Today, I will be making two presentations here in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Look Up Conference on Faith and Mental Health hosted by the Lutheran Foundation. For those interested in the slides, here they are:
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With COVID cases rising yet again, families are again needing to evaluate whether to spend the holidays with family. Even if plans are set, there may be tension in the air as news, politics, and opinions also rise with the rate of infection. This means that children listening in may experience more anxiety in the coming days. Here’s an Op Ed piece I contributed for the American Bible Society and published in the Christian Post: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety During the Holidays.
Most of us say, “fine” even when we are not all that fine.
Check out this op ed in the Christian Post written by me. What would you add as additional things we can do to thrive in seasons that can be very hard?
Are you thriving? How would you know?
This Thursday, May 13, 2021, 1-3pm EDT. $15 for registration but you will receive a copy of JR Brigg’s book mailed to you. To register, click here.
If you are like me, you experience life now as an ongoing season of upheaval and distress. Between the pandemic’s staggering death count and losses and the racial wounds and ideological rifts we face each day, who doesn’t feel the crushing weight of pain? Yes, the outcome of the George Floyd trial and the success in vaccinating millions of Americans is a move in the right direction–and yet, even successes can trigger more grief. Just ask anyone who lost a loved one. When a new positive event takes place, it can sometimes trigger a shockingly deep wave of grief and loss. There is a lot of evidence that the way of grief and loss is just now really breaking on us like a tidal wave.
Have you ever wanted to an audience with God to tell him of your unspeakable pain? You are not alone. Job did. The Psalmists did. Jesus, the son of God, even did. We have their complaints and laments recorded for us to read and emulate. And since they are recorded in Scripture, we can accept that God invites us to make these cries known to him and to our neighbors.
If you want some help in writing a lament to express your pain to God and to your friends, consider using this new tool just created by the Trauma Healing Institute at American Bible Society. I want to point out a simple and free download where you can do this. Hear how the creators describe the need to lament:
In moments when human dignity is being diminished and violated…When safety and justice feel forgotten or impossible to find…When we feel like we cannot take another step…
Our pain is not a burden to God. God is present.
In times such as these, we here at the Trauma Healing Institute have just launched the new, free, easy-to-use Trauma Healing Basics resource: How to Lament.
This resource is a blueprint for honest prayer in times of great turmoil. God is waiting for us to pour out our hearts. Crying out to God with honesty in times like these is a form of worship; instead of turning away, we open ourselves to God. This little tool explains how to do it.
Just finished listening to Krista Tippett interview Bryan Doerries in her latest On Being episode. Well worth your time if you have the chance to hear it. The discussion centers on the need to speak and name suffering, especially that suffering which leads to moral distress and feelings of shame. To tell without “whitewashing” requires both teller and listener to talk about things they would rather not discuss. Honest telling and honest listening are necessary. Blinders and self-deception of both teller and listener must fall to the ground without defensive response. The telling that leads to healing is not merely voicing pain–though that can be helpful–but having the audience be impacted and to acknowledge their own action, inaction, blindness in situations that led them to feel similar feelings as the one who was narrating the story.
We begin to hope when we see we are not alone. We begin to hope when we do not need to shrink back from the ongoing pain in our lives.
Bryan is the creator of Theater of War, a production company and public health initiative that brings together Greek tragedies and town hall discussions exploring social challenges of today. He reveals how he ended up working with Greek tragedies to create space for people to talk about things they normally hide. He spoke of the death of his girlfriend,
…when she died, the thing that actually hurt the most wasn’t her loss, it was the fact that nobody wanted to talk about it. And the more I tried to talk about all these things I had observed and experienced, not just in her dying but in the months leading up to it, the more people seemed to recoil. And it took me about a hundred performances of Theater of War and some of our other projects to realize that, at a very core level, the work that I’ve been doing for the last 12 years has been about creating the conditions where people will talk about it.Quotation from On Being interview, published April 2021
One of they key learnings from my work with the trauma healing program is that when communities lament together, when they allow for specific naming of pain suffered by part or the whole of a community, something changes in that community. Bryan articulates the same in his understanding of the purpose of Greek plays,
[The purpose of Greek tragedy is] to communalize trauma, to create the conditions where — the word “amphitheater” in Greek means “the place where we go to see in both directions.” “Amphi-” — I see you, you see me; both directions. “Theatron” — the seeing place. So we go to the amphitheater in the fifth century, B.C., to see each other, to see ourselves; to see that we are not the only people to have felt this isolated or this ashamed or this betrayed — not just because it’s being enacted onstage, but because people around us in this semicircular structure are all validating and acknowledging the truth of what we’re watching.
What is it that is unnamed that needs naming? Doerries identifies the trauma of betrayal as most salient,
...betrayal is the wound that cuts the deepest. You can call it whatever you want, moral distress, moral injury, but really, it’s betrayal — feeling abandoned or betrayed, or betraying oneself and one’s sense of what’s right.
There are many kinds of betrayals. I’ve written on this site about betrayal trauma that comes with spiritual and sexual abuse and so will not discuss those now. But, one other way we betray each other is to attempt to over-simplify complex and painful experiences of others. Bryan and Krista talk about allowing frontline workers in the pandemic to name their moral distress without responding with a whitewash of hero talk. In recent months I’ve talked with individuals who have expressed guilt/shame over their treatment of sexual minorities in their religious communities. It would be easy for us to offer quick responses depending on our own belief systems. “You were doing the best you knew how, but now you know better.” Or, “You are only feeling this way because a vocal minority is shaming you.” Neither response allows the person to name their pain. And neither response acknowledges that every listener has had similar experiences that they too have not wanted to name.
Creating spaces for tragedies to be told
What can we each do to support the telling of tragedies? We may not be able to put on theater productions or start town-meetings but we can be better friends.
- We can ask questions that invite someone who seems to want to tell their tragic tale to continue speaking
- What did you feel when that happened? How did what happen change you and your perspective?
- What did you wish your friends knew or would say/do when you were going through that suffering? is there any part of the story you have always wanted to tell but were afraid to do so?
- When have you felt understood, less alone, even if only for a second?
- Without being superficial and without interrupting with your own story, notice where you have felt similar feelings. Where have you felt shame? Betrayed? Isolated? Conflicted? In moral distress? Guilty? Don’t try to erase their feelings but sit with the reality that you too know of what they speak. Don’t rush to change the feelings?
- Before your conversation is over (or in another future conversation if more appropriate), ask a couple more questions
- How have you survived? What is one trait of yours you wish others could see more clearly?
- How would you like our community/church/setting to respond to you? (Don’t look for solutions and don’t press for action)
- What if anything gives you encouragement today?
Look for signs of life. Remember that communal healing happens when those who were wounded experience healing and then begin to bring healing to broken systems. The healing of a community does not happen because the healthy do the work. It is because the sick become the healers. Isaiah 61:3b-4 reminds us that when the God heals the broken and the blind,
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Is trauma healing effective for those in prison and jail settings? Sign up for the webinar and the data reveal
On April 6, 2021 at 7 pm EDT, the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute is hosting a webinar where we discuss recent research examining the effectiveness of Bible-based trauma healing with incarcerated individuals. Representatives from ABS, Baylor University, and Good News Jails & Prison Ministries will walk you through the project of bringing trauma healing groups to this population and will reveal some amazing and moving results. You may not think research can move you but I challenge you to come to this and NOT be moved.
Register for free here. If you can’t attend but want to view the recording at a later time, sign up.
Forum of Christian Leaders will be hosting Dr. Langberg for a 3 hour master class on March 20, 2021. The forum is entitled, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church. For more information on how to register for this session, please check out this flyer.
I’m participating in a free virtual conference for church leaders entitled: Grace for the Broken: Preventing Ministry Burnout. Conference sessions are free when shown live. For those who want an all access pass for viewing later, they offer the entire conference for $47 until March 11. Here are the links:
My wonderful colleagues at the Trauma Healing Institute, a ministry of American Bible Society, have launched www.traumahealinginstitute.org/basics, a page for FREE resources that can be shared with anyone who might benefit from basic materials that can explain what trauma is and how we begin the journey of healing. Kudos to Heather Drew and Justin Taylor as well as our good friends at Luminary Labs. Check out the short video below and then go to the site above for a guide for friends who might be listening to someone tell a bit of their trauma story and a safe listener’s promise.