

  • Leslie Vernick (website and books)
  • No Place for Abuse (Book, and when you follow the link, notice the many suggested books on the same topic; books by Brancroft, Roberts, Crippen, and more!)
  • G.R.A.C.E (website with information about the moral requirement to report child abuse)

Rather than repeat the good advice in these resources–biblical foundations for protecting victims and calling out offenders–I want to point you to an older resource given to me in the past week. Older resource as in from 1840! Henry Burton, in chapter 22 (“The Ethics of the Gospel”) of his Expositor’s Bible: The Gospel of St. Luke discusses the application of Luke 6:27f to those inside the community of Christ as well as to “enemies.”

First he reminds readers to love enemies,

We must bear them neither hatred nor resentment; we must guard our hearts sacredly from all malevolent, vindictive feelings. We must not be our own avenger, taking vengeance upon our adversaries, as we let loose the barking Cerberus to track and run them down. All such feelings are contrary to the Law of Love, and so are contraband, entirely foreign to the heart that calls itself Christian. (p. 344-5)

I suppose his words capture most Christian teaching on what it means to love our enemies and to use the Golden Rule as our measure for how we respond. And yet, listen to his very next sentence:

But with all this we are not to meet all sorts of injuries and wrongs without protest or resistance. (p. 345)

Did you catch his point between the double negatives? We MAY and OUGHT to meet all injuries with resistance and protest. Burton goes on to answer why we should resist wrongs done to ourselves and to those around us,

We cannot condone a wrong without being accomplices in the wrong. (ibid)

There you have it. Complicity with evil, especially evil within the community of Jesus, is tantamount to approval and support of that evil act. Thus, telling a victim of abuse to “turn the other cheek” is essentially the same as abusing the victim yourself.

Burton extends his argument in the following way,

To defend our property and life is just as much our duty as it was the wisdom and the duty of those to whom Jesus spoke to offer an uncomplaining cheek to the Gentile [outsider] smiter. Not to do this is to encourage crime, and to put a premium upon evil. Nor is it inconsistent with a true love to seek to punish, by lawful means, the wrong-doer. Justice here is the highest type of mercy, and pains and penalties have a remedial virtue, taming the passions which had grown too wild, or straightening the conscience that had become warped. (ibid)

He completes his thoughts on this by reminding the reader that none of this justice seeking activity (to the point of excommunication if necessary) negates forgiving when the offender repents. We still love, we still forgive, we still treat others by the Golden Rule. But we do not avoid justice and protection seeking behavior, both for the sake of the one being harmed and for the one doing the harm. Both need rescue. The means of rescue differ for sure and may not be viewed as rescue when it comes in the form of sanctions and restrictions. But to look away from abuse and cover it up with “turn the other cheek” does not do right by the true meaning of love.

 

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Uncategorized

“We Don’t Want Facts, We Want the Truth”: Temptations Online Justice Seekers Face


Listening to Terry Gross (NPR: Fresh Air) interview Ava DuVernay (director of the new movie Selma), I heard Ava attribute this to Faulkner,

We don’t want facts, we want the truth.

Not being aware of the context of this line (see the bottom of this post for more on Faulkner’s actual words), I immediately latched on to this as being exactly the sentiment most of us have when we want injustice both acknowledged and corrected.

Don’t give me facts, tell me what I already know is true!

When we experience injustice, it is natural and right to want wrongs to be made right. The first step of righting wrongs is to admit the wrong has taken place. God seeks out Adam after his command “Do not eat of that tree” is violated. But instead of admission, God gets “facts” from Adam: “I was naked…that woman you put here gave me.” All real facts…but not the truth.

Today, we can find similar problems between facts and truth. Whether Michael Brown sought to harm Officer Wilson, African American males know the truth–they are all-too-frequently profiled as dangerous and discriminated against. Defenders of Michael Brown know that Black males do not receive equal treatment and are overly represented in prison populations. This is the truth–whether the facts of the Brown/Wilson tragedy bear out these truths in a clear way.

Or consider this vignette: a Christian institution that has ignored or suppressed voices of those abused within community in order to maintain the appearance of purity. Imagine that in this community a report of possible abuse happens. Instead of seeking transparent investigation, the leaders of the institution investigate privately and determine that no abuse took place. If you were previously victimized at this or a similar institution, you would recognize that something was not right, no matter the facts of the most recent case. The truth is this organization has not (a) acknowledged past failings nor (b) changed behaviors indicating that want to rebuild trust. You might rightly say, “don’t tell me the facts, tell me the truth!” Tell me that you see you aren’t ready to be in the driver’s seat to determine whether abuse took place in this current case.

Temptations of the Internet Prosecution

Prosecutors (Justice seekers?) know an injustice has taken place but have to put facts together to prove their case. The defense uses facts to get an acquittal or a reduction in penalty. If truly guilty, the defense works to shift blame and hide the truth. Given this common dance, prosecutors face the temptation to neglect facts that might lead to an acquittal. That dirty copy, that coerced confession, ignore it. Assume guilt, only look at what proves your point. Read ambiguous data in the way that makes your case.

In the world of the Internet prosecutions, we see similar challenges. If you know an institution or person is guilty of injustices, you know the truth and you might demand that they admit it. This is good! But often we expand our prosecutorial role when the offender confession is lacking or missing altogether. While understandable, we may commit the following sins (impact in parenthesis)

  • Always assuming guilt (notice the damage done when a petty criminal is falsely accused of capital murder)
  • Failing to recognize differences between naïve and intentional offenders (present all offenses as capital offenses deserving our worst punishments)
  • Dismissing substandard apologies rather than encouraging an ongoing and growing apology (tempting the offender to give up)

The bottom line is we justice seekers, knowing how rampant deception exists, can turn to pessimism and use it to assume (judge) all suspected offenders. I don’t know about XYZ person or institution but because they are like ABC then they must be guilty. Let me just pass on this post with a snarky comment.  This pessimism does terrible damage in two ways.

  1. It harms our defense of victims because others no longer hear us as truth tellers
  2. It acts as thorns choking out tender growth in the very institutions we wish to see change.

Let us endeavor to speak the hard truths to friends and enemies in love.

**Faulkner quote:

“The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.
Faulkner, William. The Town. Random House. 1957. Paperback, Language English, 348 pages, ISBN: 0394701844.

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Overspiritualizing invisible wounds?


When someone suffers an obvious injury to a leg it is clear to us that this injury limits prior capacities for walking, running, standing, and other things we do with our legs. If the injury is slow to heal, would we be likely to tell them to act as if the injury never happened? No. We can see the injury, its effects, and we recognize that recovery may be limited. We would be unlikely to judge the person for failing to run like they had prior to the accident. Of course, physical wounds will prompt spiritual concerns, from “where was God…?” to trusting God for the future even while continuing to experience pain symptoms and the inability to complete tasks that used to be easy.

But what about the wounds we can’t so easily see?

Sadly, I think we spiritualize them and do judge others for having them. Take for example a victim of abuse or trauma that results in a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We see no obvious wound. The body looks sound and fit. So, the anxiety we see, the hesitancy to trust others, the mental confusion, the inability to sleep well…these symptoms must be primarily evidence of a spiritual problem, right?

Wrong, at least in part. While we rarely see the damage done to victims of trauma, changes to the brain are nonetheless present. Here’s a couple of things we think we know about trauma and the brain:

  • The brain is an adaptable organ and use-dependent. Activity along neural pathways can become more efficient with practice (i.e., the more something happens, the easier it is for the brain to respond). So, certain pathways and structures in the brain become more easily activated
  • Observing activity brain scans in those who suffered severe traumas such as child abuse, we see evidence that the part of the brain that processes emotion seems to be routinely overactive. Likewise, the part of the brain that provides conscious analysis of where we are in time and space, seems underactive when emotional processing increases. This activity problem (too much in some areas, too little in others) appears to cause individuals to relive/re-experience trauma and have less capacity (in the moment of reliving) to talk back to their feelings (analyze what is happening) or explain it to others
  • Along with these structures, hormone feedback systems appear to produce fight/flight hormones in the presence of triggers

Simplistic as my points above are, I hope you can see that a person has little conscious control over these reactions in any given moment. Now, there are things that can be done to help the brain adapt and respond better, but the fact of being triggered is not the result of not trusting God.

So, consider the multiply-traumatized man in your church who reacts negatively to well-intentioned requests to join a small group or to be prayed over with the laying on of hands. Is this because they do not trust God, are sinfully fearful, or evidence of invisible wounds of PTSD? I suspect some would be inclined to assume this man had a spiritual problem. In fact he may, but the reaction he is having is most likely not that problem.

A Better Question

Recently I asked my students to consider this question: What does faithfulness look like for the Christian who is suffering pervasive panic? Does it mean an absence of fear? Forcing themselves into situations that will flood them with panic? How would you answer this question? Are the evidences of fear in your life a sign you do not trust God? Can you acknowledge fear and still trust God? What does that look like for you?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder