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dissonance |ˈdisənəns|: a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.That's it really. It's what I do. I create it on purpose as a clinician--a counselor. It is what makes people wake to reality and see how they contribute to their own chaos. It becomes a cathartic and challenging experience well suited for change. I create it accidentally as a husband, friend, son, brother, and believer. I AM: 32 years old; a counselor; a husband to a beautiful woman; a believer in The Way; and most of the time clueless to my own dissonance that I create.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Overwhelmed

It’s nine hours home from Wilmore. It’s not a quick kind of ride. I have the original Nano that cannot store the entirety of my music library, which in all honesty is not that extensive. I rarely update it anyway and end up listening to the same old stuff; however, this trip home led me to explore some high school era fads, namely Five Iron Frenzy. Ahhh, my ska days…another desperate attempt for me to be both cool and Christian. Charley and I sing to the top of our lungs more reminiscing and being playful than reflecting on the lyrics. Then we get to “Where the Zero meets the Fifteen.” The song narrates a tipping point moment for its author who begins to realize the gravity of desperation around him and his own incompetence to evoke lasting change. I guess I began to identify with the music because I had to start fighting back tears.

I am learning that the counselor’s chair is a hard one in which to sit. I am charged with sifting through the pieces of a lot of broken lives. My original conceptualization, during college as I first started this vocation, was one that foresaw my “saving” people from their heartaches. I was voted “most likely to ‘save’ the world” in high school after all. So far, this vision has been shattered. Instead, I find myself crawling up beside another bent-over individual searching for the missing pieces and hoping that in some small way I am a help. I found myself crying out with the singer and asking God what it is that I contribute, really? The lyrics go,

I put my face down in my hands,

water wells inside my eyes.

What do I have to give them?

Does it matter if I try?

I can't stand to see you suffer,

I try to intellectualize,

a formula to end your pain,

it doesn't work,

God knows I've tried.

I want to try and save the world,

but it never goes that way.

God I don't know what to do,

down at Colfax and Broadway.

I don’t intend to be a wet blanket; my purpose is not to be a discouragement, but rather to express this deep yearning to meet the needs of my clients. I want them to see the love of Christ in my service to them, but I also hope for them to be made whole. I don’t have the answers for them. Most of the time I’m struggling to come up with a treatment plan that is efficacious. In my friendships, it’s the same story just with a different twist. I give a very imperfect kind of love. I offer brokenness in exchange for brokenness. It is not despair that I am evoking, but rather, it is a realization that what they need does not come from me. This would be a disconcerting idea if what I was hoping for was to be a form of salvation; however, this is not mine, my family’s, my friend’s, nor my client’s hope. Our hope is not in what I have to offer anyway; it is way beyond me. The reality is that just like the author of the song, all I have to offer is “thirteen cents and a broken pen.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yearning

I admit it. I am a Christmas nut case. If I could put up a Christmas tree in October, I would. Something about the excitement of waiting for Christmas day truly stirs my soul. There is an electric feeling as everyone around you is decorating and preparing for all the celebrations, parties, and community events. Gingerly, I admit that I love even the cheesiest of Christmas traditions. Bring on “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Elf,” and the twenty-four hour Christmas radio stations I say. This is not a popular perspective in seminary circles because of the march against the commercialization of Christmas, and in reality, I also agree that sometimes it feels like the Christmas story is so mixed up that one cannot distinguish between magic elves and the greatest condescension that ever occurred—God made flesh.

Growing up Southern Baptist, I had never heard the term Advent before coming to graduate school, but experiencing this practice and the rhythmic motions of the church calendar has developed a depth to my experience I had not before encountered. It has taught me that this season’s origins promote a time to sit in the anticipation of our salvation, which is culminated in the birth pains of the incarnation. And yes, we sometimes get too caught up in the commercialization, sure; but the bigger concern is without it, what do we anticipate? Not Calvary, not yet, anyway. Easter will have its day, but now, it is time to celebrate Advent.

I really enjoy the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emanuel” because in its verses it proclaims the answer to this question and truly articulates the spirit of the season. It’s somber tone does not mix well with likes of “Baby, Its Cold Outside,” but instead, it intermingles the feelings of both sadness and hope. In its verses, one can discern Advent’s true purpose—yearning. The song proclaims “Israel that mourns in lonely exile here,” which speaks to our precarious posture of knowing and practicing the new kingdom’s tenets in a world that does not except it wholly. The church are a people that proclaim hope in the midst of suffering. We declare that which has not come to its full fruition—the eschaton. And so we wait. We wait yearning and looking to the day when Christ returns and the culmination of our faith is fulfilled.

Meanwhile, this Advent season, let me encourage you to slow down and reflect. Let us anticipate and look forward to promises not yet fulfilled as Israel and all of creation once did. Let the excitement grow. Anticipate. Hope. Yearn.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Arrogance

I was talking with someone the other day about training I was attending the following day for Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). After mentioning the title of it, she instantly seemed to discount it with a flippant remark of “I hope whoever is teaching it has kids.” I instantly got defensive, as I do not have children yet my profession is working predominantly with children and parents by facilitating and promoting healthy parenting skills. I told her that hers was an ignorant perspective. Now I could go off for quite some time about this perspective because I face it quite often. By experience, I have met too many parents who were really bad at parenting to believe that it is a magical and inherent trait that comes naturally through childbirth. I do believe that the experience of the role of parent will carry lessons that will augment my therapy and further my empathy for the stresses that it carries. In truth, I was offended and spoke out of turn; and I will rest in the reality that I have been able to help many parents with troubled kids who desperately needed my assistance.

What interests me about this interchange is the measure of arrogance that comes from our rigid perspectives. I am right and they are wrong. Not only personally and professionally does this pride seem to creep into our lives, but also in our spiritual and theological perspectives. This discussion often leads to a digression into the abyss of relativism. My intention is to avoid that error. I do not purpose that absolute Truth does not exist; but rather that our grasp on it is tenuous. The nuances of a fallen creation reach out of our past and muddle our perspectives leaving us insecure and defensive. We tense at the first signs of challenge to our worldview. “How could they be a democrat! That is unChrisitian!”; “How could someone believe in Calvinism!”; or “Parenting is a skill set; stop embracing that ignorant perspective!” These come from a place of fear and insecurity; as though someone else’s non-adherence to our perspective somehow challenges our very identity.

I think that this is the key—identity. Fallibility is a difficult and unstable reality that causes us to build up our defenses with the paper mache coverings of truth (note the lower case t). We do this to protect the “truth” or reality that we create to feel secure. I really enjoy Volf’s take on this “truth” in his work Exclusion and Embrace. For Volf, truth in light of “pervasive non-innocence” is an impossible task. Neither the offended nor the offender can see from the perspective of Truth (note the big T). God alone has this perspective. If we are called to seek after Truth, then are we charged with an impossible task? In this life, I think yes. Our faith is our abiding in Christ. We hope. We must let our false coverings fall to the floor to embrace the reality of our limitations. The arrogance that we hold, to ensure the safety of our false realities, only serves to sever the relationships that we hold dear.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Apart

I had one of those dreams when you are back at high school the other night. It is a disconcerting prospect to say the least. Most of the time these consist of my having to return to take a class that is required or finding out that I have not been attending a class and there is a test I must take. Generally, dreams like this are incredibly anxiety provoking. I always wonder why these take place in my high school. I have gone to both an undergrad and graduate schools that have, academically, been much more strenuous. However, there is something about those formative years that leaves a mark.

If I were to characterize my early years with a word, it would have to be loneliness. Of course, there was the constant exertion to ‘fit in’ or be socialized; however, for me this experience was only the superficial coverings of a deeper struggle. This loneliness penetrated deep. Friendships, social acceptance, and even girlfriends seemed only to serve as a means of deferring this feeling—a distraction from the distance I felt. It never cured me. As I have matured and let go of the social pressure to be accepted, my relationships have become more satisfying, but even still, this feeling remains today. As a seminary student, I have discovered community, a deeper appreciation for scripture, and perspective on my Christian walk; but this feeling of distance shades every new experience. In my spiritual life, loneliness embarrasses me. Surely, there is some deficit or sin that causes this to exist? I recall being told once, in disclosing this shameful feeling, that it was training as a call into ministry—a ministry apart. This perspective enabled me to embrace this as a part of my vocation and calling, but if I am to be honest, loneliness continues to shade my heart no matter the coverings I choose to wear.

There it is! No real resolution or rationale to offer. This separateness is a part of me, and yet I wonder if this is not part of most everyone? If they will allow themselves to quiet their heart before God in complete nakedness without the coverings that enable our comfort and avoidance, then maybe they would discover this experience. Perhaps this is a part of the human condition that we are driven to be known without satisfaction until the eschaton? Maybe this could be why Christ promised the church that he would “be with you always” at the ascension. Why not remind the church of future glory and resurrection? Or wouldn’t the “more than conquerors” scripture reference be more appropriate here? I think that Jesus knew the very personal experience of loneliness. I must embrace this lonely feeling as a call to walk in faith and not in my feeling, no matter its pervasiveness. Perhaps this loneliness is a reminder that we confess in faith the presence of God in our isolation. While we cannot escape the long road ahead, it is a reminder that though we feel we walk it alone, in actuality, we do not.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mourning

Pain, loss, and trauma are our reality. As a therapist, I come in contact with this daily. Woundedness is in no short supply at least in my experience; and it is the common initiation we all endure as a broken creation. To develop connections in relationship ensures this baptism of pain. With this universal reality, one would assume a level of competence in comforting those who feel its sting; however, this could not be further from the truth. It is said that “sympathy kills,” and this is truth. Nothing re-traumatizes with such acuity as much as the flippant and disconnected comments during a time of loss or pain. “God must have needed him more” or “well, you got to move on” are the platitudes that exude not only our inaptitude for comforting those stricken but also our selfishness in maintaining our own level of comfort. Those whom we can, we avoid. Those whom we can not avoid, we write off with one of these callous comments to put the distance we need between us and their pain.

Yet there is something to be shared here not avoided. We are so agitated, confused, and at a loss with how to handle the pain of another, yet this should be our central purpose as a church body. Christ was known as being “acquainted with grief” which I believe is not limited to his individual trials, but rather it includes the pain of those around him and the entirety of humanity. Are we not supposed to take on this role as his body? Mourning is a sacrament. It is a sacred practice of believers. To avoid it pushes us away from our purpose and cheapens the reality of our experience. It also undermines the very nature of Christ’s ministry that included shedding tears over Lazarus’ death, weeping over Jerusalem’s state, and enduring the sorrow of Gethsemane. We are called to mourn.

Recently, it seems that pain has been introduced to my friends and family—losses that cut to the core of our family or community’s identity. It seems we are faced with the choices of avoidant comfort or mutual sorrow. For me, I embrace sharing this pain with them, because one cannot force hope or faith especially in light of acute pain. The others in our lives must stand beside us and take on that role. We can have hope in the light of our loved one’s hopelessness; we can have faith when our friends cannot believe that God is good; we can stand in the gap when the false foundations of religion crumble to the storm of honest despair.

As tragedy occurs, death creeps into our lives, and unforeseen losses overtake those we love let us not run and hide but rather let us tear our clothes, put dirt on our heads, and beat our chests with mutual sorrow and pain. Let’s suffer with them by mourning and crying out to God the injustices of our world.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Expectations


Last night, Charley and I, with some friends, went to an Alton Brown book signing at a local bookstore. Alton, as we are on a first name basis now, took questions from the crowd and responded in his TV persona’s quirky way for most of the night. As the questions progressed, a girl in restaurant kitchen attire timidly stood to ask for advice as she plans to go on to culinary school. Alton emphatically stated “Don’t go; at least not yet.” Alton’s response could be seen as a little rough; however, the brusque honesty gave way to concern as he explained that college should be her first step. We were a little taken aback as we watched this girl’s expectations crashing on the floor, but watching the interaction between them, we felt redemption as he promised her a job if she completed college. Wow!

I turned twenty-nine two days ago. I have promised myself to forego the dreading of age, to embrace celebrating each of life’s stages, and to avoid the pitfalls of too much self-reflection on my birthday. This book signing was part of my birthday experience, and this witnessed exchange caused me to break my third rule (or ‘Rule #1’, of my Dad’s accounting). I could not help myself from ruminating on life’s expectations. I have always avoided facing those standards because I always set them so high. Like this poor girl, I often find myself lost in the false hope of my “life’s plan.” At twenty-nine, I am only just now beginning my career; and after three and a half years of graduate school, I am still lacking the credentialing that will take me another two and a half years to complete. After all of those obstacles are conquered, I will still be almost at the poverty level of income. Ha!

In terms of vocation and calling, expectations are a poor marker or standard of success. Expectations are void of maturing and ignore the lessons of life. It is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Spiritually, they are themselves the obstacles of a life called by God. A certain income, a status achieved, a level of recognition, or even a ‘righteous’ spiritual goal is a boast that we hold within ourselves the key to life. It is as if we could produce a formative purpose and plan. Expectations are our hopes placed on the what of our life instead of the who. It is a faith in anything but Christ. While I am still tempted to be disconcerted by those leering expectations, I am learning that if my expectations had been met, then my purpose would have been lost. I am thankful that I have encountered a moment like the prospective chef—a tough clarity. With this clarity comes some mourning of my lost expectations, but without them, I am free. Free, indeed!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ambiguity

Choosing schools, for me, was more akin to drawing lottery numbers than a real and intentional search or decision. I was going to go to New Orleans Theological Seminary when Katrina changed my plans for me. Undergrad was just the same. I went to Samford merely because I went to Samford. It was the only school I applied to for some reason. I often feel like I am stumbling into whatever circumstances without any real plans. I have never understood those individuals who were waiting for God’s final say. They look for a neon sign hanging over every encounter they come across that depicts the direction they are to go. I guess I have just missed the boat. All I can think is that I am sorry for those individuals that whip themselves trying to manipulate God to answer their insecurities and fears.

I have come across two verses in my life that have changed me to the core. Only two have really bent and formed me so dramatically. One of these comes from Isaiah and speaks to this very issue. Israel has turned away from God; God is going to bring them back in the usual method; and God’s grace is reaffirmed. Then…there is this odd phrase:

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”

Right or left? This ambiguity is a little uncomfortable for us isn’t it? We want the lighted path. We want to know the mind and will of God. Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian? We follow the path laid out for us—the lamp at our feet. The scriptures have all the answers, like when I need to pick between renting or buying a home here in Wilmore…right? Or maybe "God is not the micro manager” (Meeks, 2010) we are so desperate to make him. I don’t mean to imply that we should cease praying. No, no, no. I do mean that faith is stepping out first and trusting that even with an unfortunate choice God will mold us closer in his image. In the Isaiah passage, the voice is a metaphor borrowed from shepherds, who use to follow their sheep, and recall them when they go out of the way. It is a loving affirmation that the choices we make matter little in light of God’s loving intention for us.

Ambiguity should not be confused with insecurity. This ambiguity that I boast is the most secure I have ever lived. It finally resolves itself in the resignation that the voice affirming my every move is the culmination of my faith. The choices that I am faced with day-to-day serve to give me opportunities to stretch me upward. My rather peculiar and blind stumbling, though hard to watch for many of you, is a beautiful boast in the one calling out behind me. This leaping out can be difficult, but somehow, I find this to be the single most amazing grace in my life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bread and Wine

I was attending a church in support of a friend. He performs by singing in a worship team in a local church whose campus more resembles a regional airport than a church community. Being drawn more to smaller churches nestled into the local community, I must admit approaching this experience with some preconceived notions of a consumer-minded people.

I was not disappointed. The mall-like parking lot was crowded and my wife and I followed the push of humanity through multiple concourses past a bistro-like coffee counter, massive fellowship hall/atrium, a child care facility that would put any other program to shame, and finally into a stadium seated theatre that was already filling to capacity. Popular music played in the background as we took our seats. What ensued was magical. Lights flashed, images paned across the screens as the worship team welcomed all with a Rob Thomas song, and our eyes turned toward the singular speaker who came center stage. The message was compelling—a challenge to us as a church body to live beyond our regrets and see our life through the eyes of God.

You may be able to tell what direction I am going here, but before you nod in agreement or shake with resignation at my lack of relevance let me set the record straight. This church does much to forward the kingdom of God. They embrace and challenge the norms of the church by loving those that have been rejected by most other church communities. Single teen mothers, those who are intelligently disabled, the sexually broken, and others marginalized by society have found a home and acceptance here where other church communities have turned their backs. But…

What followed will guide my discernment. Communion was passed to us in our seats, a medium for taking Eucharist I am familiar with because of my Baptist roots; however, what shocked me was the lack of celebrating it. While I was not expecting a formal liturgy, I was expecting a form of reverence, yet there was no guidance, no mutual sharing, no explanation, no acknowledgement—each to his own purpose. Why all this fuss? This simple form of blessing, bread and wine, carries with it a medium for God’s grace. Some celebrate communion to symbolize, some to memorialize, some to partake, and others to share in Christ’s suffering. No matter your position, this simple act was singled out by Christ to be shared with those who claim this grace. This celebration is what identifies Christ’s church. We are a people of the bread and the wine.

No matter the call to “become all things to all people,” this act is not precluded as our shared confession. Christ’s body has been broken; Christ’s blood has been spilled out on the altar. Our call to relevance, our call to social justice, our call to reach out to those who suffer does not rule out our call to be His people. We must not forsake our identity; we are to embrace this simple calling and blessing. The church must hold both of these pursuits in tension; or better yet, let us celebrate Eucharist as our call to die for others, to suffer with those who suffer, to take up the marginalized, and to further the kingdom of God. Let us do these acts of justice and mercy under the banner of our identity of Christ’s church; lets share this simple blessing of bread and wine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Identity

Fall is such an amazing season. There is a feeling of excitement as the sweltering of summer begins to recede, people come out of their homes to play outside, and from most living rooms on Saturdays the reverberating sounds of cheering crowds and obnoxious sports commentary are filling in all the gaps. While I love football season, something in me has changed since this strange obsession has taken over. Perhaps it is staleness in the disillusionment that Georgia will ever actually be a contender for a BCS title; or it’s the realization that what drives us, as a people, is an inherent lacking. To what end do we invest ourselves so intently on identifying with a sports team? Such passion is displayed that dogma is more associated with winning seasons than our freedom or God’s sovereignty. But why? Why would we be drawn so readily to this identity?

It is so easy. Our colors, slogans, fight songs, and ‘history’ are already outlined for us with little to no real commitment or suffering. A losing season simply means withdrawing from sport debates or avoiding wearing our team’s logo until it can be done with only minor scrutiny. There is little to no cost for us. However, this is only a short-term diversion. When the sounds of competition quiet, what we discover is that the lack we were trying so desperately to fill remains and has grown during our little distraction.

Who are we as a people? Christ has called us to a higher vision of community and belonging. First, he has called us into community with himself. We are caught up into Trinity—the very nature of belonging. From that relationship, we find our identity and hope. Yet, this identity costs us dearly. It is a wrestling with the character of God, which, like Jacob, causes us pain. This mutual suffering that we share gives us what we are so desperately trying to find. In this relationship, we are led to our deaths on the cross that has been revealed in Christ. Second, from this relationship we discover true community among ourselves. We do not all know the same slogans, share common colors, or even speak the same language; however, our voices are sonorously intermingled and rise in the same mournful yet hopeful song—“come, come, Emmanuel.” Finally, our identity is founded on our modeling the character of God to a world that has grown deaf to His voice. No longer should we squander in shame with what Christ has honored us—a cross.

Perhaps, we are innocent in our obsessive sports associations; however, I would venture to assert that it is a minor symptom to a more devastating truth. We are lost seeking identity in all but what we are created to be. We chant our mantras trying to drown out the sound of God calling us to be the church in community. I look forward to the day that the sleeper awakes and discovers her true beauty—the church whose identity is finally caught up in the love of God and each other. Though you should be warned! This identity is costly. This identity will cost you everything.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dichotomy

Last time I was at my parents, I spent some time picking through my old closet that is currently housing anything from wedding items to soft air guns I bought on a whim in college. While musing on some of the oddities, I happened across a painting I had made in my high school art class. It was really quite disturbing. Staring back at me was an attempt at a self-portrait. I guess I had thought myself quite the symbolist. I had drawn “me” divided into two halves—one side evil, with fire in the eye and all, and one side good, complete with kitschy scripture quoting. Bear in mind that at this time I was beginning my spiritual journey and early Christian walk; however, even then I had come to feel tension in the paradox of “Christian” living. While I no longer believe I can express that sentiment in water color, the reality is, I still feel that tension now in my life.

A desire to meet some need in my life and behavior that does not get me there—those pressures metaphorically pull me apart. Paul writes with authority on this polarity. “I do what I don’t want to do” Isn’t this just silly? Why am I such a fool? On thinking on it, it is an attempt to gain some measure of control. I desire and need intimacy, but in a lame attempt to secure it, I try and control my relationships. Control is the opposite of relational intimacy. At the heart of it must come trust and resignation to allow the other into our lives. In my relationship with God, this tension plays out like a tragedy. I have drunk the proverbial poison of my own attempts of “grace” and caused the very separation I was trying to avoid. It is the most devastating use of irony that we employ in our life’s narrative. Taking my own road, I quickly find myself lost. Instead of marital intimacy, I find mistrust; instead of supportive community, I find social isolation; instead of service in love, I find I am trying to be served through manipulation; instead of righteous living, I find myself defending sin by claiming entitlement to ‘happiness.’ What a crock!

As a counselor, my job is to promote my client’s welfare by ‘reality testing’ and promoting ‘rational living’; but the reality is that rationality only gets you part of the way down the right road. Resignation gets you all the way there. I do not mean to promote resignation by way of apathy, but rather, I am promoting a letting go of control. Ultimately, at heart, there is where our roads to contentment diverge to no real satisfactory end. I’m still being torn apart, but I hope to learn the lesson that when I forge my own path all I get is a tacky painting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Confirmation and Calling

I have been at my new job for a little over two weeks. It was an incredible blessing to have the job prior to finishing my degree or acquiring my associate’s license. It seems that I either made an impression on the staff at my summer practicum or I have them fooled as to my competence. It made me feel good that my passion for helping children did not go unnoticed; however, I’ve been plagued as to whether or not I can do the job. The problem with being built up or having such high expectations placed on you is that it is more than humbling. The reality is; I feel clueless. Asbury has more than spent time and effort to prepare me, but when it comes down to intervening for someone’s life (because that’s what I have sitting in front of me in session), I feel empty—nothing to offer.

For the most part, I am in training or contacting school principals, special ed teachers, or school counselors to introduce myself and talk over potential needs that I could meet. I have not done much by way of actual therapy, which has been a bit of a relief. Whew! Dissappointment deferred. In reality, this is the way I have always handled expectations. Get in for a little bit, make a quick positive impression, and then get out of there before my lack of skill surfaces. That, or complete avoidance. I often sit back and watch others compete using the excuse that I don’t feel like playing ball, debating, or speaking up in class. Its fear that when the refiner’s fire dies down there won’t be anything left with which he can work. It is this deep seeded fear that, really, I am all chaff and stubble.

There are times though, moments, when one surprises oneself and exceeds his own expectation. In my first three days, when I was not supposed to see anyone, an emergency walked into the office. My boss was absent and could not defend me from this responsibility by taking over or assuring me that I was not expected to do anything or see this person. Instead, as I was striding up to the front office, I had a few thousand papers shoved at me and told that he/she would be back in 5 minutes. Empty. Nothing. The next 3 minutes was spent debating whether or not I should run out the door. “Lord, help me.” The panic dissolved. I found myself staring back at this individual with some resolve, somehow, with a lack of anxiety. Something kicked in—empathy for this brokenness in front of me. They lacked any hope. Emptiness met brokenness. It was a beautiful moment for me. It offered confirmation that somehow my emptiness is what makes me competent. I can only offer limited help. I can only offer what I am.

This encounter ended with hospitalization. Without it, it would have ended with the loss of life in despair. I don’t know that it won’t end that way, but I was able to be a short means of grace. I was able to be a support while their world of pain left them shaken. In the end, they got help and I felt a sense of confirmation. Confirmation that, perhaps, there is some skill and confidence that undermines this latent fear of failure. Well, that, and the reality that emptiness is really the very quality that makes for good counseling. It is awareness that empathy, compassion, and openness reaches out and supports the other sitting in front of me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Slow Death…

Opposing Culture

I know that most of you will squirm at this representation of marriage. The fact is that we romanticize the marital relationship to such an extent that most Americans actually believe in the fatalistic belief that we were created for one other person out there. Marriage is a culmination and expression of our true self—the other fulfills my needs and “You complete me” (Jerry Macguire). To think of marriage as a death of our individuality is an offensive thought. Perhaps it is not our fault. Our culture foundationally depicts marriage as a contract…IF you meet all my wants and needs, then this marriage is ok…IF NOT then divorce is never out of the question. Sounds reminiscent of the “double minded person” that the Book of James depicts. We have been inundated with messages and social scripts to that end. Most romantic movies convey that very point (e.g. You’ve Got Mail, Maid of Manhattan, etc.). Marriage is viewed as a fulfillment of our self—an expression of our individuality. Weddings (often, not always, an expression of narcissism) become the focal point of marriage. Our girls begin to plan their wedding before they are old enough to date. Is this the message we should be feeding to our children?

Trinity

Nope! I would agree that we were created to be in relationship. In relationship, we mirror the image of the Godhead—the imago Dei. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is most definitely a relationship. The Godhead, the Trinity, most perfectly represents relationship. It is a perfect mutuality, deference, and love. Equal personhood: each equally loving, each equally powerful, each equally graceful. Our created purpose was to image God, and in relationship we find not only our purpose but also the breath of God. Marriage is best understood as a covenantal commitment to image God. This is no stretch. The scripture is full of metaphors for our relationship with Christ as a marriage. Why would God use marriage as the closest example of our relationship with himself? The answer is that, like marriage, relationship with Christ is a call to the cross—a death of self.

Mutuality

It is defined as “mutual character, quality, or activity.God is one. This idea is most assured in scripture. What does this oneness actually portray? It is not the loss of personhood. Christ remains Christ; Father remains Father; and Holy Spirit remains Holy Spirit. Yet they share a character, quality, and activity. Marriage also shares this mystery. In psychological terms, this idea is called differentiation of self. The term may seem individualistic; however, it is actually more akin to mutuality. It is how to maintain our self; while also joining our character, quality, and activity with another. It enables us to be, while also being open to the other, without trying to control, manipulate (by false deference or coercion), or lose our personhood.

Deference in Love

This is where we meet the cross. Death is our calling as believers. Death is our calling in our marriages. In marriage, we find our very tangible guide for our Christian practice. I am terrible at this. I came to marriage for what I am “entitled to” or at least that’s what I thought. Marriage was a way to complete me. What a shock I had! Marriage is nothing if not a call to death of entitlement and the self. Notice I said a death of self not a loss of self. Loss of self is characterized by the “false deference” I mentioned above. It entails those manipulations we use to gain what we want. It is made up of those “if you love me…” statements; or our attempts to convey our victim-ness to gain sympathy. Loss of self is a defense of entitlement. Conversely, death of self is a giving up of our beliefs of entitlement. Christ on the cross opposes these beliefs. Love expressed through sacrifice is our goal for marriage.

Experience

My first four years of marriage was learning this very idea. I anticipate that the next fifty years will be putting the lesson to practice. I still feel entitled. I want my marriage to complete me. I want to believe that my wife was created for me. I am a narcissist. Life is about me. Christ is calling me to the cross in my marriage. My self must die. I have to defer to my wife. I want mutuality, deference, and love in my marriage to better reflect Christ in my life. Lord, let me image you in my life and marriage.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

No pressure. No problem.

That's what some of the folks in St. Lucia say. Rather, that is what folks that work at the Sandals resort my wife and I stayed at during our honeymoon said. I think that's going to be my montra for this blog. No pressure to write everyday; no problem if no one comes along with me on it. I don't want to be stressed about it, and I don't want you to be either. I am going to use this avenue as a form of therapeutic vent. When I don't feel like my voice is heard, I'm going use self-denial that someone is reading my posts and using some unconditional positive regard for me.

As I read through the above, I am realizing how jaded I sound. I think it is my projection of previously failed attempts at journaling that is driving that tone. The reality is I am very happy. I recently accepted a position at a non-profit organization counseling marginalized children and adults who need someone to come beside them. I am excited about my marriage and how far we've come and grown. My wife is so creative and hardworking. We have changed a lot in the past fours years that we've been married. It is really good. I am loving my friendships and connection with genuine people who have challenged me and continue to cause me to grow in my relationship with Christ. So...I guess things are going really well.

I don't know what this blog will become or how I'll treat it. It will be a little directionless until I find a purpose for it. Here it goes...