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Archive for April, 2007

Whatever you are doing, do the best work you can. Work as if you were working for God, and not for other people. (Paul’s letter to the Colossians)

Today, in a graduate-level class at a local “Christian” university, a professor espoused the use of “The Serenity Prayer” as a therapy technique. Specifically, he praised a client of his for accepting her trauma-related anxiety and realizing that she simply won’t be able to drive or maintain her previous job as a result of that anxiety. A major breakthrough, he said excitedly.

 I couldn’t help myself. Really, I asked? Have you considered utilizing cognitive behavioral techniques? Systematic desensitization? Relaxation techniques? No, he responded, there’s nothing that can be done about anxiety or the nightmares she’s having. She just needs to pray, and accept that her life has changed. Do you know about the nightmare study, I asked? She prayed about it, he said. She’s accepted it. It’s a turning point. I wanted to throw up.

 Disclosure time: I’m a Christian, and I believe in the power of prayer. I am also a therapist, and a scientist. I am unalterably committed to evidenced-based treatments and the scientist-practitioner model.

Rant time:

 Prayer, while therapeutic, is not therapy. If you want to pray with someone, wonderful. Great. Go right ahead. But call it a prayer session, not a therapy session, and by all means do not charge for it. To charge someone for prayer, and pass it off as therapy, isto be a cheat and a charlatain.

 If you are going to call yourself a therapist, you have an ethical commitment to not do harm. So, do no harm… and beyond that, don’t waste your clients’ time. If you’re not helping them make progress toward their goals… find them a therapist who can. This is bare-minimum ethics, people. Bare. Minimum.

Now, God made us with brains. I firmly believe that the God who gave us these brains fully intended that we use them.  We’ve also been landed in the middle of an amazing age of evidence-based therapeutic practice… and we absolutely must take advantage of that. To have the access that we do to good, evidence-based therapeutic techniques and not utilize them is to sell our work and our clients short. It is unethical. If we are going to charge people for the time we spend with them, we have an obligation to provide the very best services possible. A therapist who does not utilize best practices is like a medical doctor who still uses leeches to treat the common cold. Would you go to such a doctor? Would you consider them an ethical provider of services, or a fraud? Right. Why, then,  is there any lower standard for therapists?

If you are a therapist: utilized evidence-based best practices. If you don’t know what these are, click here  for a generalized consumer-oriented primer.

If you call yourself a Christian, and a therapist: consider carefully what you do, and the reflection it sheds on all who share the name Christian. Are you being ethical? Is what you’re doing really therapy, or merely therapeutic? Are you working carefully and providing the best services possible? Not only do your professional ethics expect that of you, your God does as well. Don’t disgrace the name of Christ by using it as an excuse for shoddy work. Repent, if you need to. Pray about it. And then get to work!  

If you are not a Christian, and are a therapist: allow me to apologize for the shortcomings of those who share my beliefs.  There are scientifically sound Christian-therapists out there. Hopefully, someday, there will be a lot more of us.

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It’s been a long, loud day at the end of an even longer, louder week. There has been much talking, much working, more talking, more working… and of course, in the background, the ever-chattering background of the news: 32 dead…NASA shooting… mother sells daughter for sex…drug ring… bombing… didn’t intend to kill… Columbine still raw… chatter, chatter, chatter. My car has become a haven of chatter, compliments of Pimsleur and my increasing desire to learn Spanish: “What would the woman say if she wanted to respond that she is not Misses Jones, she is Mrs. Jones? No soy la Senorita Jones. Soy la Senora Jones.” (So glad I’ve learned *that* phrase… ). At work, there’s chatter. At home, more chatter. From the cell phone and the house phone and the tv and the radio and the cd player and the mp3s. I came home tonight and turned everything off. Everything. The loudest things I’ve heard all night are Scooter snoring and the ever-present home of the aquarium. And now the quiet little clicking of my keyboard.

 Silence is a blessing. It is healing. There is something about just being in the silence, being able to hear ones own thoughts and feel the presence of God. God is in the silence, the quiet whisper in the dark silence of 4am. He is here. And he and I can talk, within the silence, where I can finally hear. I’m going to seek out silence more often. I need it.

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They say there’s a place
where dreams have all gone
They never said where
but I think I know
It’s miles through the night
just over the dawn
on the road that will take me home
I know in my bones
I’ve been here before
The ground feels the same
though the land’s been torn
I’ve a long way to go
The stars tell me so
on this road that will take me home

Love waits for me ’round the bend
Leads me endlessly on
Surely sorrows shall find their end
and all our troubles will be gone
And I’ll know what I’ve lost
and all that I’ve won
when the road finally takes me home

And when I pass by
don’t lead me astray
Don’t try to stop me
Don’t stand in my way
I’m bound for the hills
where cool waters flow
on this road that will take me home

Love waits for me ’round the bend
Leads me endlessly on
Surely sorrows shall find their end
and all our troubles will be gone
And we’ll know what we’ve lost
and all that we’ve won
when the road finally takes me home
I’m going home


[Mary Fahl, “Going Home”]

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[Please read the following with this caveat: it is a draft composed in a single sitting, without much by way of refinement or editing. Feel free to read, comment, and above all question.

I was recently asked to answer following, about God. It’s a good question, and one that bears answering. I think it’s a particularly pointed question, what with today being Palm Sunday and all. And if we don’t want to be like the fair-weather followers who were spreading palm branches and clothing on the road before Christ on Sunday, but ready to crucify him with equal passion by Friday, it is a question that must be answered.

“What about him is compelling, or inspires you to worship or follow him?”

First, the innate desire to worship something. People, all people and in all cultures, desire to worship SOMETHING. Wherever there are people, there are belief-systems and deities of some sort whether through formalized religion or through strongly-held beliefs and causes to which people dedicate their lives. As Jung would say, there is a God-archetype. Everything else will be framed in light of this.

 But of course, the real question is not “Why worship?” but “Why worship this God?” Why choose this road, the road of sacrifice, the road of becoming less and dying to self, whatever that means and whatever it costs, when it’s so antithetical to the pleasure we all desire on some level.

 Before getting in too far, I’d like to clarify the assumptions I’m going to be working with. In depth discussion of the rationale behind these choices will have to be saved for another post.

1.)  The Scriptures, as originally given, are literally inspired and true. This does not excuse them from the problems in transmission that afflict all documents of their age, but they nevertheless maintain that quality underneath the transmission difficulties.

2.) God is.

3.) God is powerful, and without equal. The corollary of this is that whatever power/ability the satan exerts in the world occurs only within the will of and by the authority God.

4.) God is neither moral nor ethical, because both morality and ethics imply choice and God does not/cannot change.

5.) God, being God, does not necessarily “play by our rules.” This is God’s sandbox, and he makes the rules rather than the other way around. Beyond that, we’re mortal and bound by our mortality and temporality…  God does not share our limitations.

Now, it’s one thing to worship the God of ressurection, of healing, of spring flowers and gentle rains and joy and freedom from sin. That’s an easy God to worship, because he provides pleasure and goodness, and like the good behavioral creatures that we are we like pleasure and good things. There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s great.

 But we all know that that’s not the whole story– there’s a crucifixion to go with that resurrection, sickness and death to go with the healing, winter death to go with spring flowers. In short, that there is both good and bad in the world we inhabit. So what then? 

I am the Lord, and there is no other. Beside me, there is no other God. I will gird you, though you have not known me, that all may know from the rising to the setting of the son that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. It is I the Lord who does all these things. (From Isaiah 45)

This is not a very cuddly God. This is the God of the mountains, so terrifying that those who encounter him  say things like “Do not let God speak to us, lest we die!” This is definitely the God of Job, who would  allow a blameless man to lose everything on earth he held dear to demonstrate that he will, in fact, follow God without those things… and who would respond to his servant’s complaint with series of long speeches to the general effect of “Are you God, or am I?” 

If (1.) is true, then this aspect of God must be accepted as well, and not only accepted but reconciled with the more comforting statements like “God is love” or “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  This is my proposition: Properly understood, “I am the Lord… I…create evil.” is just as comforting as being lead by still waters and quiet pastures. That the God of the resurrection is innately compatible with the God who allowed his son to die.

Shall the potter be considered equal with the clay, that what is made should say to its maker “He did not make me!” or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (From Isaiah 29)

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and I will speak to you there. Then I went down the the potter’s house, and he was there making something on his wheel. But the clay vessel he created was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel; as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O Israel, deal with you as this potter does with his clay?” (From Jeremiah 18)

God is the potter. I am compelled to worship him because I am the clay in his hands. And I find it comforting that however many times the pot might have to be remade before it is as it should be, the potter has a plan for good. God is one who has a plan… and all the parts within that plan work toward accomplishing it, however they may seem to us at the time. God does not say there will be no suffering, but that he will be with us in the suffering. Jesus does not offer no-yoke, but rather his yoke. It is not that we will not have to enter the valley, but rather that we do not need to fear the valley because God remains with us even in the darkest of times. Perhaps more than anything else, the presence of God in those moments compels me to worship. Also compelling, that God allows us to question him… to doubt, to fear, to be angry with the dark times when they come. We may or may not receive the answers we crave, but we are heard by one who can commiserate with the pain we experience, and are given the dual reassurances of plan and presence in the moments they matter most. As C.S. Lewis would say, pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world… the pain may be unpleasant but it is where the presence of God is… and it is where we learn who he is and who we may be.

Behold, I am with you. (God)

It is, for me, that which is most compelling. I surrender and sacrifice and follow for many reasons, but Christ and love and presence are what captivates me and compels me to continue following this God whether or not I always understand or like what happens in his world. In the end I don’t have to, however much I might wish to. Whether or not I understand it all, God works in the darkness… and shows himself most clearly and often in those moments where he seems to have been absent for so long. God delights in toppling our understandings and turning everything as we know it on its head. Thus, he brought a nation out of an infertile man and his old wife, the savior of the world out of a group of brow-beaten slaves, one of the greatest miracles of all time out of one of the worst deaths ever devised by man…  And this too captivates me, this Jewish rabbi who touched the untouchables, loved the unlovable, and brought together the most diverse elements of his culture to show mercy to all of them while they try to figure out what they’re doing in the same room.  What choice is there but to worship, while my own world gets turned on its head once again? There is a plan and a purpose to it, albeit one I don’t see, and God is here. It is enough, more than enough, and almost more than I can bear… and in light of it all, I am compelled to worship.

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In Volume III, I’m going to switch to highlighting the most common or most interesting short terms from March 2007… how people found this blog: 

An answer about theodicy/death/suffering: 

– Dealing with Death in the Secular Family 

– Biblical response to suffering 

– Suffering in Uganda+God

– God’s response to Job 

– Shall I accept good from God? quote

– How people react to death

– God asked Job: Where were you when I created?

– Questioning God and suffering

– Psychology: Don’t think about death 

Aquarium Info…

– Midas Blenny

– Blue tuxedo urchin

– Tang Tank

– Coral 

– Neon goby culture

 Answers:

– Why does friend interrupt conversations? (Maybe they’re concerned about not being heard?)

– Do people overuse the telephone?  (Most definitely)

 – Is health psychology a bad thing? (No……)

My favorite authors

– “Robert Alter”

– “Thorkild Jacobs0n”

And a few other interesting, random things

– Everything was between you and God, never (I’d LOVE to know what this searcher was looking for. If you’re that person, and you happen to come back… )

– I was glad/I was glad when they said to me

– Earthen Vessel (Congratulations! You found me!)

– Shiny Pink (Oddly, a significant number of people find my blog this way. Any ideas why?)

– Bringing people around wine

– Prayer is the best way to interact

– Things you don’t hear in church

Conclusions this month:

I should probably permalink Reef Central and WetWebMedia at some point…

I definitely need to write a formal theodicy post in the near future. It won’t likely be in the next month or two, but expect it to be forthcoming.

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