Category Archives: Psychological growth

Turn around and face your shadow: Before you project it

Carl Jung told this story about how the idea of “the shadow’ came to him. “I had a dream which both frightened and encouraged me. It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind regardless of all dangers. When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew too that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the powers of darkness, it is still a light, my only light.“ (C. G. Jung in Memories, Dreams and Reflections)

I have had my own frightening and encouraging dreams. I often tell about the monster that chased me in my dreams for many nights as a young husband. My dear wife, a little frustrated with being awakened night after night, suggested I stop running from the monster and turn to face it. I was not sure I could direct a dream, but I determined to do what she advised. I can still remember how the terrifying thing kept running at me and then right through me. I was left without a scratch — and I was encouraged to face what lurked in my unconscious.

The integration of the shadow is a great work of holiness. Robert Johnson says, “We are advised to love our enemies, but this is not possible when the inner enemy, our own shadow, is waiting to pounce and make the most of an incendiary situation. If we can learn to love the inner enemy, then there is a chance of loving – and redeeming – the outer one.” (in Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche)

Owning one’s shadow

To refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness. This boiling pot of self-denial is later expressed as a black mood, psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents. I think most people reading that sentence can feel the truth of it. If you show me contempt, the part of me hiding from abuse and unwilling to stand up to bullying critics might numb my whole emotional system, or I might take a weird risk with the car, or maybe I’d take the next day off from work.

Even though we know the work of repression in us, we are still committed to presenting a perfect-seeming self and are offended when it is not respected. Both the secular and religious side of the American experiment are ill-served by a streak of pride and perfectionism that show a lack of integration. Obama’s “exceptionalism” and Trump’s “greatness” both reflect it. Antiracist radicals and antiabortion radicals both produce the violence and disorder we are experiencing in the name of their perfect political positions. [Listen to David Brooks recently talking about the scourge of “essentialism”]

Any repair of the fractured world must start with people who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. This should be a well-known teaching of the Bible, since Paul demonstrated it.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. — 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Many read this statement as a one and done: “Once I was a lout, but now, by the grace of God, I am perfected. Now I am perfectly shadowless.” I read it as an ongoing process of development: “I understand I am the worst of sinners and the beloved of God at the same time.” Paul is repeatedly trying to undo the heresy that Jesus makes us perfect in anything but grace (especially in Corinth!).

Doug Savage @ savagechickens.com

Integrate or project the shadow

When we do not integrate our shadows and live with enough humility to recognize our sin and receive our salvation, we project the shadow on others. To avoid this seems like an easy change of mind, but intolerable feelings that have been denied access to our conscious thoughts and actions are never easy to look at: guilt and shame, fury, worthlessness, fear and the trauma that often stores them in deep recesses.

Unless we do conscious work on it, the “shadow” side of us is almost always “projected;” that is, it is laid on someone or something else so we do not have to take responsibility for it. Mates are notorious for asking their spouses, “How do you feel?” when it is they who have a feeling they fear to express. Suddenly their mate feels defensive about a feeling they didn’t even have before their spouse walked in. Their partner should have stuck with having their own troubling feeling, On the other side of things, a weak-feeling partner might compliment their spouse for doing something, like driving or cooking, at which they, themselves, are actually quite adept and like doing. But they would rather give it over to someone else rather than bear the weight of being competent or being subject to scrutiny.

The worst

When we sit in the movie theatre we are in the position of the projector, so the theatre is an ideal venue for projecting our fears at a horror movie, or our anger and hate in a war movie or our unspeakable desires in a romance or crime drama. The economy makes billions off our disinterest in integrating.

It is easy to see society work out projection. The two political parties in the U.S. have created an image of the other party as terrorists or devils. In a recent NYTimes opinion article, Michelle Goldberg referred to Trump as a “Master of Projection” and noted that many instances of Trump’s projections were uncannily predictive of his future actions as president. He accused others of what he did not want to own as his own traits. Examples include roundly criticizing Mitt Romney for failing to release his tax returns and berating Barack Obama for watching too much TV in the White House, playing too much golf, and overusing Air Force One for “politics and play” (see The Nightmare Stage of Trump’s Rule Is Here. Jan 6, 2020, and this analysis).

Therapists often work with the projections their clients put on them to a good end. The therapy relationship is an ideal place to see what is happening in the shadowy places we can’t see or refuse to accept. Likewise, when I was a pastor, I often called myself a “projection screen,” since I often wore all sorts of unconscious processes instead of having the face-to-face dialogue I prized. Once I was out of the proverbial saddle, my “legacy” ironically became place to project fears and desires; I’ve heard about people using an abstraction of what I represent to make a point instead of owning their own feelings and thoughts. It is easier to “not be the old guy” or “not that less-than-desirable thing.”

The best

Most of the time we think we project the dark, unacceptable part of our selves. But it is also possible to project the best of oneself onto another person or situation. Our hero-worshiping capacity is pure shadow; our finest qualities can be refused and laid on another. A child may idolize an older sibling, feeling they ought to be but cannot be like them. Soon they will be like them and then, as a fourteen year old, they will find someone eighteen with whom to catch up.

Last week included Francis of Assisi Day. My family and friends know he is a hero of mine. When I did not have time for my annual showing of Brother Sun Sister Moon in his honor, I felt a strange lack of guilt, even though I had “betrayed” my hero. Looking back on my unexpected lack of feeling, I think I may have less need for him than I used to. I am more content with my own value and less in need of an aspiration. Being a Franciscan may have been easier than being Rod in some ways. His character and worth are widely respected, whereas I will need to survive the investigation of critics on my own merit.

There is help

God loves your shadow, too! It is you! He may love it more than your sense of self which competes with God’s sense of you. The repressed elements that become our shadow are often positive qualities, ultimately. When we project them on others, God has to be a bit disappointed.

I think God loved how Paul could own his past. He did not repress his murderous intent or his ignorant pride. He did not feel like his opponents were all terrorists or ignorant fools. He knew everyone needed mercy, just like he did. His trustworthy saying was a present tense experience: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” Jesus came into the world today, too, still patiently walking with us. Maybe you feel Republicans or Democrats are sinners who need to be eradicated, or believe Lady Gaga is the star you are supposed to be but never will be. Jesus came to help us reel in such projections and learn to be loved — all of us, the parts we already own and the disowned parts yet to be integrated.

Our disposition towards the world makes all the difference

Much of psychotherapy is listening to stories about relationships. When married couples are with me, they are having their relationship as we speak! The quality of these relationships often hinges on the dispositions of each person, specifically toward the people they are talking about, but, more important, to the world.

You may have never used the word “disposition” in a sentence. I think the word should be more popular than it is. Since it is an inherently relational word, it has fallen out of fashion in an age in which people are mainly interested in their identity, their self-hood, their personal power. Just this week, Michelle Goldberg wrote a op-ed about the movement in feminism away from meaningless sex towards a restoration of relationality. Relationships might make a comeback! I hope so. If they do, disposition might get into one of your sentences!

You may have heard the word “disposition” used to mean the inherent qualities of mind and character that give someone their unique way of being in the world: “Your sunny disposition has a way of rubbing off on those around you” — temperament, nature, makeup, the grain of them that might cause them to go against the grain. In a less individual sense, someone’s or something’s “disposition” is the way someone or something is placed or arranged, especially in relation to other people or other things: the disposition of infantry on the battlefield, the disposition of trees in an orchard, the disposition of the parts of this blog — arranging, ordering, positioning, relating.

When a couple moves into therapy, each has a personal disposition which their mate will learn to understand better and, hopefully, to respect and even love. Their relationship will also have a disposition of its own — its own character and a sense of how it relates to the world, how it arranges itself and how it has been arranged by various forces and its own history.

Since this word and all its synonyms are built into the English language, one would expect us to understand it. But during the last 50 years or so, the relationality of words has not been not assumed — we no longer assume words relate to something more than themselves. This blog post is for exploring that oddity in the hope that things are changing, just like Michelle Goldberg is exploring how sex is trying to regain human connection and love.

La‘amea Lunn and helpers on Oahu, Hawai‘i

A deeper knowing

A lot of what makes people “indisposed” when it comes to relating is the “left brain” dominance which accompanies the present domination of machines and technical skills. You may have friends, like I do, who have dropped off the grid and bought a farm so they can restore their relationship with the earth and feel all the parts of themselves in a natural setting (new farmers above). Most people have done the opposite and spend most of their time indisposed, in the sense they are unavailable for relating to others, the world, something or someone Other than themselves. This is so true that China recently passed a law to restrict video game use by minors. Chinese kids have been dwarfing themselves by attaching to a machine.

My favorite book of the year, so far, is The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. In that book Iain McGilchrist exhaustively shows the difference between the left and right brain and how the left is meant to serve the right, contrary to much of western philosophy since Descartes. He says:

If one had to encapsulate the principle differences in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this. The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness, of self-reference. It can mediate knowledge only in terms of a mechanical rearrangement of other things already known. It can never really “break out” to know anything new, because its knowledge is of its own re-presentations only. Where the thing itself is “present” to the right hemisphere, it is only “re-presented” by the left hemisphere, now become an idea of a thing. Where the right hemisphere is conscious of the Other, whatever it may be, the left hemisphere’s consciousness is of itself.

I meet up with people who are dwarfed by their left brain disposition. Their relationships are especially difficult. In the case of men, their sexual relationship with their partner may be difficult to maintain, since they have been having sex with themselves via internet-delivered porn for much of their lives. When it comes to intimacy, they are often indisposed.

The deadly disposition of control

In an out-of-control society, in a state of perpetual warfare, on an outpost in the warming atmosphere, it is easy to see how one could conform to the illusion of control the left-brain-dominated, corporate world promises. For instance, below is a Lexus commercial from this past summer by a student in Oklahoma which tells a young man that it (the car) needs a fellow dreamer to experience the “power of the spirit of now” together. This is a popular idea; a Cadillac ad from this year depicts the growing “light” within a woman climbing the corporate ladder as resonant in her Cadillac.

The philosophy the video neatly expresses in thirty seconds promises that the “spirit” can be reduced to a relationship with a car. I hope the student was being ironic, but I suspect he was angling for an advertising job one day.

Longing for what a car ad promises is healthy humanity. But actually attaching to representations of meaning within the limits of scientific, consumer capitalism reduces one’s will to managing the elements of a merely material world. McGilchrist explains the philosophical necessity of thinking beyond the boundaries of that kind of representation of reality:

Philosophy being a hyperconscious cognitive process, it may be hard to get away from the left hemisphere’s perspective that will is about control, and must lie in the conscious left hemisphere. But if our disposition towards the world, our relationship with it, alters, will has a different meaning. The disposition of the right hemisphere, the nature of its attention to the world, is one of care, rather than control. Its will relates to a desire or longing towards something, something that lies beyond itself, towards the Other.

The relentless teaching about “the spirit of now” is all about power and control. Even the search for the beloved community often descends, these days, into a fight about power and one’s share of spoils of capitalism.

When people with a “left hemisphere” disposition enter into the self-exploration of psychotherapy (or spirituality) they often feel confronted with a terrifying choice to make. Will I leave my “zone of control,” aided by all sorts of machines and society’s present philosophies? Or will I moved with my right-brain empowered longing for what is beyond the left brain’s frame? Will I leave my porn world for a real relationship? Will I desert the constant, anxious monitoring for what I dread and my anesthesia against that anxiety in order to move with the desire I have neutered in honor of my fear of betraying what dominates me? If I change my disposition, I will have to care and become respons-ible.

I believe in you

When I was in high school I played the lead in one of the more unpopular musicals my director could have chosen for us: How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying. [Harry Potter tried it]. I did not understand the tongue it had in its cheek. But I got sort of famous on campus for singing the signature song: “I Believe in You.” It is a left-brain hymn to looking sincere and believing you are good at looking sincere.

How to Succeed was lampooning what happens when advertising execs become the advertising (nowadays when we are all our personal brand). Robert Morse is singing a right-brain idea in a left-brain environment. He is climbing the ladder by performing the representation of a man who can succeed in a left-brain world devoted to selling right-brain dreams. He is literally singing to his representation in the mirror! I did not get it. But after a life of believing, I do now. As a result, I found this quote from McGilchrist compelling.

Believing is not to be reduced to thinking that such-and-such might be the case. It is not a weaker form of thinking, laced with doubt. Sometimes we speak like this: “I believe that the train leaves at 6:13,” where “I believe that” simply means that “I think (but am not certain) that.” Since the left hemisphere is concerned with what is certain, with knowledge of the facts, its version of belief is that it is just absence of certainty. If the facts were certain, according to its view, I should be able to say “I know that” instead. This view of belief comes from the left hemisphere’s disposition towards the world: interest in what is useful, therefore fixed and certain (the train timetable is no good if one can’t rely on it). So belief is just a feeble form of knowing, as far as it is concerned.

But belief in terms of the right hemisphere is different, because its disposition towards the world is different. The right hemisphere does not “know” anything, in the sense of certain knowledge. For it, belief is a matter of care: it describes a relationship, where there is a calling and an answering, the root concept of “responsibility.” * Thus if I say “I believe in you,” it does not mean I think such-and-such things are the case about you, but can’t be certain I am right. It means I stand in a certain sort of relation of care towards you, that entails me in certain kinds of ways of behaving (acting and being) towards you, and entails on you the responsibility of certain ways of acting and being as well. It is an acting “as if” certain things were true about you that in the nature of things cannot be certain. It has the characteristic right-hemisphere qualities of being a betweenness: a reverberative, “resonant,” “respons-ible” relationship, in which each party is altered by the other and by which relationship between the two, whereas the relationship of the believer to the believed in the left-hemisphere sense is inert, unidirectional, and centers on control rather than care.

Marriage is the queen of all adult relationships, where we create more care in the world, daily – at least the opportunity presents itself. In marriage we are called upon to see “the other” and relate ourselves to it in the person of our mate. Friendships and church covenants do much of the same kind of work, of course — that is, they do the work if we are disposed to it, if we turn into it, if we hold on to the love.

Right now relationships are under a barrage of criticism all day and night, left-brain radicals think justice is exactitude in speech and action, and the generation raised with a cell phone in the aftermath of 9/11 is sure they are saddled with the personal power to succeed in their business. I bring it up to give another opportunity to choose see the Other and to turn a new eye on the world which might develop a more holistic disposition toward it. As the world disintegrates under the weight of its left-brain foolishness, surely it is time to listen to the voices within and without, even built into our brains, that lead us deeper.

* Belief, like faith and truth, etymologically implies a relation of loyalty, and has the same root as love (and as the German words Glauben and Liebe).

Rebuild after an affair: 4 basic nutrients for new love

My clients in troubled intimate relationships are searching for answers. They often come to a session after spending hours online looking up solutions for their problems. Their search often comes up with damning criticisms and daunting expectations scattered among the good ideas. A few have come to an appointment with a diagnosis that promises a quick fix if the associated steps are accomplished.

Their seeking is promising, if sometimes misguided. They want to do something right or good. They want to feel better and repair something, not just cut off and do it all again somewhere else. Even better, they want to form a relationship with a caregiver, their therapist, who can help them sort out how the relationship went wrong and how they participated in the problem.

Several clients are rebuilding after an affair, either sexual or emotional, that broke their partner’s trust. Many people go directly to divorce after such an event, some accept sharing their partner, but quite a few try to work out a renewed, exclusive relationship. That is not easy. Injured relationships need to recover in many ways, especially when it comes to  trust.

Recently I have spent months with people trying to rebuild, not always successfully. I woke up one night with a list forming in my mind about what they could do. The following list  includes my dreams as well as some research into what everyone else is saying. Here are four basic ways back into a rebuilt love relationship.

Recognize the trauma

If something feels traumatic to you, it is. New relationship breeches trigger old ones. Some of your emotional reactions may feel overwhelming when infidelity is revealed.  It will take time to settle down and more time to work your way into a new equilibrium.

See if you can get to the “table.” Everyone may be unhappy, initially, but there has to be enough talking and action for someone to think the process is going toward healing.

In this day of “alternative facts” getting to the table will likely include a definition of adultery. Is it penetration only? Is it just looking on someone with lust so you were penetrated in your heart? Is it lonely Gov. Cuomo touching inappropriately? Is it the surprising porn addiction you discover in your husband? Is polyamory OK as more people than ever assert? Arguing over the terms won’t solve the problem, but it might take some discussion to get to a common table to negotiate something new.

How did you get to adultery? You might want to take the quiz in “What Makes Love Last?” by John Gottman, who did extensive work on divorce prediction, marital stability, and recovery from infidelity.  You may never get to a satisfactory answer to “Why?” The basic answer may not feel like enough. But the process will help you move through the trauma. As you do, some fundamental questions will need to be addressed:

  • Are you interested in making amends? Or are you willing to leave your partner?
  • Will you let go of the anger and resentment towards your partner and move forward?
  • Can you imagine a future with your partner even though they betrayed your trust?
  • Do you have adequate resources to help you recover, personally?

Get out or make something new

In therapy I consistently need to ask, “What are we doing here?” Would you like to build something new or are you content to keep seeking justice or maintaining your old patterns?  Gottman’s “four horsemen of marriage apocalypse:” criticism and contempt often meeting defensiveness and stonewalling, are likely elemental to the old pattern. If you don’t want to take this opportunity to build something new with this person, you should probably admit it. I would not admit it too soon, but you’ll need to commit to be in if you don’t want to be out.

Therapy can help sort this out. But therapy won’t make you do something. The post-adultery relationship is a new relationship. Same people, new relationship. You might be building the relationship you should have built originally. More likely you are just getting to building a good relationship with the advantage of having a new urgency to do so.  That is OK.

Repent

Many people say things like “There are two sides to a story” when it comes to an affair. The betrayed partner must have helped cause it. The victim often gets blamed in the U.S. I don’t think much restoration will happen if an endless argument about who is at fault is installed as a solution. If you sin, repent. The person who committed the act must take all the blame.

This is going to be difficult since the betrayer will be dealing with shame. The angry responses from the deep well of grief and loss from the aggrieved partner are not going to feel good and every time they emerge a natural defensiveness will arise. If you did it, stay calm and respond to this anger with another round of admission and asking for forgiveness until it is done. Get forgiven by your partner. God will forgive you, so start there. Your partner, however, is not God.

Forgive

Betrayal gets stuck in my craw until I can’t stand seeing the person and I start assuming everyone will treat me bad. It can make me hardhearted. I need to forgive to preserve my soul. Even if you divorce an adulterer you will still be better off if you forgive them. “Will you forgive me?” must be met with “I forgive you” at some point. It may take a while to get there but this is the first step toward a new relationship.

If you reserve your forgiveness until you feel you have exacted justice, you are not really at the table of rebuilding yet. The table is all about reconciling and rebuilding. Forgiveness does not mean we are done. But it does mean we are beginning.

Learn improved ways to relate

There is no linear path or prescribed method for rebuilding after adultery. We are all different and our relationships are unique. There are a lot of ways to rebuild better. So the following elements that came to my mind and came through research are not in a particular order. At some point I think they all need to be exercised, however.

Grieve. The old relationship died. The betrayed partner, especially, but the betrayer also, will grieve for what is gone or what was desired. Grieving takes as long as it takes. We usually need to decide we have had enough and move on.

Wait. Everyone is re-calibrating. They are seeing things in new ways. They are changing and growing. All these things take time. The plant won’t grow faster because you are frustrated with it. Waiting is also how we hear from God and trust the work of the Spirit. If we try to control the future we will only achieve what our limited capacity can achieve.

Listen in a new way. The relationship probably had some habits that did not work. We need a new curiosity and some new understanding. Listen to understand; give the gift of understanding.

Let go. Suppressing the past as if you do not matter will not work well. Acting like everything is fine is not sustainable. But we do need to let the past go, let the sinner go free after they have repented, let our feelings mellow, let our view of ourselves and our relationship change. Letting go is elemental to trust in God; we are not in control of the world. Letting go is essential to love, otherwise your partner is subject to judgment, which is intolerable.

Accept each other. Most people ease into newness and you should accept the relationship you presently have if you want it to grow, not hold out for the ideal you don’t have. Accept one another as God accepts you is key to togetherness.

Attune. Your therapist can help you with this. But there are any number of self-help books (like the one I already mentioned) that can get you started. Attunement is the desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner’s inner world. This cannot be done completely, but the attempt matters. Sharing vulnerabilities stops either partner from feeling lonely or invisible.  Marriage is God’s gift to our maturation. Everyone needs a way to communicate that allows for safety – no “You” messages, enough space to allow each other to do what they can without criticism or stonewalling.

Work day by day, stone by stone

We like to say “trust the process” these days. We generally don’t trust it, since we can’t tell where we are going. I think we all need to trust God, since none of us knows what we are doing. Here are a few ways to stay in the incremental process of new growth.

Receive the good given. The good you have needs to be good enough. Looking over your partner’s shoulder for something better may have been the initial impulse that led to an affair. Looking beyond the repentance your partner offers to the ideal mate they never were and aren’t will subvert the process of building love with the one to whom you are committed.

Get right brain. The right brain is the seat of holistic health in our body. The left brain is more about correlating the evidence and keeping us on track. We are a left-brain dominated society, thus we have people who have served time in prison and are still refused jobs and the right to vote after they are released — endless “fairness” and no grace. You and your partner must not be left as an eternal judge and felon. The left brain internet never forgets, the right brain comes to a bigger picture by ignoring unnecessary facts.

Make small commitments. This is one way toward a new, fuller marriage commitment. We like to leap to the end of the process we imagine and often give up because “This is not working.”  It might be the impatient way we work that does not work. Love is not a commodity to procure, it is the fruit of a wise life. Changing the way dishes are done could be revolutionary over time. Making a weekly time to consider the schedule could be life-changing. Creating an affirming ritual when someone comes home from work could loosen up tangled emotions.

Re-Attach. Or maybe you will be attaching for the first time. Our re-enactment of unfinished childhood attachment issues is integral to marriage. Your therapist can help.

Symbolize the progress. For some people ceremony cements what is new. You write a card that is about repentance or forgiveness. You go on an anniversary trip that is designed to be a new step. You put your wedding ring back on or buy a new one. You go on a pilgrimage and throw a stone into the sea that symbolizes your past.

These ideas can also apply to the friends we have cut off or the churches we have divided. Even those difficult family systems that seem so impossible might change! Underneath all these practical responses to injured trust is love. I think love has a deeper source than my own capacity. Marriage is a radical re-enactment of being created in the image of God as male and female. How we connect in love is as deep as creation itself. So whatever we do to work that out, it is good. Sometimes it may mean moving on from a relationship that is too broken to repair or from a person who can’t get to the table.  But many times it means being healed by a deeper love than that which was broken.

Grief is everywhere: Open to joy by acknowledging it

Grief hangs over us like a cloud. Over 647,000 families have experienced the loss of a loved one since the onset of Covid-19. Climate change presents us all with a daily dread about more loss of normalcy. After two hurricanes flooding our cities and our basements in the Northeast, we are reeling. People try to keep the grief down, but it keeps bubbling up. If we keep trying to repress it, that is one more use of energy we need for doing more important things — like surviving, adapting and thriving.

Megan Devine (NPR in Boston) has been talking a lot about grief. Her conclusion is this: “The real cutting edge of human emotional development isn’t resilience, and it isn’t a stiff upper lip. It’s acknowledgment.”

Opportunities for acknowledgement are easy to find. We were walking around our neighborhood the other day and were glad to run into a neighbor who recently, suddenly lost her sixty-something husband to Covid-related attacks on his vital organs. Then the hurricane hit and the new roof on her home began to leak rain into her top floor bedroom. A sodden piece of drywall tape drooped low enough to be caught by the ceiling fan, so bits of wall and drops of water sprayed all over the room. It was a moment of “perfect storm,” when Covid and climate invaded her bedroom. As we talked, she was exhausted from grief and bravely putting one foot in front of another.

I was glad we stopped to hear the story and commiserate. It is always tempting to leave the grieving alone. “They probably don’t want to deal with me,” we think, or “I have no idea what to say.” Even as we were talking I gestured I was about to walk on, thinking I would overstay my welcome. But she began a new story and drew me back. She just needed to be together and talk. It opened up a little space for joy.

The summer is over

We rushed back to normal as the summer began. The economy opened up and bustled. I did some traveling. My friend began making money on his restaurant again. The church began to meet in person. Many people were vaccinated. It was like the weather report was “partly cloudy” instead “overcast.” The more sunshiny among us started to celebrate the future and move on after their survival. The need to get out of pain and uncertainty did not leave much space to process what happened to us. Grieving opens up space for new happiness if happiness doesn’t repress the grief.

LaToya and Peaches Foster at the  headstone of Lovell Brown at the Leavenworth National Cemetery Aug. 30.

Last Friday, health officials in Leavenworth, Kansas quietly updated a 78-year-old woman’s death certificate dated January 9, 2020, listing cause of death as Covid-19. Hers is now the first recorded pandemic death in the U.S. I wish we had honored the grief that followed her death on January 9, 2021. We missed the funeral for that lost year. I do not think the outpouring of emotion over the lost election in Washington was an adequate substitute, although it is hard not to think it provided an indirect outlet for feelings we resist having.

Now the death rate is again climbing as the vaccine-refusers have provided a suitable pool of victims for the Delta mutation. Many of the dying are from the same territories that supplied the mob that stormed the capitol. Children are going back to school and already, just a few days in, frightened parents are hearing about infections and some are arguing about masks. Many want to keep their kids out altogether.

We will be very needy on January 9, 2022 (or whenever the new first-death date is discovered) for ways to acknowledge our grief.

Would you say we aren’t that good with grief?

Sigmund Freud gets tagged with a lot because he was first and famous in many ways. But he was hardly alone in his influence. However, his paper called Mourning and Melancholia, struck a chord in 1917 with people reeling from the carnage of WWI and beginning to experience the horror of the last deadly pandemic. Megan Devine says,

The paper gave a framework for suppressing grief in order to embrace life, a seductive and reductive approach to mental and emotional health…He posited that you simply need to “withdraw” your energy from the person who died and attach it to someone else. Two years later, his own daughter died, followed soon after by his grandson. Freud himself recanted his paper in the wake of his personal experience, but by then, his initial position on grief had become canon.

The generally accepted way to deal with grief seems to be, at best, “keep it to yourself,” or at worst, “don’t think about it– move on.”

Illustration: Peskimo at Synergyart.co.uk

An example of this “stoic” mentality might be the many variations on the meme “Keep Calm and Carry On” that have been going strong since about 2008. They keep appearing, sometimes sincerely, on Facebook or Instagram. While it did not become poster during WW2, the original encouragement represents the spirit of the English response to their huge loss, displacement and fear. The same spirit carries on with the kind of “positivity” that floods social media. We’re encouraged to have a “stiff upper lip” in relation to the pandemic which coerces people to deny their losses and the losses of those around them. This week the screen was full of people in Louisiana saying, “I lost everything, but I am pushing” or “I can’t think about it or I will break down” and “I am tired of being resilient.”

Grief is good

In an era more adept with grief, less concerned with power and image, at least among normal people, Jesus talked to his disciples about their upcoming grief. His beloved disciple, John, remembered the moment:

Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy! Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one is going to take your joy away from you. (John 16:20-22 NASB)

There is a lot to learn here. But I think a couple of things speak to us about acknowledging  our present grief.

  • Jesus acknowledges it. Grief accompanies loss in its many forms. My grandchildren express it when they feel the loss of the cookie they imagined. We quickly teach that right out of them. By the time people are young adults, they are tough and keeping calm and distant from a lot of feelings. Some of my clients are so depressed by their inexpressible grief they feel numb.
  • Jesus sees grief as birth pangs. It is terrible, but it signals something new is being born. People would like to skip the grieving of the pandemic and go right to whatever is being born. Chances are, whatever is being born is going to take all the time it needs.
  • Grieving is a feeling that passes as newness inevitably comes. Even in grief we can feel the seeds of joy unless we are trying not to. If you lost your husband suddenly to Covid, that grief will have some staying power. But organizing around it would be a mistake. It will probably stick around, like the country remembering 9-11 and its legacy of destructive wars. But if you aren’t walking around on a beautiful day, if you don’t stop to talk, you’ll miss the sunshine of the earth and the love of neighbors that heal grief. You might even miss Jesus.

I will be grief-stricken this week. So many typical troubles will cloud my joy. Institutions like school and church will fail me. And the storms of Covid and climate change are upon us all. There is a lot of grief to go around and quite a bit we did not acknowledge yet. It won’t help to act like it shouldn’t happen or it didn’t. It will happen. How we suffer it and what we expect from it will make a big difference. Acknowledging it will begin the process of opening up new space for joy.

Resistance: The vaccine fight may be an example

My dear friends left their Florida vacation early. They were just in time! Now the Florida ICUs are packed to overflowing with people who refused to be vaccinated. In Philadelphia, where I live, my nurse friend claims the hospitals are not overwhelmed, but they are not sure how long that will last. Once the schools get going they might turn into daily superspreader events!

In the face of all this frightening news, one acquaintance is refusing the vaccine. They said, “I guess you think I am really dumb. But from what I have studied, I seriously think I might die if I let that needle get into my arm.” Thinking I might consider them “dumb” was not dumb. Many people in Philly base their faith on some semblance of science, so anyone who is skeptical of the vaccines automatically ends up in a persecuted minority group.

I am not going to go into the politics of how the vaccinated can turn into the Red Guard and the unvaccinated into the Rohingya, as interesting as that is. I am interested in why some people resist the vaccines. I am interested in the resistance we all feel to change, even positive change, like getting some assurance we won’t die if we are vaccinated.

invisible wall of resistance

Resistance is one of the mysteries psychotherapists (and pastors, social workers, parents) encounter all the time. Peter Michaelson writes

Psychological resistance is like an invisible wall that stands between aspiring individuals and the actualized self they desperately want to become. Bringing this resistance into view is vitally important to our personal development.

People continually bump up against this wall, get knocked back on their duff, get back up, and incomprehensibly repeat the procedure ad infinitum. We don’t even know we’re bumping into a wall. We’re just left feeling confused, dazed, and disoriented, unable to make any sense of recurring self-defeat or self-sabotage.

Why did you come to psychotherapy if you did not want to develop? Why did you get into this group if you did not want to participate? Why did you marry me if you did not want to be vulnerable? Why did you go to the amusement park if you did not want to ride roller coasters? The answer to those questions is probably, “Resistance.”

Relief of Adam and Eve from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, dated to 359 CE

Resistance is about shame

The “discovery” of resistance was central to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. He was fascinated by everyone’s personal repression project. He, and everyone since, trace the foundation of resistance to shame. If the resistance is becoming visible, it will peek out from behind our various fig leaves:  perfectionism, criticizing, disrespect, self-criticism, preoccupation with appearance, social withdrawal, independence, invulnerability, and our inability to accept compliments or constructive criticism.

If you have been reading the Bible you can see most of these traits in the story of Adam and Eve. We could all tell our personal history and it would look like the Adam and Eve story. We don’t really need to study the Bible to find a story about resistance — we are all listening to the snake charm us into eating the fruit of it. We seem to choose freedom to be alone and against rather than the freedom to be together and moving with God —  even though we don’t really want to.

Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me some of the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:9-13)

Until our eyes were opened to our own potential for evil, we were fine being naked. No one told us we were shameful. We were fine with our privates and had no need for privacy. But now we sure do!

Does shame make us immune to the vaccine?

Many people have written wonderful books on the subject of shame/repression/resistance. I was just trying to give you the gist of how I see it so I could talk to you about how to respond to people who refuse to get the vaccine.

I think my few clients who are resisting the vaccine may be finding a huge and convenient way to occupy their fear and shame in the cause of their autonomy, much like Adam and Eve arguing with God.  I heard of someone saying the vaccine was like the mark of the beast and they should be brave enough to be deprived of work if it was really the end times — I am so out of touch with Evangelicals I had not heard that connection yet. Another said even if the FDA approved the vaccine they would not allow anything to teach their cells to do things — they immediately referenced the Tuskegee experiments as a good reason to be skeptical. I thought that was at least a better argument.

But their arguments mostly seem based in resistance. We might make a good argument, but we might not recognize our feelings, fantasies, and motives underneath it. Pretty soon we are canceling or rescheduling appointments with our therapists because they might talk about things that don’t fit our narrative. We might forget the work we already did in therapy. We might not remember homework assignments. Those could all be signs of resistance to growth. Shame tends to lock us out of the territory where our feelings run free and we explore without judgment and it tends to lock us into the lame defense systems that delude us into thinking we can protect ourselves from what we fear without faith, hope and love.

Is there a way to change a vaccine-resistor’s mind?

Quite a few of my young, “blue” friends have had a hard 2021 with relatives (often older) who are sure not wearing a mask and refusing to bend the knee to liberal scientists is the cornerstone of their God-given freedom. If one is not up on all the conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media, arguing with them may be even more futile than it usually seems. For example, one of my clients told me about the mysterious deaths their friends reported (third-hand sometimes) about people who had received the AstraZeneca/ Johnson and Johnson vaccine and died of blood clots so thick the usual procedure to remove them was clogged up! That’s a lot of detail! Many people are become experts, they think, on the virus and the defensive cloud of the evidence they collect makes them dig in their heels when it comes to the vaccines.

I think their process has a lot to do with the invisible wall of resistance.  Jennifer Delgado gave some helpful summaries of what it takes to change one’s mind and heart. She says, “We can feel motivated to change, but if something keeps us” from acting, “like fear, motivation will not be enough to overcome the resistance.” Right now, I think many people are facing the most fearsome time of their lives. Many are applying defensive skills they have been developing since childhood harder than ever to resist the threatening change that is upon them.

In the midst, Jesus says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

The cycle of resistance to personal change

As they watch people face their fears when they need to change, Delgado and others have referred us to the well-known stages Elizabeth Kubler-Ross noted in the emotional cycle following a death. A pandemic is fear coming at us, but it meets fear coming from us, the fear stored up in us. The false autonomy we protect masks the shame that motivates it. The thought of losing our defense against feeling our fear and shame is terrifying. It takes a lot for us to accept we need to do anything but protect ourselves from it. Making a good decision about vaccines would better come from the fearlessness we gain when we trust Jesus and receive His peace. But trust may not be our knee-jerk reaction.

Regardless of whether we trust Jesus or not, we will likely go through some version of Kubler-Ross’s stages when it comes to the little death we experience when we change.

  • We probably feel paralyzed or blocked when we first confront change. We hit the wall.
  • We may close our eyes to reality and to the need for transformation. We carry on as if nothing is happening.
  • When we can no longer deny the change, we probably react with frustration or rage. At this point the feelings we repressed earlier usually emerge.
  • We try to find a way out of what is already happening. We are moved to avoid it. We don’t fully accept what is evident.
  • We finally accept that change is inevitable. But we do not accept it, which usually leads to irritation or depression.
  • We realize we must react. We look for realistic solutions and new ways to cope which adapt to the new reality.
  • We come to a new homeostasis. We move forward into a new stage of development.

When it comes to arguments about whether to get vaccinated, we might be talking to someone stuck at that second bullet point, someone in denial. They have their reasons for resistance, some of which they might not know about yet. I don’t think people should be bludgeoned because of their lack of development. Jesus is patient with each of us.

As you look at the stages above, you can see that people might get stuck at any one of the further steps toward new awareness or new behavior. How many divorced people are still angry? How many abused people are still depressed? How many perfectionistic people are still dithering about how to let go of their control?

10 challenges for the vaccine resistors

We want to change. At the same time we want to remain the same, or do the same things. We want to return to the garden, but we also just redecorated the psyche we formed outside its walls. For instance, I just finished grandchild “camp” and they thought this year would be the same as the last. Stable grandparents are comforting. The changes disappointed them before they tried the new events.  Change unleashes resistance. The more we face up to it, the greater our transformation might be. In the case of the vaccine, we have heard many people recently hospitalized begging people to get the shot, now that they have been hurled into acceptance by the disease.

I have been trying to get my mind and heart around this invisible wall into which I and many of my clients and fellow church members are colliding. I want to be generous with people who are not “dumb” but are facing tremendous fears in the face of decisions about how to live through the hardest era of their lives. Here are ten things vaccine resistors might need to face, in my opinion, before they can make the choice to get the shot. One or more may reflect the resistance you feel as you are facing any change that pushes your shame button. Be generous with yourself and others.

  • Need to get out of the zone of control. Most of us feel relatively safe in our “comfort zone.” I’ve started calling it the “zone of control” since a lot of people are not comfortable in their status quo even if they are committed to protecting it. If we think what we have done for years will keep working, many times delusionally, there is no reason to change. If the disease has not struck close to home or has been survived, people feel justified in their zone.
  • Need to face fear. Fear is the basis for resistance to change. Usually, we jump into the unknown only if we believe what awaits us is worth it. Fearful, often disinformed people are frantically making a deal, under pressure from untrusted authorities, to risk their lives by accepting the vaccine.
  • Need to learn new things. When we believe we do not have the skills, abilities, or strengths needed to cope with transformation, we often do not recognize it, but resist it. This includes learning about ourselves (and that dreaded shame!). The massive amount of information and disinformation about the vaccines shuts some people down.
  • Need to challenge habits. If we have done things in the same way for a long time, it will be very difficult to change. We rarely just do something new because it would also impact how we relate, think, and feel. We already have ruts in our brain where our habits run free. Our relationships have habits. Our brains and our schedules supply physical resistance to our psychological resistance.
  • Need to be humble. When we perceive change is imposed on us, our first reaction is usually rejection. If we are not consulted, we will likely participate minimally, if at all. Americans might be the least humble people on the planet, so it is no surprise our virus incidence is high, even though we can effectively fight it.
  • Need to go beyond the overwhelm. The Covid years have pushed us over the edge. So many people are anxious and depressed. Our tolerance level for change has been exceeded. We have been overwhelmed so much by events and the media amplification of them, more resistance has developed to stave off further exhaustion and saturation. I think I noted this at the Phillies game last week when almost no one would get ramped up when the screen shouted “Make some noise!” We screened out the noisy demand to make noise. We’re tired.
  • Need to get beyond the either/or. Sometimes change presents a breaking point with some of our beliefs or opinions. Our brain might be fritzed with internal disagreement. “If this is the mark of the beast, I’d better not take it” meets “I am going to be so embarrassed if God does not protect me and the vaccine was a gift I refused.”
  • Need to act. Change usually requires the best we’ve got. Like we say, “Dig deep.” If we can’t marshal the motivation, we might give up on the transformation we desire. A client’s spouse finally agreed to get vaccinated like her mate, but she hasn’t gotten around to it for several months. It must be resistance.
  • Need to broaden one’s capacity. We are often capable of more than we think. Shame diminishes us. Our resistance to change may be due to it occurring when we already feel like we are in a tough spot. “I can’t face one more thing. I am going to wait it out and see what happens.”
  • Need to develop new traits. Some of us are naturally or developmentally more willing to change while others are tied to what they know. If you are suffering from certain mental illnesses you may think you have control over everything that happens to you or you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, you will be more resistant to change. Psychotherapists often diagnose and label people with “illnesses” and those labels end up as identities and those identities end up as strait jackets. You may think you are condemned to not cooperating with your salvation, but Jesus still holds out his hand to you.

I needed to write this for myself, so I hope it helped you, too. We all wake up every day to a world that seems to be hurtling toward disaster: conflict all around, disease, climate change. It is no wonder people resist the vaccine! We were fearful before we had all these good reasons to be fearful!

I found myself resisting my natural empathy as I became frustrated with resistant clients and heard stories from others relating a similar way. But I choose to spread peace with Jesus today. I will not let my heart mimic the trouble I find in people and respond to their fear with fear. I want to learn more about speaking peace to them as they struggle through their difficult process: bumping into the wall of their innate resistance and bending under weight of fear that falls on them no matter how hard they try to avoid it. I certainly do not need to threaten or shame anyone who is already fighting a losing battle not to feel their fear and shame!

The love story about God and us: Another version on Netflix

I have slowly been watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix. I hope they don’t disappear it before I am done. It is a surprisingly religious show which my wife should like. But it is also bloody, which she does not like. So I watch it on very rare occasions when I am watching TV alone.

King Alfred’s daughter in need of a rescue

I won’t tell you the whole medieval plot: soap opera, action/adventure, theological Ted talk all rolled into one. The heart of the plot, usually, is what it means to love. Last night King Alfred had to decide whether to give all the treasure of Wessex to ransom his kidnapped daughter from the Vikings (a daughter who fell in love with a Viking and spiced up the plot, since we all hate her husband). Alfred asked his wife if he were being selfish not to let his daughter die for the sake of the country and impoverishing peasants to get the silver required to pay off his enemies. She told him, “Your honor and hers cannot be ruined by the shameful spectacle of leaving the symbol of God’s anointed in the hands of the pagans.” Another advisor told him he was, indeed, betraying his duty as king for the love of his daughter. It was another interesting Christian thought problem. Should the king sacrifice everything for the love of his child? Should the child sacrifice herself for the good of the country? Is justice or love the main question? Is there another way?

Much of the conundrum (in a TV show!) circled around the doctrine of “substitutionary atonement” which began to develop into the preeminent doctrine it is about the time Alfred was king. I am not a fan of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement as it is generally taught, although I work with it since it is one of the atonement explanations offered in the Bible [here is a short explanation of all of them]. At the basis of the explanation is the idea there is always a law to be honored, a principle to be served, some justice that must be satisfied. Jesus pays the ransom due; he takes the judgment we deserve; God sacrifices his own son to save us from the consequences of sin.

This can sound legal and distant, just the facts. It already happened, just receive the gift. In King Alfred’s case there is a deep love to be expressed. He will give all his treasure, even at the risk of denying his vocation as king and risking the capacity of his beleaguered country to survive, because he wants his daughter back. People take the love out of substitution, as if the whole thing is happening in a courtroom. But The Last Kingdom offered a scene that shows how it is the king’s love that offers everything to the evil in which the child is held. He is working with the evil deal that runs the world. He satisfies the false justice and does it extravagantly for the sake of his beloved child. God did the same for all of us in Jesus.

There are other explanations, other ways

As if turns out, the still-pagan warrior who is pledged to Alfred (for a variety of reasons) manages to free the daughter and upend the Viking conquest plans. There are many other ways for God to rescue us, too. The plotline of God’s love for humanity is extensive.

Aethelflaed saved

Sometimes I feel like a pagan warrior surprising one of my Christian clients with an escape route they did not imagine. The worst side of the dogma of substitutionary atonement is the idea that we are so bad we are about to be sentenced to death for our many sins. Justice must be satisfied, because King God must preserve the basis of his kingdom, which is his holiness, his sovereign rule, his law. My clients often feel like a stench in God’s nostrils (as they have been told they are). At best, their inner critic is always matching them up with who they should be according to the law instead of the wretch who causes the blood of God’s Son to be shed. In their heads they know they have been saved, but it is hard to dislodge the deep wound of shame for causing Jesus to die — especially since they are quite sure they will sin again.

On the other side of Christianity, the one before the Roman Empire became the Roman Catholic Church and beget all the other Eurocentric churches, lies J. Phillip Newell and his deep appreciation for Celtic Christianity. This pre-Roman faith is still soundly Biblical but not infected so deeply with the law-oriented dogma with which so many are familiar. Here is his experience of sloughing off the worst aspect of substitutionary atonement as taught in the church of his youth.

I had an epiphany moment in my early adolescence. It came through someone else [than God] who looked to my heart, my mother’s mother. She lived with us when I was a boy. Granny Ferguson, from Banffshire in Scotland, was a presence of unconditional love in my life. I could do no wrong in her eyes even though she knew full well I was a mischievous “scallywag,” as she called me. But she looked at my heart. I knew that to her I was precious….I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was nothing I could so that would make my granny not love me. And so my epiphany moment came when I realized that Granny was more loving than the God of my religious tradition.

I had been given the impression that God somehow required payment to forgive, whereas I knew that my granny would never need to be paid to forgive me. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and the general religious atmosphere that surrounds the dogma, struck me as a violation of everything I most deeply knew about love, that it is entirely free. Who are the people who have truly loved us in our lives? Could we imagine them ever needing to be paid to forgive? In my mind, it was like the prostitution of God, payment for love. I did not have theological tools at that time to unpack the implications of this realization, but I knew deep within myself that there was something wrong with my religious inheritance.  – Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation by J. Philip Newell (2008)

King Alfred thought his daughter was precious (and so did the Viking who saved her life from abuse in captivity!). She was loved. That’s why she was going to be ransomed. That’s why he made a binding deal for her, as was customary in that time. That’s why King Alfred was willing to give everything.

Love is the heart of the story

But I think Newell has a better answer for the depressed, anxious, fearful and angry Christians I meet in therapy. It may take a long time for many of them to become porous enough to feel the love of others or the love of God. It could take a long time to let the idea of being precious to someone or to God get through their wall of constant self-criticism. They are living the famous line from Groucho Marx: “I do not want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.“ Self-loathing may be human, but elements of the church have made things worse. As a result of bad teaching, many of us look at ourselves in ways God, like Newell’s granny, never would.

Rather than seeing Jesus receiving the sentence we deserve, which is more a reduction of the Bible explanation than the whole of it, I think I might prefer to see Jesus as a wild warrior, driven by love, available at just the right time, against all odds, to save us from what has us in its clutches – like the grip of condemnation that keeps some of my clients committed to their captivity. Many depressed, angry, critical Christians are stuck working out a piece of logic in which the facts are all stacked against them and God is so interested in justice he will kill anyone who stands in its way. They perform goodness to stay off his radar or exact justice to please him. But they would rather be loved. Thank God that is really at the heart of the story!

Criticism is undermining relationships like never before

Some of my clients are especially adept at honestly describing their motivation. In couples therapy, one marriage partner said it was important to be the kind of mate who could pop an inflated ego. So their mate has to endure coming home with a story about some victory or blessing only to have their partner sift out some fault or problem to criticize. I could relate. I grew up with parents who were sure they should “take me down a peg or two” when I needed it and told me so. They thought criticism was an important way to develop me.

This “peg” thing appears in literature starting in the 1500’s, but no one quite knows where it came from. It might be about someone hoisting their own flag above another on a ship. Its appearance coincides with the rise of individual freedom and responsibility in Europe and the new scientific examination of everything that is now the basis for most thinking. By now, “taking people down” or even “taking them out” is seen as a virtue, as if expertly examining someone is a favor to bestow.  Everyone is a critic, like grumpy old Muppets in the theater box taking down Miss Piggy a peg, or Jerry Seinfeld teaching us to take down everyone.

So it is not unusual to have a couple committed to criticism as if it were a right or an obligation! One partner may not always be as vocal as the other. But their resentment and withdrawal as they “try not to be critical” still gets the point across.

Criticism infects love like a virus. Through their enormous research, the Gottman’s identified the “four horsemen” of marriage apocalypse. Criticism is the first one on their list. On their blog they say,

Because criticism is the first horseman, fighting off your urge to criticize can hold the other horsemen (defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling) at bay. And behind every complaint lays a wish, a longing. To work towards constructive solutions and mutual fulfillment, you must both make an effort to let go of grudges and bitterness. You must give your partner the opportunity to try to “fix it” or to make a repair attempt. Instead of attacking with “you” statements and immediately putting your partner on the defensive, you must allow them to do something that may make a positive difference.

Many of my clients are not deeply Christian, but it would help them fight off the urge to criticize if they were. Marriage is a wonderful laboratory for personal development if you see it that way — as opposed to a constant affront to justice and proper thinking. When Paul talks about marriage he sees it as the same kind of relationship Christ has with the church – a relationship of unwarranted submission to the self-giving glory of love.

Pastors are run out by criticism

I am happy this did not happen to me when I was a pastor (maybe I was not listening), but, like in the churches Paul planted, people in the church judge each other mercilessly these days, often in the name of righteousness. The poor pastors, and other leaders, are like lightning rods for the storms of criticism that sweep over communities in the United States like an aspect of some kind of spiritual climate change.

Tom Ranier who has been writing about church leadership for decades, now, says in his blog

Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly. One pastor recently shared with me the number of criticisms he receives are five times greater than the pre-pandemic era. Church members are worried. Church members are weary. And the most convenient target for their angst is their pastor.

Just like you might want to stop taking down your mate instead of building them up, you might want to love your leader and the members of your church like Christ loves you.

My clients who are professionals working in the church or Christian nonprofits often complain about feeling like fish in a barrel getting injured by someone taking an easy shot. Their critics should be out changing the world, but they abuse the easy intimacy of the church to vent their angst on people who love them. There is an ongoing debate about whether criticism motivates people in the workplace better than praise. But I think most therapists see how criticism mostly causes entrenched defensiveness and silences people. It is best used for coercion, not liberation. Church leaders don’t want to quit, but if someone shoots at them every day, they probably will.

Crítica, engraving by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907

It is often a projection of the inner critic

Several times I have heard of a client’s dream in which there was a plot going on to murder someone. One good man said the message they got from such a dream was that they really needed to “step up their game” and stop being so critical. They were killing people with words! I thought that was a good takeaway. But I also thought they could see their dream as an interior process by which their unconscious thoughts were getting sorted. It was possible that they were considering killing unaccepted elements of themselves!

In fact, an inner critic is  hard at work in most of us all day (and night) telling us our flag is hoisted too high or too low, or maybe both. The feelings caused by that voice are so intolerable we often “project” them on some situation or person. We can’t stand it, so we put it on someone else. We can’t stand the blame we feel so we blame someone else. We don’t want to need forgiveness, so we produce a logical justice issue we think we can work out without it.

We’re often in a tragic cycle. We criticize ourselves for having an overactive inner critic! We end up in charge of dispatching this malady, or hiding the fact that we only appear to have done so. One of my clients said, “I feel like I am cheating if I stop criticizing myself.” Jesus did not say from the cross “You’ve got to step up your game.” I am surprised I have to make an argument that the cross represents self-giving love, that forgiveness is a gift which cannot be deserved, that resurrection is the final statement that the powers are not in control and neither are you.

The internet is an echo chamber of criticism

Why has this period of relentless criticism come upon us? It is connected to COVID-19, of course, but the pandemic just accelerated trends already in place. We would have likely gotten to this point in the next three to five years regardless.

Maybe when we started ordering all that take out food and as we read even more Yelp reviews it became that much more evident to us that we, personally, might be liable to  negative reviews ourselves if we made ourselves known. It is what people do. Maybe our inner critics were at work harder than ever. We were more likely to anonymously get ourselves out there and project some blame on Facebook. Some of us got canceled and most of us talked so much about people getting canceled the Republicans made “cancel culture” a campaign issue.

I ran across The Geeks Under Grace talking about the spread of internet criticism. They are Christian gamers and into everything about computers and the internet. On their blog they were trying to get meme warriors to stop raking over every presentation of Christianity in media for evidence of inaccuracy they should criticize. I appreciated their obscure (for some of us) reference to Dwight Schrute:

I do understand the temptation to offer criticism to everything you see. It can come from a virtuous heart in wanting to ensure the God we love is accurately portrayed. In our minds we sound intelligent for (what we perceive is) correctly understanding theology, but when we do this with insignificant details, we come across looking like Dwight Schrute from The Office. We all love to watch Dwight for his quirkiness and how he interacts with problems created by his coworkers, but I hardly think many of us want to be perceived as Dwight.

For those who don’t watch The Office, the Christian Dwight would be the one who comments on everything pertaining to Christianity with rhetoric that they’ve heard from others. Any misuse of anything must be corrected at that exact moment. “False! There are basically two schools of thought.”

An 8th grader friend recently took themselves off Facebook altogether because they just could not stand all the criticism. Some people have stopped watching the commentary on MSNBC and Fox for similar reasons. The internet makes everyone an expert and no one an authority. The criticism floating around in it is not grounded in relationship or community and feeds on words like cancer. I think that is another aspect of the left-brain bondage that has overtaken us.

What to do?

This piece is not another call to “step up your game.”  It is mostly a call to stop killing yourself. If you follow Jesus and you think God is looking at you critically, I think you might need to look at the cross more closely. You are the beloved of God, not innately an object of contempt. Not cooperating with your inner critic would be a good first step to releasing everyone from your criticism and gaining some resistance to the waves of criticism the society delivers daily.

The living water bubbling up in the Nazareth of you.

Nathanael Under the Fig Tree — James Tissot

When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth, he responded “What good can come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

That response probably made it into the Bible because Philip never let Nathanael forget the look on his face when Jesus, the Nazarene, revealed who he was with a scripture-filled personal introduction. The fact is, Nazareth, where Jesus lived, comes from the Hebrew word for “branch.” Jesus is the Branch growing out of the stump of the Kingdom of Israel just like Isaiah prophesied. Amazing things grow in surprising places, it would seem.

Nathanael did not see the possibilities resident in the out-of-the way Nazareth. The glory in Jesus had not been revealed to him before he dismissed it. And, as I suspect he soon found out, the faith and character Jesus called out in him that day, although they were hidden under his initial scornful response, could be found in the outlying and hidden places in him, and could be chosen and lived.

Finding living water

Many of my psychotherapy clients and friends are not living out great faith in Jesus, but they can certainly dip their toes in living water if they don’t scorn the unlikely places it can be found in them.

Apparently, one of Karl Jung’s favorites parables touched on this truth. It is about the water of life and how it made itself known, bubbling up from a deep well in the earth without effort or limit. People drank the clean pure water and were nourished and invigorated. But humankind did not leave it at that. Someone eventually fenced the well, charged admission, claimed ownership of the property around it, made laws as to who could come to the well and put locks on the gates. Soon the well belonged to the powerful and the elite. But the water stopped flowing. The thieves were so engrossed in their power systems and ownership that they did not notice the water had vanished. But some dissatisfied people longed for it and searched with great courage until they found where the water bubbled up again. Soon that well suffered the same fate. The spring took itself to yet another place – and this thread winds through the story of humanity. It is a sad story, but the wonder is that the water can be found if one searches.

My clients, and probably you, are on the search. Usually, what quenches our thirst for life and love dries up and we become dissatisfied. Or maybe we have been cordoned off within some fence around a dry well, waiting for a bubbling up that never happens anymore.  Or maybe we have been fenced out from someplace which might have what we need by some powerful elite or thieves. Our angst usually intensifies after we have found our place in society and come to the end of the left-brain logic that makes it such a prison. We feel there is more. But we just can’t get to it.

Many people are like Nathanael who can’t imagine that “more” they crave coming from some  “Nazareth.” Many people fail to find their God-given living water because they are not prepared to search inside, especially in the parts of themselves they disown. Nathanael heard “Jesus of Nazareth” and was sure nothing good could come from there. Jesus looked at Nathanael and saw his heart. This is not always the case, but, as a result, Nathanael quickly looked past his ignorance and scorn and saw who he was meeting, and in that meeting met himself.

The Nazareth within

Psychotherapy is not the only place this happens, of course, but it is one place in which people can begin to explore that “Nazareth” place in themselves, even that place that seems as dead as a stump, and see what might be sprouting.

Most of the time were are looking outward with a face that allows us to fit into our family and society. We’re also looking out because we are afraid of what people might do to us if we don’t! When we look in we often retain the same fearful outlook and just find the elements in us that don’t fit in or don’t make us lovable. The fear we have of others also makes us afraid of what the hidden things in us will do to us if we let them get up into consciousness. In some sense we look at the deep places in us as a “Nazareth” — and what good could come of that? You might not think that way, but a lot of people do. It is easy to hear the rattling of skeletons in our closets. We scorn that Nazareth in us.

During Easter week in 1916, Teilhard de Chardin, the famous Jesuit priest and scientist, was in the middle of the Battle of Dunkirk as a medic. He said as he suffered with the casualties, and as he trembled with the earth when bombs blasted out craters, he felt the Presence of Love being wounded. This would certainly be a strange “Nazareth” in which to meet up with living water! But one of his famous prayers was first prayed at Dunkirk: “I love you, Lord Jesus. You are as gentle as the human heart, as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself.”

That moment when you tasted living water

Not all of us could be compared to a psychological Dunkirk! But we have suffered. We carry the wounds of personal conflict and the corporate memory of all the violence that mars history. It is stuffed into places in our hearts and minds we never want to visit. We also have desires and gifts that have also been relegated to “useless” or “despicable,” since they live in the “Nazareth” we are. It hard to accept the wonder at work in us — to see the wells where the living water irrepressibly bubbles up, and drink it.

The missing keys

The other day I thought I remembered leaving the keys to my office in a door as I went to get something from my car. I went and looked and could not find them — not left in any doorknobs, not in my car, my bag, my desk or anywhere in the office! I began to think I was a fool who had let my keys get stolen by someone who would rob the office later in the night (What good can come out of Nazareth?!). So I sat back and prayed, “Lord please help me find my keys.” I immediately scorned my babyish prayer but stuck with it anyway and retraced my steps. I was back out on the sidewalk when someone called to encourage me. As I stood there talking, I looked down and there were the keys in a very unusual place! Should I really see Jesus loving me via an infantile prayer, through a coincidental phone call, in such a Nazareth? Sure! I am searching for the next place the living water is going to bubble up.

That little example is like what my clients are experiencing as they see into what is buried in them looking for something they know is lost but have little hope of finding and feeling a lot of fear about what will happen if they don’t. The little encounter of Nathanael and Jesus shows the disciple getting a good taste of living water even though he initially had no hope in who Philip had met. He thought Jesus was a nothing and it turned out that Jesus showed him how he was not a nothing. May you have such friends who let your scorn pass and turn around and bless you.

Jesus upended Nathanael’s view of himself by naming the wonder in him, also coming from a Nazareth-like place like him! As a result he saw the wonder in Jesus. When we look in ourselves with sadness or shame, we do well to keep looking. In unexpected places we can find light in our darkness. It is very likely in the sadness and shame we will find Living Water looking for us!

Osheta Moore: When White Supremacy runs the stop sign

I had an odd reaction to a frightening situation the other day. The more I think about it, the more of a parable it becomes.

It was simple, actually. I had struggled to pedal up the steep park path adjacent to Ford Rd.  I got back on my bike after walking a bit, still panting. I slowly rode through the crosswalk on Chamonix. The truck I thought was certainly far enough away to see me was coming up to the stop sign. It slowed but apparently intended to run the stop sign, as usual. I yelled. The driver stopped whatever else he was doing and braked in time for me to push myself off his hood. I wobbled over to the far curb, gave a look back and almost toppled onto the sidewalk. I was furious. The driver paused then sped away.

In her book, Dear White Peacemakers Osheta Moore, who will speak more later, quotes a psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer, talking about my initial response:

“When you experience anger, it’s almost impossible not to feel like a victim, for virtually all anger can be understood as a reaction to what feels threatening or unfair to you.” — like when you expect personal care and community spirit to protect you in the sidewalk but someone runs the stop sign. Seltzer goes on, “In such instances, you feel unjustifiably attacked, taken advantage of, betrayed, violated or powerless. And your anger, essentially retaliatory in nature, serves the function of restoring to you a sense of righteousness and control, even dignity and respect.”

It is a steep road to no condemnation

True. We get angry. Then other feelings kick in. After I composed myself, I rode the short way I had left to go and my anger turned to shame. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what happened. They would say, “You should be more careful! (Stop trusting people in any way).” And I thought they might think but not say, “You might be too old to be left alone on a bike.” And one or two might say, “Did you go over and ball the guy out? You just gave him a dirty look from behind your sunglasses?” A religious voice got in there, too, “Why are you upset? You’re fine.” (Or maybe that was my mother).

I had to pause my self-condemnation to shout, basically, “The truck almost killed you!” I had another near-death experience and I condemned myself for not preventing it and for even feeling something about it. I hope you don’t do such things, but I suspect you do.

Parables don’t have morals, but the lesson I get out of this one is, “If the truck almost kills you in the crosswalk, it is not your fault.” I am prone to react as if I should be some god-like being impervious to assault and responsible to prevent evil. I’m not. A lot of Christians think they should never get angry and go directly to the shame. Sometimes I am angry and do not sin by condemning myself for what made me angry.

Osheta Moore helps us get to Beloved

My story and similar stories got applied in various ways this week.

  • If Bill Cosby is released on a technicality it doesn’t mean you lied about what he did to you or your abusers have a right to abuse.
  • If your boss installed self-interested leaders to compete for your power in the office it doesn’t mean you are a terrible executive.
  • If your wife keeps telling you you are a loser, it does not necessarily mean her feelings should be your feelings.
  • And, if you feel like every time you open your mouth about what you think or feel in this polarized society someone is likely to hold you in contempt, that does not put them in charge of your destiny.

“There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. We are free from the laws of sin and death.”

That last truck brings me back to Osheta Moore. Thanks to the Jesus Collective for introducing us to this interesting new prophet among the many writers who rushed to their keyboards while Derek Chauvin’s case wound its way through the system.  I think she may be the best to blossom from all that sowing.

She is certainly taking on the question, “What does one do when the truck runs the stop sign?” It is a live question for Black and other people of color living under White Supremacy enacted by slave-creating capitalism. That semi’s a proven killer. I hope that truck is becoming a reality which more and more “white” people can see, as well, since it is about to run over their souls every day if they don’t dodge it (or don’t stop driving it!). OK, the parable may be getting a bit too stretched. But we are all threatened by this evil construct. Osheta Moore speaks to the White peacemakers to whom her book is written about the anger and shame associated with it:

“I don’t call anyone racist. I think for too many of you, you have worked hard to heal from toxic self-identities: fat, stupid, ugly, poor, lazy, not enough, too much. I began this book with an exploration of Belovedness and practices to help you settle into your Belovedness because I believe that only when you know you are Beloved – simply because you are human – only from that grounded place can you do anti-racism. If you believe you are a racist or you take on all the emotional, historical, and societal baggage that comes with that word, then you’re prone to unhelpful thought patterns like “I’m the worst” and “What’s the point, I can’t change anything on my own” and “I can’t believe my White pastor, friends, family members are still stuck in racist thinking, thank God I’m not like them.” None of these help you be a peacemaker.

When I think about your fragility in anti-racism, I choose to think of it as a fear response. Are you like my daughter who uses humor or bravado to deflect? Are you like my middle boy who gets quiet, retreats, and stonewalls? Are you like my oldest who ignores his anxious energy by barreling ahead, running from the trigger?”

Condemning oneself or others or absorbing condemnation will not solve the problem.  Truth in love, yes. (That’s terrifying enough!). Condemnation, no. (Can’t/won’t deal). When the White Supremacy truck threatens to run me over I blame the truck. Even if I was in the way, there was never a good reason not to love me.

We needed Osheta’s book a long time ago

I wish Osheta Moore had written her book a long time ago. I wish Gerry West and I had written it (Gerry was Circle of Hope’s first Black pastor in 1997). We were writing in terms of white repentance and black forgiveness as a way into reconciliation. We couldn’t see the way into community without those rare actions. We were probably too focused on relationships when the real truck was the system. I wish the CERJ group I trained with had written it (Christians Enacting Reconciliation and Justice); they were mediators and negotiators, Black, Hispanic, Korean and White. We might have been too focused on technique when we needed mercy. I wish the Damascus Road trainers had written it: the Mennonite trainers and consultants who pioneered anti-racism awareness and deeply influenced our foundation as an anti-racist church. They were probably too focused on curriculum and filled with good, old middle PA shame. We’ve all grown a lot over the years. When Gwen and I first named our conviction anti-racism, we usually quickly added, “That’s a project we will probably die trying to complete.”

Members of Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, marched through Center City late Saturday into early Sunday morning looking for recruits.

And here we go. Donald Trump is still unleashing a powerful defense of the White Supremacy on which the U.S. is founded and with which we are all infected, even the Beloved Community, the church. Osheta Moore stares right back at it, standing on the Sermon on the Mount and teaching its third way between the polarities of the world:

“Jesus teaches that those who try to save their lives will lose them and those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Anti-racism peacemaking is an invitation to interrogate your defenses, know your fear responses, and respond with nonviolence. White peacemaker, my prayer is you’ll do this nonviolent work within yourself, first by calling yourself a Beloved and then by acknowledging your fragility. Fragility needs to be an idea that’s neutralized. We all have our fragilities….

What would it be like to know, White Peacemaker, that you have emotional tools and reserve to attend to all the uncomfortable feelings that anti-racism brings up? You see, of all the most grounded and generous White Peacemakers I’ve encountered, they have all done one thing: they have, through therapy, dialogue, spiritual direction, meditation, and study, embraced self-compassion and cultivated self-awareness. They have practices that center them and have loving accountability. They’ve laid down the swords and shields that belong to their inner critic and inner skeptic. They’re not thinking of anti-racism as a battle; they are anti-racism peacemakers who engage with curiosity and mercy.”

That’s good theology and generous relating! I still think standing with Jesus grounded in the Sermon on the Mount is the best hope I can offer the world. Being and building the Beloved Community and pushing into the darkness with light together is the deep, deep work the church does in alliance with everyone about to get run over and with anyone ashamed of how meager their resources appeared when death rolled up.

Assert right-brain solutions to left-brain problems — like Jesus

Life caught in the clutches of the left-brain world

Several of my psychotherapy clients this year have, again, taught me to take the Bible seriously. I keep pondering this verse when they are talking to me: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:58 NET)

This assertion scandalizes the people with whom Jesus is arguing. The theory-bound, principle-following, control-oriented Jewish leaders of the time, who, in their own way, reflect the power-mad, bureaucratic Roman Empire which dominates them, are flabbergasted by this no-account Rabbi. He has powers beyond their imagination, he reframes their history in a way they can’t see and, most of all, he lives at home in love with a sense of his endless uniqueness over which they have no sway. Their arguments still seem comical and sad in the face of the Lord’s “I am.”

My clients, my comrades in the church and everyone, really, are caught up in a similar drama. The pharisees of our day are winning. The sense and assertion of our own endless, unique “I am” is very hard to hold onto, even when it feels “right there” and ready to grasp.

Left brain ascendancy

I wrote about Jesus teaching us to have our own sense of “I am” last year: I matter; The terrible, wonderful I AM. But lately I have so much more evidence to support my intuition since I became an Iain McGilchrist fanboy!

I have just been schooled by McGilchrist’s masterpiece The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World [Summary in The Atlantic]. In that book he makes a fascinating case for why the world works like it does these days, dominated by the limitations of the “left brain.” As a result, the church, in general, and my clients, in particular, are struggling against significant odds to come to a sense of their true selves. We’re having a hard time having a whole-brain experience of life in the here and now. We seem to have lost our appreciation for our intuition about life beyond our present understanding. I applied some of my new insights a couple of weeks ago in my post Is there anything that does not meet the “eye” of the left brain?

McGilchrist is having similar troubles. He “admitted in private that his text is heavily religious in inspiration. Yet if this were highlighted, he warned, many scholars would not bother to read it” (First Things). We are all under significant left-brain/scientific/
bureaucratic/legalistic/materialistic pressure all the time. We often try to find ourselves within a left-brain view of self and that world that is not big enough for what we experience and intuit.

In the conclusion of his book, McGilchrist summarizes how the “master,” the right brain, has been betrayed by her partner, the left. Here is a taste:

The right hemisphere, the one that believes, but does not know, has to depend on the other, the left hemisphere, that knows, but doesn’t believe. It is as though a power that has an infinite, and therefore intrinsically uncertain, potential Being needs nonetheless to submit to be delimited – needs stasis, certainty, fixity – in order to Be. The greater purpose demands the submission. The Master needs to trust, to believe in, his emissary, knowing all the while that that trust may be abused. The emissary knows, but knows wrongly, that he is invulnerable. If the relationship holds, they are invincible; but if it is abused, it is not just the Master that suffers, but both of them, since the emissary owes his existence to the Master. [Lecture on Youtube]

He has a lot of science and history to back up his conclusion. I offer a snippet to note how similar his argument sounds to the one Jesus is having with his detractors in John 8. Jesus is God delimited, submitted, and risking trust. The quote also sounds like an argument many of us are having in our minds and hearts about how to be incarnate as a being with endlessness built into all we experience.

Approach the left-brain world as I AM

Two experiences this week pointed out some common challenges we are all facing as we bump up against the domination of left-brain thinking.

I watched members of the Floyd family last week and marveled at their adaptation to the crazy world of law and media into which they decided to enter. How they became spokespeople for the worldwide movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd has been painful, if inspiring, to see.

As they spoke at the sentencing hearing for Derek Chauvin, talk about justice by the court and media was reduced to minutia about sentencing guidelines and chances for further justice when the case goes to another territory of the bureaucracy about which no normal person really knows. The judge made a point to say that emotion was not going to be part of his judgment, as if to say the outrage and grief of the world did not finally put a murderous policemen in jail. He pointedly diminished the courageous vulnerability of the family as they faced a worldwide audience and an abusive legal system into which racism is deeply baked.

I think many of us who care about eradicating racism face similar problems with the left-brain problems that need right-brain solutions.  The consultants guiding our church’s leadership team through a process of racial awareness has spawned a host of conversations about how this new way to monetize equality has invaded almost every setting we inhabit, at least those who work in a bureaucracy that can be ignorantly racist. Analysis and principle-driven reorientation offers a left-brain solution to a left-brain problem — as if a bureaucracy could gain some self-awareness and a better abstraction would right its evil ship. Jesus was using the circumstance in which he found himself with his characteristic sense of being “I am.” He was present. He refused to relate on their terms.

I had several conversations with clients and acquaintances who do not intend to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and its variants. I realized my condo tower, mostly inhabited by Black people, is not lifting the requirement for masks because many people are not vaccinated and don’t intend to be. Twenty-three states have vaccinated less than half the eligible population. In the Congo there is no vaccine to be had at all, I heard last week from MCC workers.

Talk about health is reduced to suspicion about the genetic tinkering of the vaccine.  I am amazed at the research people have done! I continue to find a mistrust of science I have not seen, first-hand, until recently. I mistrust science because it trusts itself so completely. But many people mistrust it because they know it does not love them. Black families in Tuskegee were used as experimental animals and many people feel they dare not forget that. I heard, “What’s to prevent them from using the whole population as an experiment with an untried methodology?” My clients show some breathtaking logic as they are constantly make arguments which make them more and more anxious, trapped in their immanent frame.

When churches, not just ours, are considering how to “reopen” now that restrictions are lifted, they are often thrust into a left-brain argument about justice and equality in yet another way. What about the people who are not vaccinated? Can you really insist that someone get get the shot to be accepted? These endless arguments we have are often subject to the limitations of the left brain. Wisdom is not respected. Community is not an instinct. Love seems unreasonable, since the left brain is only about rationality. Jesus faced some thorny questions all the time, it seems. He usually answered them by being someone acting in grace as he was speaking. He was never a theory.

Isle of Skye

Asserting I AM

Jesus keeps teaching us about how to be ourselves in the grace of God in the face of a world in which the powers mostly believe in themselves. I think the pendulum might swing back, as it has in the past, toward right-brain awareness. And I hope the church, presented by us and millions around the world, will push that pendulum hard by being ourselves in truth and love. Iain McGilchrist seems like a good person with whom to team up in that cause.

He lives on the Isle of Skye off the western coast of Scotland — very trendy, but also still off the beaten path. I imagine him as a tweedy philosopher lighting his pipe with a twig from the fire.  I think his sensibilities reflect Robert Louis Stevenson’s lyrics to the Skye Boat Song:

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Like I think McGilchrist does, my clients often have an old, unnamable tune emanating from their right brain that gives them a feeling that something has been lost. They are on the boat to someplace unknown looking for their lost selves when they come to therapy. They soon recall how their soul imagines sailing over the horizon to someplace better. They can’t help it.

As soon as they let their imagination sail, their left brain often kicks in with innumerable obstacles to why they can’t embark. These days it is all about the “economy” (a left-brain invention assumed to form the parameters of possibility). Then it is all about their own incapacity (often scientifically verified on the internet). Then it might be their situation (racial or education challenged) and their unbelief. The last one is probably primary.

Like the Pharisees degrading the uniqueness of the Son of God, so many dear people I know degrade their own uniqueness as a child of God. Unlike Jesus, they do not matter-of-factly assert it and confront all the other challenges from that basis. Their brain is out of balance with their out-of-balance society. But they know that something more is possible; they can feel it, and they press on.