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Corporate Repentance: Turning away from the sins of our forbears?


On this national holiday when we remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, we not only remember his courage, valor, and prophetic words but the reason why he was needed in the first place. There is no need for a legacy of Dr. King except for the legacy of slavery, oppression, segregation. If not for our nationwide refusal to treat our brothers and sister of color with the honor and dignity due them as bearers of the image of God, there would not have been a need for fighting for civil rights and there would not have been a martyrdom of Dr. King.

But that was a long time ago…

For some, the end of legalized owing of slaves marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of Jim Crow and sharecropping that continued the subjugation of a people through legal means? For others, desegregation of schools and the Civil Rights act of 1964 marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of the inequities in the justice system and the disproportionate representation of Black men in prison? What of unjust incarceration? Today, many mark these evils by attending a showing of Just Mercy depicting the work of Bryan Stevenson to free innocent men from death row. You cannot watch this movie and not see that a system was designed to keep some from their inalienable rights.

So, should I repent of sins I did not commit? 

But are we–who did not participate in buying and owning slaves, did not participate in enacting and enforcing color line laws, did not falsely accuse or discriminate against African Americans in the justice system–held accountable what our family and political forbears have done? Ought we to apologize and repent from institutional and corporate sin we did not actively commit? Ought we to make right what was done wrong to others, or to those who ancestors were wronged?

The argument of some is that we ought only to confess and repent of our own sins. We cannot repent of those sins others committed before us. The basis of this argument is that there are no biblical commands (outside of Lev 26:40) to repent for the sins of others. But this view does not take into consideration two important factors:

  1. God’s blessing is tied to community righteousness and community care for vulnerable people. The bible, God’s letters to his people are not written just to individuals, but to whole communities
    • Consider James 1:27 and the litmus test for true religion
    • Consider the warnings throughout the Bible to not tolerate injustice (Hab 1, 1 Cor 5, Rev 2)
  2. Sins come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, including NOT speaking truth and standing for righteousness.
    • Individual sins can com in the form of commission AND omission. The failure to not speak up about past and present injustices is still a failure. (James 4:17)
    • Not blessing those in need with something is condemned (1 John 3:17)

The beginning of healing

When we call things as they are, we begin the process of healing. Have you ever experienced someone who publicly acknowledges that a wrong was done to you or to those you love? How did this make you feel? And if that person represented the institution that did the wrong to you, how would that make you feel? It might not resolve all of your pain, but most likely you would feel like you had entered a new path of healing.

So, let us endeavor to speak up about the wrongs done in this country to our African American brothers and sisters–the ones that were done during chattel slavery, the ones during reconstruction and Jim Crow, the ones during segregation, and the ones that continue today. Let us acknowledge and disavow the actions of those who went before us. Let us show our regret for the ongoing negative impact on our entire community. We all suffer when any of us suffers. And let us repent of our own complicity where we see it. Let us especially repent of our fear and hesitation to listen to the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters and our over-concern for the impact this might have on our own well-being. 

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Come watch a documentary with me about generational trauma as we celebrate MLK's 91st birthday


Next Monday, January 20, 2020, I will be attending a special viewing of Unchained, a documentary about generational trauma and healing. This showing is sponsored by Quest Movement in partnership with the American Bible Society and the Trauma Healing Institute. Featured in the documentary are two Philadelphia pastors and their stories of trauma and healing. Along with the documentary, there will be opportunity for discussion and a presentation of information about Healing the Wounds of Generational Trauma: The Black and White Experience, a bible and mental health based healing group curriculum.

Register here. The link has all of the details about the event but repeated here for your convenience:

Cost: 10 dollars

Locations (I will be at the Hiway location):

  • Ritz Theater Company
    915 White Horse Pike
    Haddon Township, NJ 08107
  • Hiway Theater
    212 York Rd
    Jenkintown, PA 19046

Time: 9am to noon

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Counselor failures: Choosing the wrong goals


Many moons ago, when I was a young counselor, documentation of treatment was left up to the therapist. Many kept no records at all. Some had hand written notes but were only for the therapist to remember the content or a insight they wanted to share at a later time. But, whether a therapist kept notes or not, it would be rare for the client to know anything about their documented diagnosis (even if insurance was paying) and even less about treatment goals.

With the advent of managed care, documentation of service rendered became a reality. At first these documents (diagnosis, treatment plan, quarterly summaries, termination note) were completed without client knowledge. Later, best practices required therapists to share, at least verbally, diagnoses and treatment plans with their clients. Hopefully, today’s client is a bit more informed as to this better practice and is in agreement with the goals of therapy.

But even when agreement exists as to the high level goal, counselors can find themselves working towards goals the client does not want, or, can be working a different path to a shared goal that doesn’t seem to fit the client.

Setting client goals is an easy thing?

While documentation of goals and objectives is relatively new in psychotherapy, setting goals is not. Client comes in, discusses presenting problem, therapist and client explore desired outcomes. As therapy progresses, goals may change due to circumstances or new learnings. Easy, right? Not so fast.

Shared goal, disagreement about the path

Let’s say I go to therapy to work on a phobia I have to flying. We agree on the larger goal and begin to work. Along the way the therapist wants me to try exposure to flying by getting on a high speed train to simulate the sensation of movement and loss of control. I resist because I do not feel ready. The therapist wants me to push through. I resist more. The therapist can continue to press, whether gently or forcefully, but this disagreement will hinder therapy if we do not get on the same page.

Disagreement about the way forward is commonplace in therapy. Sometimes, we therapists believe that our wisdom and insight is best. And, it may be due to the many other clients we have treated with the same challenges. But what the counselor does with resistance tells you a lot about that counselor and their capacity for “withness.” Do they,

  • Check in with the client to see what they are feeling when they resist? (Resistance can be about confusion, disagreement, need for encouragement, concern for consequences, etc)
  • Brainstorm about alternative objectives that might be possible? Sometimes small changes in steps make all the difference.
  • Pontificate about how the chosen path is the best? When we therapists feel defensive we can easily fall back on our expertise as a weapon to convince another that we know best.
  • Ask pointed questions that leave the client feeling shamed? “You do want to get better don’t you?”

Shadow goals

From time to time both therapist and client can work toward an unspoken goal, a shadow goal. Since we are focusing here on counselor failures, let’s consider what kind of shadow goals counselors might begin to pursue. Shadow goals are those that are not verbalized and yet have a controlling influence over the therapist’s words and stance in a session. Here are some examples:

  • Client comes for help with grief over a lost relationship but the therapist wants client to see how she is the cause of the lost relationship
  • Client comes for help in leaving an abusive marriage but the therapist is committed to helping the client stay in the marriage
  • Client presents with a mood disorder but therapist wants client to leave his dysfunctional church
  • Client want to become less dependent on others but therapist wants client to continue to need her help
  • Client seeks treatment for PTSD but therapist wants client to stop being needy or to terminate therapy.

Shadow goals are best addressed in supervision where therapists talk about their clients–and yes, talk about how they feel about clients. As therapists explore their feelings, shadow goals come to the surface and can be acknowledged and addressed. Their presence is not a sign of counselor failure or weakness. They are normal and part of what it means to be human. The only danger is these goals remain hidden and active. As long as they stay hidden (for lack of insight or because of shame), shadow goals will exert control and create confusion on the part of the client and the therapist.

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When a woman’s first sexual experience is forced, a look at the impact


Laura Hawkes and colleagues have published a prevalence and impact study of American women and their first sexual experience. The sample of women between the ages of 18 and 44 (13,000 plus) records that 6% experienced rape as their first sexual experience. On average, the rape took place when the woman was 15 years of age. The perpetrator was, on average, 27 years of age. (For a news oriented summary of this study, go to this story on NPR.

Force (of any kind) + unwanted sex = rape

When you think of the term rape, you may immediately imagine physical violence. And certainly, many sexual assaults and rape are unimaginably violent acts. But, it is important to realize that verbal and emotional coercion may also play a very large role in forced sex/rape. When a person uses their position, status, verbal power, threats of violence, threats of loss of safety, emotional manipulation and the like to get another person to engage in sexual intercourse, this can be defined as rape. If it was unwanted but the person did not physically fight back, it is still considered rape.

Rape of any kind is destructive and traumatizing. For some, emotional coercion adds an extra layer of shame and trauma because either they or others may not consider the experience an assault. “Well, he didn’t hold a gun to my head…” or “I didn’t fight him off…so maybe it wasn’t really an assault.” Common but destructive questions such as, “What were you wearing? Why did you go there” add additional trauma.

What impact might that have on a person?

When forced sex is the first sexual experience, there are a cascade of potential health problems that may plague the victim. Reproductive health consequences loom large as to be expected. Many of these continue long afterwards. Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addictions also may become chronic experiences. In what may be often overlooked, chronic insomnia (a not surprising result) can lead to long-term auto-immune disorders and cancers. No wonder we don’t just “get over” something like this.

Discouraged? Yes. Helpless? No.

You can read a study like this and leave feeling discouraged about our society. That would be an appropriate response. And, you may also leave knowing that you can do two things that do make a difference:

  1. Increase your awareness of and compassion for those who have experienced rape/sexual assault. Your capacity to hold their stories and acknowledge the impact may actually begin to lessen shame and isolation and improve quality of life.
  2. Be willing to speak up about any and all behavior that minimizes abuses of power, especially as it relates to sexual activity.

To read the official abstract of the study, go here.

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Free webinar on the impact of child abuse on adult mental and spiritual health


Consider joining me September 4, 2019 on a webinar hosted by The Partnership Center: Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, US Dept of Health and Human Services. I will be presenting on the spiritual impact of child abuse on adult survivors.

Part IV: Mental Illness 101: Childhood Trauma and Mental Health Impacts

Wedneday, September 4, 2019 | 12:00 —1:00 p.m. EDT

Register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/437d661ca5d8d0c434538d7d4481ef37  

Trauma ― specifically trauma experienced as children or adolescents ― can significantly impact individuals across their entire lives. In fact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (@NCTSN) notes that survivors of childhood trauma are more likely to have long-term health problems or are at higher risk to die at an earlier age than their peers.  With so many walking wounded souls in our midst, people are starting to ask, “How can I make a difference?” Our July webinar will focus on this important factor impacting many people who are struggling with mental illness concerns – untreated childhood trauma. Our goals are to equip local faith and community leaders with the signs and symptoms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and provide the proven resources they can incorporate into their congregational and community outreach efforts.  Register today for our September 4th webinar, and invite a friend

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing Training Sessions, Philadelphia, October 4-7, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, October 4-7, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wounds of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups for adults.

Already completed the initial training? Then come to the advanced session to deepen your healing group facilitation skills and to learn how to train others to become healing group facilitators. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for parts of the training and would love to meet you there and talk about ways we we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

Register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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Why reconciliation isn’t the best objective


At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones who are hurt, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a bad objective?

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Better objectives

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (face-to-face or through others) of the damage you have caused or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done.
  • Make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When reconciliation isn’t possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the widow who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing training sessions, Philadelphia May 8-11, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, May 8-11, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wound of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups.

If you have already taken the initial training and you would like advanced training to become a healing group facilitator or to become a trainer in this train the trainer program, then come to the advanced session. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for the training and would love to spend the 4 days with you thinking and experiencing how we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

But register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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Philadelphia area Healing the Wounds of Trauma Initial Equipping


Announcing the initial equipping training for those interested in becoming certified in the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum. This will be offered at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, July 18-21, 2018. There are three ways the course is offered:

  • Graduate credit (2 credits, with pre and post course work)
  • Audit (shows up on a transcript)
  • Continuing education (NBCC approved CEs for social workers and professional counselors)

Teachers will be Heather Drew and myself.

For more information, start here. If you are interested in learning this train-the-trainer model of trauma care designed to raise up safe faith communities, this might be the training for you.

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Living with the Inheritance of Trauma


Last week at the Global Community of Practice, Dr. Diane Langberg and I presented “Living with the Inheritance of Trauma” as a kick-off to the conference theme on trauma through the generations. Our two-part presentation can be found here.

Diane’s presentation begins at the 12:05 minute mark. She explores the impact of complex trauma on stages of individual and social identity development and how this has an impact on trauma being passed on to the next generation.

My portion begins at the 58:30 minute mark. I consider some examples of direct and indirect transmission of trauma across generations as well as the systems that maintain trauma transmission. This is a question that I asked the audience and I ask you:

What are the social conditions and structures that maintain systems that transmit trauma to the next generation?

If the question seems a bit obtuse, you can listen to the case I read from “The Warmth of Other Suns” (p 62f) which begins at the 1:08:32 mark. Or, if you didn’t see Rod Williams presentation the next day, check out this video on mass incarceration.

My question really is this: what are the factors outside of individual behavior (e.g., one traumatized person’s behavior towards another) that maintain conditions encouraging generational trauma? And for those of the higher caste in a society: what are the mechanisms that enable those with greater social power to (a) avoid many generational traumas and to (b) remain blind to the structures and systems at work?

 

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