Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Creative Self

God is creative. He created the heavens and the earth. He created every human being uniquely.

To be created in the image of God means to be creative. Acting upon that creativity is a challenging and often scary process but we must not be unwilling to take risks. The following article from Psychology Today illustrates how we might develop our creative self.

The Creative Self
By Hara Estroff Marano

A flash of insight. A solution to a longstanding problem. We all long to express ourselves creatively, admire the capacity to be original. It seems to be part of human nature.

Immersion in creative enterprises is hugely rewarding by itself. And often during that immersion we experience that special state called "flow," a feeling outside of time, of effortlessness that is so extraordinarily satisfying it bestows on us the sense that life is worth living.

How do we develop and nurture creativity within? Many people see creativity as a capacity far beyond them. But it is not.

In a lovely little book entitled Creative Authenticity, artist Ian Roberts argues that at some point you just have to jump in, fears and all. There is something courageous about it.

It's finding what you want to say that's the really tricky part. Usually, it lies just beneath the grip of the conscious mind. It springs from hard-won personal inner synthesis, experience and insight acquired firsthand. In our mind it is not logically structured, but it may take logic to get it expressed.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the world whether you paint or dance or write," says Roberts. "The world will probably get by without the product of your efforts. But that is not the point. The point is what the inner process of following your creative impulses will do to you. It is clearly about process. Love the work, love the process. Our fascination will pull our attention forward. That, also, will fascinate the viewer."

Roberts enunciates a number of principles essential for creative authenticity.

  • Searching for beauty. Beauty is something that seizes your attention, stops you in your tracks, silences you. It can be the way light filters through the trees in your backyard or the magnificence of a fifteenth century Italian painting. The subject is irrelevant; it is only a vehicle for your attention, to engage the intensity of your feelings. That intensity is what viewers ultimately respond to.
  • Communication. Creativity fundamentally involves expressive power; it is the catching of the "gleams of light" that flash across our mind and forming that vision into something.
  • Your home turf. It could be a garden. Or a studio. But you need a creative home base that always stays open for your arrival and bestows on you a readiness to begin your work.
  • The Van Gogh syndrome. Don't buy into the myth that creativity is the province of tortured geniuses.
  • Your craft, your voice. Practice, practice, practice your craft. It gives you fluency in the creative process and in technique. It's technique that gives life to your creative ideas. Learning your craft opens the channel for your voice to flow.
  • Showing up. "Nothing determines your creative life more than doing it," says Roberts.
  • The dance of avoidance. Starting is always a psychologically messy process, because there are no rules surrounding what you want to do. Setting up a dedicated space for the practice of your craft helps you shift gears directly into your creative process.
  • Full-time or part-time. You can't expect to fly consistently at a high level of inspiration.
  • Follow something along. If you are going to say something authentic, you need to stick with an idea for a while, an idea that has personal resonance.
  • Wagon train and scout. Creativity involves the interplay between where you are and where you see yourself going to keep your expression growing. Always be on the lookout for new paths, and observe how others solve the problems you face.
  • Working method. Creativity is in the process, not in the finished results.
  • Limits yield intensity. Unrestrained freedom is a myth, and it's not productive.
  • Being ready to show. Don't spend your time marketing your creations. If you spend it creating, you are investing your work with the authenticity that will draw others to your efforts..
  • You are more than creative enough. The question is not whether you are creative enough but whether you will free yourself to express it.
  • Finding poetry in the everyday. Develop the power to see the ordinary as poetic.
  • Holding the big picture. Always keep a sense of the whole. That commits you to making the moves that will ultimately represent what you see.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brain Wired for Improv, Not Perfection

Brain Wired for Improv, Not Perfection

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD, Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dec. 20, 2006 -- Practicing your golf swing may make it better, but it'll never make it perfect, because the brain is wired for inconsistency.

That's according to new brain-based research that suggests the reason humans have a hard time doing the same task exactly the same way is that the brain starts planning each movement from scratch.

The study found variations in monkeys' brain activity in the planning stages before they performed the same task over and over again -- and that those variations were associated with inconsistencies in their performance.

"The main reason you can't move the same way each and every time, such as swinging a golf club, is that your brain can't plan the swing the same way each time," says researcher Krishna Shenoy, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, in a news release.

Inconsistency Explained

In the study, published in Neuron, researchers trained monkeys two simple reaching tasks: to reach and touch a green spot slowly, and to reach and touch a red spot quickly.

After monitoring thousands of attempts, they found the monkeys rarely reached with the exact same speed for either spot, and that about half the inconsistencies in the monkeys' performance was in their heads rather than their muscles.

Specifically, the study showed changes in neural activity for planning a movement was predictive of the variations in reach speed.

The researchers say inconsistencies in how the brain plans for each movement may have an evolutionary reason.

"The nervous system was not designed to do the same thing over and over again," says researcher Mark Churchland, a postdoctoral student at Stanford, in the release.

"The nervous system was designed to be flexible," Churchland says. "You typically find yourself doing things you've never done before."

Of course practice can reduce the variation in the mind's and body's ability.

But, researchers say, it can't change the variable way the mind plans motion.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Perfectionist

Over the last few days I have been reflecting on the fact that I can have a tendency to be a perfectionist in quite a few areas. I try to get A's in all my classes. I hate doing anything half hearted. I'm just an "all out" kind of guy. Of course, in many areas I am far off from perfection and how I deal with those areas is actually kind of interesting. I can sometimes devalue that part of my life (it's not that big of a deal to keep your room clean) or pretend like it's impossible to get any better with that (acting like it's impossible for me to remember names any better). Now perfectionism is useful in driving us to perform well but it can become a problem when life becomes unbalanced or when we are crippled by the perfectionism in some way.

Now I had been thinking that I would like to be more helpful around the house. But the problem was I had only been thinking about it. I started to think about committing to a drastic change but something was holding me back. At first I didn't have a clue what was wrong. I wanted to be a nicer, more caring person but I didn't want to commit to it. The problem was, as a perfectionist, I was afraid that I was going to fail. If I committed to change then I would be raising the bar for my own standards of how I should act.

My perfectionism couldn't handle this. I could deal with being disappointed with my behavior from time to time. But raising the standard would likely mean that I would fail more, at least at first. So deep down I resisted the change because I was afraid to fail. Once someone pointed this out to me everything suddenly clicked. I realized that I couldn't accept that I am a work in progress. I should applaud myself for wanting to change and not be deterred by initial setbacks. I was glad because once this perfectionism was brought to the light, the truth suddenly made it seem silly.

Perhaps my case is not unique. Could there be ways in which you resist change simply because you fear failure? Maybe you tried before and failed. No matter how many times we fail, it is always important to try to live up to a greater standard. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves that our goals are worth the pain of a few setbacks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I've been learning a new way of thinking that I have found very useful. I now see my desires and wishes as feelings of entitlement. In other words, I am recognizing that I feel entitled to whatever it is I desire: food, sex, laziness, money, ease of living, freedom from challenge, or whatever. The reason I feel entitled is because those things, apart from everything else in the world, are very good. And there is no reason why I should not do those things apart from the consequences they bring. Since I believe I am entitled to a joyful and happy life, I would thus have every right to enjoy every pleasure. Yet, I refrain from these actions for one reason: they have consequences. And it is the consequences, not the actions themselves, that bear on whether or not I should do something.

Recognizing that has been helpful because I no longer need to tell myself: "Doing that is BAD!" Instead, I simply review my past experiences and make a decision whether or not would be wise.
From that perspective I no longer need to make a judgment on whether or not any individual action is good or bad but rather whether or not good or bad will come of it for me. The best life for me is therefore nuanced and idiographic because each circumstance must be weighed by my own knowledge of how that experience will effect me. This takes a great amount of self-knowledge, which I may not always have, but it also prepares me to watch my future reactions so that I learn about myself.

As I see it, God made all things and, therefore, all things are good in themselves. But by the very nature of our decision to do evil with what is good, we corrupt what is good (I will spare you Genesis 3 and other Biblical accounts). The fact is that I have tendencies to do evil. By realizing what those tendencies are I can adjust my behavior so that love and goodness becomes the new rule of how I live, rather than any judgment on particular actions.

For example, I can make the decision not to eat a certain comfort food when I feel like I desperately need something to make me feel better. While at other times I know I can eat this food, I realize that refraining at that time is necessary because I know that eating to satisfy desires other than hunger can turn a snowball into an avalanche. In that very moment, I feel entitled to feel better by eating that food but I surrender my entitlement for my own good.

So what does entitlement have to do with all of this? Well, the truth is that I need to recognize my inner world in order to understand how to best meet my own needs. By labeling my desires as feelings of entitlement, I am accepting my desires, thereby preparing myself to explore my feelings and discover my true needs. The concept of entitlement may not be the best way of thinking about desires for everyone but it seems to work for me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Role of Wisdom in Psychotherapy

One danger for psychologists is that they can become so power hungry that they will assume that they know what is best for the clients. That therapist can begin to tell the client how to live and stifle or oversimplify the client's own experience. Such an attitude is dangerous for two reasons: the therapist can certainly be wrong AND the client needs to make their own decisions. Yet I want to talk about how this second problem is not so clear cut and why giving advice can at times be a part of a healthy therapeutic experience.

Therapy works in a myriad of ways. From simple empathy to complex interpretations to assigning homework, therapists use a variety of techniques to help a person grow. Yet the sharing of wisdom is often frowned upon unless it is backed by research. Such an attitude does not need to be held if the therapist thinks of wisdom as brainstorming rather than providing solutions.

Some consider that the time to quit therapy is when one can "hear" the therapist in your mind throughout your day. If the client is merely blindly obeying the therapist that is unhealthy. But if the therapist has not simply provided a clear cut answer to each situation but rather a way of thinking that discerns and weighs alternatives, then that voice can help remind the client how to think in tough situations.

Psychologists can be trained in making interpretations and being empathic but wisdom is a bit more elusive. But with the hope that we will be more mature than many of our clients we can assume that we have at least some tidbits of wisdom to share that will teach the client how to live and be in relationship with others. If we stay humble then the psychologist can give some very meaningful and helpful advice that is perhaps outside of their professional training.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Oblivious: When We Don't Get It Right

I read an article in Psychology Today that humbles me greatly. I often think that I have a good idea when a woman likes me (except when I like her then I seem to be clueless). But according to the article men overestimate women's sexual interest while women underestimate men's willingness to commit. I now feel embarrassed that perhaps I have assumed women liked me when in fact it was all in my mind. I guess sometimes a smile may only be a smile - still, you never know...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Drug Treatment for Trauma Victims

I just noticed on Yahoo a feature on a drug commonly used to lower blood pressure, propranolol, that supposedly can reduce the salience of memories of traumatic events. This is hopeful news for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Apparently, propranolol decreases the amount of epinephrine (adrenaline) in the amygdala which amounts to a decreased fear response to the memory. The memory would therefore be seen as a more harmless event and would not come to the individual's conscious attention as readily.

The drug has stirred some controversy, however. Some say that the drug takes away control from the victim and takes away some of the psychic energy that drives people to follow through with handling the effects of the trauma (for example, a rape victim telling the police about the incident). Some are even concerned the drug can be used by criminal offenders to reduce the guilt of their actions.

IMHO, I believe that hurtful experiences should not be looked at as completely bad. Suffering can promote growth. However, to say that a person should forever bear with a traumatic event because they need to believe they have control seems to underestimate the effects of such an event. Trauma can have serious effects on a person's health and mental well-being. I hope that propranolol turns out to be useful in helping individual's with PTSD, especially given the probable increase of PTSD that will occur from those who have served in the war in Iraq.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey Prevents Depression?

Thought you all would enjoy this post turkey day good news. Taken from the Center for the Advancement of Health. Here is the article:

The chemical in turkey that may cause people to nod off after Thanksgiving dinner also plays a role in maintaining good mood and memory, especially among people with a family history of depression, says new research published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Lead author Wim J. Riedel, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Brain and Behavior Institute at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands examined the effects of the body's depletion of an amino acid called tryptophan on mood and cognitive function. They also measured how long the effects of the depletion lasted.

Tryptophan, known for its presence in turkey and commonly blamed in the media for creating the sluggish after-meal sensations experienced by many Thanksgiving diners, is a metabolic precursor to the chemical messenger known as serotonin. In addition to turkey, the chemical is found in foods like milk, bread, cheese and bananas. Tryptophan depletion decreases serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn can lead to depression and other problems. While the study is not definitive and does not offer a solid conclusion that eating more tryptophan will enhance memory or mood, it does indicate a possible connection.

"Experimental lowering of tryptophan, and hence serotonin, appears to impair learning and memory and can cause depressed mood, especially in people who have a family history of depression, Riedel says."

The experiments involved 27 volunteers, 16 of whom had an immediate relative with major depression. Researchers lowered the level of tryptophan in the volunteers' bodies, and memory tests showed impairment in their ability to recall and recognize words they learned during, but not before, the tryptophan depletion time period. However, the volunteers did better on focused attention tasks, concentrated listening tasks and tasks measuring the speed of memory retrieval.

The results also showed that tryptophan depletion induced mood depression in half of the subjects who had a family history of depression but in only 9 percent of those with no family history of depression. The latter finding suggests that people with depression in their families are more vulnerable to changes in serotonin levels. The mood depression effects ended within 24 hours in all of the volunteers, however.

"These findings may have implications for people who have a history of major depression in their families and people whose tryptophan becomes depleted because of dieting," the authors note. "They also may have implications for people whose tryptophan becomes depleted because they are undergoing immunotherapy for cancer."

The study was funded entirely by the Brain & Behavior Institute of the University of Maastricht and the University Hospital Research fund.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Storied Living

I'm reading A New Way to Be Human by Charlie Peacock and he talks a lot about how we are born into a story. Our lives are connected with the lives of our genetic, academic, and spiritual ancestors. Our lives carry on what they worked through in their lives which was passed on to them from their ancestors. None of us are isolated from the stories that we enter into.

When we become Christians we enter into a story. It is the story of Israel and of the church. Our lives reflect what has occurred before our time and we continue to work out our faith to impact those who will come. Thus the study of history is incredibly important for the disciple of Jesus. Understanding how Jesus entered into the story of the Jewish people is important because it is our story. In the same way, understanding how Jesus has changed the religion of Yahweh (spanning both Jewish heritage through today's church) is also important.

There are two reasons why I think this is important. First of all, it puts our life into proper perspective. We see Christianity not as a means of moral development but of history changing. Our lives will be the way that we can change history for the better or the worse. Our glories and failures are not independent of the Story. The story perspective is also important because it gives us the means through which we can measure ourselves. By seeing the wrongs that the Jews and the church has committed we can try to correct these from happening again. We also learn from their successes and we follow in the patterns they have set behind us.

Through all this we always realize that there is opportunity to see the Christian story in new ways. We do not simply emulate the behaviors of the past. We reinvent the present and try to to live out Christ-ways in a different manner. We never lose our creative contribution to the Story. We remain humble and in that humble faith try to redefine what it means to be human in the context of the story we find ourselves in.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spirited Bodies

I just finished reading Nancey Murphy's Bodies and Souls or Spirited Bodies? which explores the issue of whether or not we have a soul. Considering that Dr. Murphy is a Christian, it might be surprising to most that she argues that humans do not have souls. She argues that the Bible does not give a clear cut answer to the nature of human existence simply because the authors were not interested in that philosophical question. The idea of the soul grew out of Greek influence and was adopted by the church in about the 4th Century.

Although Murphy is a philosopher, the current field of neuropsychology supports such a conclusion. The attributes typically attributed to the soul - consciousness, identity, memory, rational thought, religious experience, etc. - are now being attributed to different regions of the brain. This does not mean that the Bible is wrong, just that our typical interpretation of this topic is.

What are the implications of this? Of course numerous spiritual questions arise: do we exist as souls or resurrected bodies in heaven, how do we retain our identity once our body dies, and how do we interact with a spiritual realm of angels and demons? All of these I must not go into here for the sake of brevity (although Murphy does explore these issues). But in terms of practicality it means that we are able to have a fuller understanding of what it means to be human. We can see a continuity between our bodies, brains, and spiritual life that seemed oddly connected from a dualistic viewpoint. Furthermore, we can see our relationship with matter as one that upholds environmentally concern as well as social justice, since we are connected to both in substance (sounds New-Agey I know).

Finally, since the historical argument in favor of a soul (at least the one I had heard) was that free will is impossible unless we have a non-physical soul, we must discuss how free will can be present in a purely physical being. But Murphy argues that emergent capabilities are possible with such a complex network as our brain is. In other words, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Our brains are capable of having a causative effect on our behavior. These capabilities arise out of our ability to create syntatic language and to experience obligation.

If you are unwilling to accept such a radical viewpoint, as I can fully understand, you should at least familiarize yourself with this theory in order to better integrate why our spiritual lives seem to interact with our mental health and functioning.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Direction of Our Spirituality

Spirituality is largely assumed to be a pretty variable factor. Some are assumed to be more spiritual than others. And while I agree that there is some variation in how spiritual people are, because people are inherently different, the primary difference in spirituality is not how spiritual people are but what they hold as spiritual. I think that all people are searching for spiritual fulfillment but many are searching for it in areas other than those directly related to the divine. While the exact definition for spirituality remains elusive, I tend to think of it as a process of sacralizing (making sacred) our experiences, thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

With that definition in mind, we look at someone who would be considered less spiritual: the materialist. This person values possessions over relationships and especially over relationship with God. For this person material objects - cars, clothes, etc. - become sacred because they are valued as being more than functional - they imbue meaning into life. So the materialist is spiritual but his spirituality is directed towards material goods. The materialist has sacralized possessions because he believes they give him a better life. Follow so far?

I believe, therefore, that spirituality can be good or bad. The goal is to turn our spirituality on towards better things. What those better things would be a much too long of a discussion to handle here but suffice it to say that it is more than traditional moral values.

Humans look for transcendent meaning everywhere: comparing themselves with others, hedonism, hobbies, intellectualism, etc. The end goal for humans then is to find transcendent meaning in those things that are actually most transcendent: love, compassion, and things that give life and freedom. I believe that these things are from God and thus a good spirituality requires connection with the God of love

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Counselor self-efficacy and client satisfaction

This post is taken from a Christian psychologist who teaches at Biblical Seminary. I encourage you all to check out his blog if you are interested in an experienced clinician and professors thoughts on faith and Psychology. Here is a post that I thought would be relevant to my classmates beginning their clinical work:

Each Monday I am going to try to discuss interesting research that relates to counseling process and interventions. In the latest Journal of Counseling Psychology (53:4), a group of U of Maryland researchers looked at how novice counselors felt about their capacities to counsel. The assumption is that counselors who possess adequate sense of capacity to help will provide more helpful counseling responses, will work harder when problems arise, and convey a greater sense of professionalism. Makes sense. If you think you are going to be able to do something, you’re more likely to succeed. If all you can think is that you are a failure, you’re likely to be one. This study looked at both general confidence and client-specific confidence (some may have general confidence but when put in a specific situation find that they lack the confidence they need). General counselor confidence is predictive of a counselor’s comfort with the role of counselor and their likelihood of pursuing a career. But what of the client-specific confidence?

While they made numerous findings, the one that interested me is that higher counselor confidence correlates with higher client satisfaction over the course of the therapy. Why is that? Well, for one, if the counselor portrays herself as competent, then the client will likely perceive that the work is going well. Obviously there is a limit to this correlation. At some point we all realize that the Wizard of Oz is only the little man behind the curtain. However, if a counselor is lacking in confidence, it probably makes him less able to hear and focus on the client since he is focusing on his lack of capacity. The client will sense this and not want to engage. I’m sure this is similar to sales. If you believe you can make the sale, your focus is on the person you want to sell to. If you think you can’t sell your product, it’ll sound like, “you probably don’t want to buy this and I’m not any good at selling, so I’ll be going now…”

Lent, R.W. et al (2006). Client-specific counselor self-efficacy in novice counselors: Relation to perceptions of session quality. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53:4, 453-463.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Envy of the Saints

I read Gustavo Gutierrez's The God of Life recently which commented briefly that every Christian ought to wish they were a saint. And then today we had a lecture on Kleinian psychology that talked about envy as a primitive part of our human nature. Klein's viewpoint is that envy is not necessarily bad because it can motivate us with ambition. Together these two lessons comprise what I want to talk about here.

I use the term saints not in the Catholic sense, where a small few are approved as saints, but in the more general sense of anyone with a very mature spirituality. I believe that the qualities of sainthood - including deep connection with the divine, concern for the poor, personal integrity, joyfulness, etc. - are qualities that nearly all people respect as good and thus are envious to have. But we can handle our envy for these qualities in a number of ways.

The first way is to idealize the person who has those qualities, as if they were a different species. This is an unhealthy manner of negotiating our envy because we necessarily demean ourselves in the process. By stating that some person is an amazing saint also implicitly says that we are not constitutionally capable of being such a person.

The second way is to cut down the saint. We are hypersensitive to their faults and criticize them for failing. By doing so we are managing our envy through denial and rationalization - we distort reality. (This happens to be my favorite way of managing my envy)

Finally, the healthy way to have envy for saintliness is to simply acknowledge that we wish we had their character. By doing this we are being honest with our own feelings of envy, maintaining a healthy view of reality, and fostering a desire for growth.

We should always be careful around pastors (though not all are to be respected) and people of strong faith that an overly critical or overly praiseworthy attitude are both manifestations of unhealthy management of envy. We should be able to see people as whole beings, with both good and bad, and try to gain objectivity enough to see the whole view of their character.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Different Look at Why We Should Vote

There is a strong rhetoric about voting being our duty as Americans. Frankly, I don't buy into it. In fact, I usually just vote because I feel like I will get hassled if I don't. I'm just not that into politics and I know for most issues my vote doesn't count for much. With that being said, I have encountered another reason for voting that seems to make more sense for me.

Voting causes us to explore our values and our beliefs. It seems that nearly every single proposition makes us question what we value: low taxes, homosexual marriage, etc. Voting challenges us to think about how life should be. And voting also makes us question what is feasible and what is not. For instance, I hear that certain propositions are good in principle but would create bureaucracies that would not achieve the goal very well.

And of course, voting also confronts our disdain for making a choice. Punching a ballot is permanent and suddenly our opinion becomes written in stone. We are forced not just to explore our ideas but also to stick with them, right or wrong. This is important for people who try to avoid tough decisions and rather would like to stick with thinking about them endlessly.

So 2 weeks from today you (who are Americans) have the opportunity to vote. If you don't feel that voting is your duty, perhaps you can just think of it as a way to challenge yourself to grow. But try to do some soul-searching before you vote. And don't leave your chads hangin'....

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I just talked with a friend and he gave me some great insight. He pointed out that procrastination can be an addiction. But it's not the act of procrastination persay that we are addicted to but the rush we seem to feel when we get stressed out when an assignment is due in 4 hours. When we get to the point where we think we are entitled to feel absolutely freaked out, that's when we set to work like we have never worked before. It's almost as if we see ourselves as heroes when we finish that long paper 15 minutes before it is due.

If that sounds like you then I have some advice (from a fellow procrastinator). Learn to congratulate yourself when you study early. This will reinforce to yourself that you are good because you work early. Rather than bragging to your friends when you finish a 10 page paper in 4 hours, try pointing out to yourself that you could have done a better job and could have saved yourself some stress if you had started earlier. And for those who think that they do their best work under pressure, well all I have to say is that, unless you're Mozart (who composed scores without a second draft), you won't get your work done right the first time.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spiritual Opportunity in Temptation

Have you ever felt that you get burnt out always saying no to temptations? Of course none of us always say no. But most of us try to say no to some of the temptations that seem appealing yet morally wrong. Yet doing this drains us of energy and we eventually will often crack under the pressure. So how do we sustain ourselves so that we are able to resist temptation time and time again?

I like to look at temptation as an opportunity to do good. Usually we simply think of it as an opportunity to do bad and that not engaging in the act is simply remaining where we are. But in fact the proper outlook on temptation is to see it as an opportunity to develop new habits of holiness within ourselves. In other words we can see resisting temptation as not only avoiding evil but also promoting good.

We simply cannot manage long if we constantly fill we are missing out on something. We need something or someone to connect with. So when I am tempted I try to say a prayer, "God, help to find in you what I'm trying to find in this (temptation)." And when we turn these needs over to God we find the capacity to celebrate the goodness that we have just experienced.

Saying no to temptation is something to be proud of.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Bible and Psychology

There is within the Christian community a number of people who believe that psychology is heresy because it is not built upon Biblical principles. Here I want to briefly discuss my personal theology of the role of the Bible and say how I believe it works within psychotherapy.

During college I moved away from a purely Biblical perspective on faith. I realized that there was a lot of wisdom to be gained from rational thinking and philosophy. But now that I am in seminary I have returned to the Bible as the locus of my faith in God because I realize that rational thought needs to be built upon the structure of Biblical principles.

The Bible was not written for the culture we find ourselves in today. That causes frustration for many readers who truly want to apply the Bible to their current situation. But I believe that the Bible does have many things to say about our lives today. The Bible "is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

I believe that psychology teaches us ways to interpret the Bible to find a culturally relevant way of life. For example, the Bible teaches us that God is our Father and psychology has shown us that parents are the primary shaping force in our lives and therefore seeing God as our Father can allow us to reshape our conceptions of our early life experiences. Another example is that the Bible tells us many things about who we are (i.e. child of God) which are useful for use as a better form of self-talk.

For me, the Bible is not a didactic moral code but a living narrative which those of us who believe today join. The Bible is the story of God's working for the salvation of His people, and that story continues with us today. Seeing the Bible as a narrative, rather than a blueprint for living, allows us to rethink our identities and see ourselves as descendants of the believers who, though they were from a different culture, have something to say about human nature that transcends culture.

Friday, September 29, 2006

On Dreams Part 3 of 3

Now that I have given a background to dreams, I would like to share what I feel is the significance of dreams. Dreams are spiritual. Freud was right when he said that the repressed unconscious escapes during dreams. In our dreams we see that there is another level to the world that we cannot experience with our five senses. Dreams tell us that we experience the world with our hearts as well.

First I will begin with a dream that I had 2 weeks ago. In this dream I was counting the days that a certain person had been alive. A wolf then came and I had to jump onto the roof. The rest of the dream I could not remember. Interestingly, the day before this dream I had been feeling slightly guilty that I had not bought this person a gift for his birthday. For me, it seemed like the dream was telling me that I was being chased by guilt (the wolf). So as a result of this dream I bought my friend a present and no longer had to be bothered by the guilt.

This was not a life-changing dream. But it was the first dream that I had ever spent time to interpret. I was pretty surprised to find that dreams could actually be useful for improving my life. Since then I have had other dreams that during the dream felt absolutely bizarre but when I spent some time interpreting them actually seemed to have some meaning behind them. For years I had never taken much notice of my dreams but now I see that there is great purpose to them.

So I challenge you to start writing a dream journal. When you wake up from a dream write down everything you can remember about the dream. Just keep a pen and paper next to your bed and before you do anything write down your dream. At first it may be difficult to remember your dream but over time you will get better and better at it. You may even gain the ability to control what happens in your dreams. I also encourage you to think about what the elements of the dream might mean. The best person to interpret your dream is typically you (though not always) because where your mind wanders as you think about your dream is perhaps the best indicator of what each element means.

Sweet dreams.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On Dreams Part 2

There are two parts to this blog. I will first continue with my evaluation of Freud's book On Dreams and hopefully this will add extra insight into the nature of our dreams. And then I will look at what modern science has told us about dreams.

To review: Freud posited that dreams are essentially wish fulfillments, though they are often disguised. The reasons why dreams are often so obscure are multiple. First, the brain must convert ideas into situations and images. Second, the brain must condense these scenes for the sake of brevity. And now we will continue on to the other forms of distortion that I did not cover in the previous blog.

Freud hypothesized that dreams contain wishes that are typically repressed but, because the agency that keeps unconscious memories down is impaired during sleep - these thoughts creep to the surface. However, the repressing agent is impaired but not completely down and so the dreams are altered by some sort of a mechanism that is trying to protect us from our repressed wishes. The first is displacement: taking ideas and creating a metaphor to convey them. The second is intentional distortion, the dream thoughts are distorted by the brain for the purpose of protecting us from our repressed thoughts. I do not give much credence at all to this last mechanism.

So why do we dream? Freud says that dreams are meant to allow us to sleep, because with so many denied wishes during the day we need some incentive to sleep. And secondly, dreams act as a guardian of sleep: keeping us asleep when we need to be and awakening us when we need to awake.

But what does modern science tell us about dreams? First of all, dreams occur during REM sleep where the eyes move rapidly back and forth and the body is temporarily paralyzed from moving. Secondly, researchhas shown that one purpose of dreams is to consolidate memories. People perform better on memory tasks after they have had a night full of dreams. It appears that memories are cataloged during sleep so that retrieval of them is facilitated. (This is why 8-9 hours of sleep is so important before a test, because most dreams occur in the last hours of our sleep cycle)

For Freud that means his hypothesis of dreaming for wish fulfillment is probably wrong. Also his posited repression control mechanism: no evidence for that. But he brings to light several key elements of dreams: multiple ideas are represented in one object, ideas are turned into pictures, and ideas are changed into metaphors.

So, even though dreams may simply be a byproduct of a psychological process of storing memories, what we dream and how we store the memory is still interesting. Phew! I was worried that dream interpretation was all a bunch of honky tonk for a second there. I wish I could write more but I'm already beginning to ramble on. But don't worry, there will be a part 3 that will look at the spiritual side of dreaming.

Some links:
Dreams on Wikipedia
Dream control

On Dreams Part 1

First off, I edited this post after my original post for the purpose of structuring this series differently so you might need to read it again if you read it prior to this but otherwise enjoy...

I'm reading On Dreams by Sigmund Freud as a result of a recent personal interest in dreams. Freud argues that dreams are a form of wish fulfillment, our desires are achieved in our dreams. Using anecdotal evidence Freud makes the point that in children's dreams these wishes are obvious but the dreams of adults have become more complex and need to be analyzed in order to be understood for how the wish is present. What I appreciate most about Freud's theory is that he took seriously how the mind produces dreams and creates a means of dream interpretations that essentially reverses the process.

First of all, Freud differentiated between the manifest content of the dream and the latent content of the dream. The manifest content was the actual dream. The latent content was the ideas and thoughts that were eventually transformed into the dream. The mind transformed the latent content into the manifest content. Freud hypothesized that the reason the mind transformed dreams into less obvious content was first of all due to the constraint of dreams being typically situational. So the brain needs to transform ideas into a dramatic scene.

Freud believed that another way dreams are formed is through a process of condensation. Each element of the dream represents two or more ideas that have been condensed. For example, the morphing of two people into one person within our dreams results because our dreams are trying to represent more than one person. Freud would argue that dreams are typically, though not always, tremendously complex. The process of condensation allows for greater amounts of content to be portrayed in a single dream.

Freud is right in saying that dreams are complex and often condensed but, in my opinion, I believe he is wrong in saying that all dreams are wish fulfillment. Nightmares are perhaps the best counter-evidence for this. I believe that dreams are creations of inner conflict. This conflict can be wishes that have gone unfulfilled but they can also be conflicts over guilt, anger, fear, and sadness. In other words, dreams can heighten (and not just repair, as Freud would argue) our dissatisfaction over our wishes not being fulfilled. Perhaps our dreams highlight these conflicts so that we can seek out resolution in our waking hours.

In Part 2 I will continue to expand on Freud's theory.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Feeling Gracefull

I'm sitting here typing this as a free-form monologue. I have an idea of what I want to say but have not really thought it out. I guess I should start by saying that I'm questioning where I am with the whole "grace of God" thing.

I've been pretty fortunate to find a community lately where I can practice confession and receive the grace of the community. In fact, if you would look at my life you might even think: "he may not be perfect but he sure is trying to be." I have never been so disciplined in my life. I read my Bible in the morning and in the evening. I call people to be encouraged and they encourage me. I am even trying to discover the hidden sins in my life through journaling. Think I'm boasting? Well it would be strange to boast about needing outside help just to be normal.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I worry if I'm denying myself the grace of God. Occassionally I feel burdened by my lifestyle but typically I enjoy it. I have been on a downward slope all my life. And for the first time in my life I am confident that I am on the way up. It was tragic to feel myself wasting away and so a guy who found it nearly unbearable to do any type of work has begun to live a disciplined life. Simply amazing.

I don't know. Honestly I don't. I don't know if I'm simply burdening myself and one day I will snap. It doesn't feel like it. But sometimes I forget to read my Bible or I intentionally ignore people who would build my soul, and afterwards I feel like crap. Guilty and ashamed. Does that make me a slave to legalism? I sure hope not. But I know I'm leaning towards it. I want to learn to love. I want to learn to love others and myself. Sure I am obsessed with myself but I want to learn to love myself.

I wish I could be more forgiving. I think that is true love. "[Love] keeps no record of wrongs." (1 Corinthians 13:5. How am I to live with the knowledge that I am wrong? I don't really know. Do I meditate on Christ's death? Do I remember that God loves us while we are sinners?

Should I simply live with my shortcomings and put Christ's salvation in the stead of everything else? Should I give up trying to be a better man? I cannot. It is the knowledge of just how wrong I am that drives me back to being spiritually disciplined. I tried for so long to "accept God's grace" (i.e. not do anything except try to feel God loving me) and yet nothing came of it.

But of course I am not completely cleared of all wrong. I am wrong when I brutalize myself with guilt over my mistakes. I wish I could laugh at myself more. Not condescendingly, just laughing at my own silliness. That is freedom. Instead I insult myself. I heap up guilt onto myself so that I will feel bad about being bad. But God promises grace. God builds humility through failure. But shame is a false humility.

Then I am wrong when I shut myself off from God and others when I feel any guilt. I'm so full of myself that I want to appear perfect. I wish I could turn my shortcomings into ways where I can connect with God. For I know I need Him in those moments. Our failures ought to drive us into the arms of God and our fellows. We ought to see our need for them and reach out for help.

With all the times I've failed, I should be humbler than Mother Teresa. Instead I feel more shame than John Mark Karr.

True humility is clarity and serenity on who we are combined with the willingness to receive help in becoming more. For God loves us in our weaknesses. The experience of that is what I call feeling gracefull.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Heart and Mind

The heart and mind are often presented as diametrically opposed. We either act out of our heart, impulsively, or out of our mind, rationally. At least that was what I was taught. I have always thought that I had to either act out of my heart, and risk doing something foolish but enjoy life more, or act out of my head, and risk losing my zeal for life but be able to play it safe. But is this the way that it has to be?

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." (Luke 10:27) All heart and all mind. Isn't that the way it should be? Shouldn't we passionately follow our dreams in a logical and well-planned manner?

I believe that most people think that following your heart means doing something impulsive and perhaps even dumb. If that is the case then heart and mind really are opposites. But if following your heart actually means bringing all emotions into your life, then rationality is by no means excluded. In fact, mindful consideration of God's truth can actually produce a variety of emotional expressions, such as joy over salvation, sorrow over sin, laughter over our lives, and resoluteness about our desires.

I am thankful that the gospel once again proves to be greater than anything imaginable: that we are encouraged to be fully human in our pursuit of God.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Fall of Isolation

Fyodor Doestoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:
"Believe me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It's a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to every one, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Every one will think his share too small and they will always be envying, complaining and attacking one another. You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation... the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age - it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realisation he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, 'how strong I am now and how secure,' and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens... But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw men's souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die."

I could not have said it better myself.

I have talked directly about the neurological basis for connectedness and touched on the need for community to combat suffering. But in the back of my mind as I write many of these blogs has been the awareness that we humans are called to be a body made up of individual parts. It is only when we recognize our deep need for one another that we find any real strength.

One of the only remaining reminders that we have a need for one another is the institution of marriage, which has decayed over the last 50 years. It seems we have forgotten one another. But we need one another deeply. I could plead with you on this point but it would be wasted unless you have experienced community yourself - or at least experienced the dreadful despair of isolation, which is the root of man's powerlessness. But there will come a day when that "time of isolation" will pass and we will once again be united. May we try to find that unity now.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Journaling

Some Christians scoff at the idea of journaling. Or maybe I should just say it: I used to scoff at the idea. But over the last year I have gained a lot as a result of writing. And I used to think that journaling wouldn't do anything for me. But a friend of mine told me how he faithfully journaled and I decided to try it out. If I ever have something that I am angry about and I decide to write down the areas where I'm wrong - let's just say it's a humbling experience.

But what makes journaling an effective way to grow in faith? First of all, I believe that writing down your ideas firms them up. When you write something down you have to think a little bit more and make sure it makes sense. Secondly, when you write something down - it's there as a fact. Unlike thoughts and prayers that might pop in your head then you quickly forgot what you thought, your words on paper are recorded and not so easily forgotten. Thirdly, when you write something down it is easier to realize how ridiculous it is. You gain objectivity when you write.

So there it is. Journaling firms up your ideas, records them so they won't be lost, and allows your thoughts to be judged more clearly. Plus I just feel like I care about my spiritual growth more when I journal so maybe it's partially just a morale boost. But that's not to say it can't be done wrong. In fact, I've looked at my journal from childhood and let's just say it is a little bit disturbing. But instead of telling you what not to do, here are my quick tips on what to do.

Quick tips to improve your journaling:
* write about God but admit when you doubt his presence or his goodness
* write about your anger but focus on where you are wrong
* write about your fears but focus on why you are afraid
* write about your sins but don't focus on making yourself feel bad over it
* write about your passions but acknowledge God's sovereignity and will
* draw
* write poetry
* if you don't know what to write then just write that

I don't write everyday. I usually write just when something is wrong (usually that something wrong is me). But writing typically makes me feel better. And while blogs can be a good place for me to develop my thoughts, I really grow as a person when I journal privately and allow myself greater freedom to express myself. So I suggest that you try journaling the next time you feel bothered or afraid or excited... you might just find it to be a time where you can grow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Restfulness is Godliness

The Protestant work ethic has permeated Christian thought for the last half millenium. The Christian believer ought to be a hard worker and responsible with finances. And the same ethic has been applied to spirituality. With reading the Bible daily, attending church every Sunday, going to Bible studies, having an active prayer life, and - not to forget - performing good works, we have come to an age where spirituality is busyness.

But what about the principle behind the Sabbath? God dictated that we rest. To keep the Sabbath holy we were to abstain from all work. Holiness = rest??? In today's Christian culture we can hardly believe such a thing. We practice the spiritual disciplines and we "beat" our spiritual bodies. Holiness is a tough, grueling process.

As you can probably tell by the fact that I am pursuing a doctoral degree, I'm pretty driven. But I still have bouts of laziness and procrastination. I believe that these times are partly a result of not taking adequate rest when I need to. Then by the time I am in a crunch I am too worn out to do my work.

So here's Curt's solutions to living a restful lifestyle, which I found is more than just not doing work:
* Watch less T.V.
* Spend time doing interesting leisure reading
* Take 15 minutes out of your day for silent meditation
* Do something that feels adventurous or exciting
* Get 8-9 hours of sleep
* Save time for attending church
* Limit your works of service to only those which excite you (but do works of service)
* Go for a walk
* Take a nap
* Spend time talking with a friend in person or by phone (and don't just complain about how hectic your life is)
* Have a quiet time with God

If you practice these I believe you will feel more rested and that you will be more suited to live a holy lifestyle. God desires that we enter into his holy rest. So let us surrender our constant busyness and take time out for leisure. We will have more to offer others if we ourselves are full.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Body and Christianity

The body has traditionally been excluded from theological dialog. Perhaps as a result of Gnosticism, Christian embodiment became almost a hindrance to the faith. The body was a barrier to true spirituality. We worship God almost exclusively with our minds.

I wish that, in my daily life, I could know better how to worship God in different ways. I have recently contemplated integrating religious icons and pictures into my devotionals as a means of being less of a text-limited Christian. I crave something new spiritually and I want it in a form that affects my senses.

During college I ran the 400 and 800 meters for the track and field team. I was also involved in a group called Athletes in Action, which is a Christian student organization for athletes. During that time I learned a lot about how I can worship God as I run. For me running could become a deeply spiritual act because I could visualize Jesus cheering me on (I know it may sound cheesy). But I took my mental beliefs - like God loves me no matter how well I perform - and applied it to my running.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." We are clearly meant to embody our spirituality. What does that mean in terms of what posture we should take when we pray? What about when we sing? Can we bring God into our most physical acts - like exercise, eating, or sex? I believe that faith in God should change how we should live and act in this world.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I'm Baaaack

Hey everyone!
I'm back from my vacation in Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Pictures will be coming shortly. For now I need to work on a paper...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Out of Range

Just wanted to let you all know I won't be updating my page for awhile. I will be out of town until July 29th at Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Feel free to browse previous posts...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fantasy and the Unreal

Occasionally, someone will say that a child's loss of their imagination as they age is a tragedy. I have waffled some but lately I have seen that imagination can be harmful to a person's development. An imagination may be useful for the child but I think that it can be damaging to the adult. For while the child is still in a stage of physical and mental development where they cannot competently engage reality, the adult has the capacity to change their situations. Children do not need to make thorough plans for the future. But adults live in a world where they hold much responsibility and need to address the reality before them.

What I call the unreal can take on many forms. Some embrace the unreal through TV and movies by living vicariously through the characters. Others hold an embarassingly high (or low) view of themselves. And almost all people escape reality through some form of fantasy. That fantasy can be vocational (e.g. "if only I had another job"), criminal (e.g. "I want to kill my jerk boss"), sexual, romantic, suicidal (e.g. "what would it be like if I died"), and much more.

I often fantasize in different ways. For me, the problem is generally not in what I think about but why I am thinking it. I am much more apt to fantasize about things when I am emotionally disturbed in some way. By emotionally disturbed I mean set off balance by some event or thought. This can include being sexually attracted to someone, feeling angry, being worried, feeling afraid, etc. For example, the mother who worries when her son does not get home will fantasize that he has been involved in a car accident.

The problem is that fantasy does not address the emotional disturbance in a rational way. In fact it can often exacerbate the problem. Instead of focusing on what can be done in that moment, we focus on the possibilities, both negative and positive. It seems we are both gluttons for punishment and self-aggrandizement. We can either fantasize that something terrible will happen or that something amazing will happen. But our fantasies distract us from what we actually can and should do. The anxious mother might not be able to do anything but if she can control her thoughts then it would be best not to fantasize about catastrophes, for her own sake.

So, in my opinion, fantasy is almost always damaging. I believe it is best to live in the real. The only time that it is healthy to fantasize is when it actually functions as a mental rehearsal for action or if we are imagining a spiritual reality that helps us to engage our physical reality (i.e. believing that God lives inside of me as a reminder that I ought to love others). And, in my opinion, those types of fantasy only occur when intentionally imagined. But I know that there are plenty of people who would disagree. What are your thoughts, if you have any on the matter??

**Postscript: I should add that I believe that fantasy is unavoidable. I'm just arguing that we should try to become more aware of it so that we can address the underlying issues. In time we can learn to stop some of our fantasies by recognizing our emotional disturbances but in the end we're still going to escape reality from time to time.**

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Art of Asking Questions

One time someone was asking me how I decided to go into psychology. I told them that people just seemed to open up when they sat down and talked with me. He then casually said, "Because you listen well, right?" But my first response, and I had never thought much about this, was "No, because I know how to ask questions."

I think people are begging to be asked questions. It's not only that they like to talk and being asked questions frees them up to do so, though this is a part. It is also because people are afraid that the other person does not care. When you ask questions you say that you care about what they feel and know.

But asking questions isn't always an easy task. Most of the questions we ask one another are close-ended questions that stifle dialogue, such as, "How are you?" - "Fine." Those kinds of questions suggest that we want to know just tidbits about you. Open-ended questions are the best way to really get a person to open up and engage in dialogue. But asking open ended questions depends on actually be interested in what the other person might be able to share.
Which brings us to how asking questions is an art.

I believe real art comes from the heart. The artist actually is painting the way that they experience the world. They paint or sculpt or compose from the emotions that are bubbling up from them. Asking questions should occur in the same way. We simply need to be aware of what we want to know about a person. In everyday life we are very curious about the lives of other people. We ask hundreds and maybe even thousands of questions about other people over the course of the day. From "Why did you cut me off?" to "What's it like to be a spider?" These questions occur at our innermost soul. We simply need to "listen" or realize what we want to know.

But that makes it sound like to ask good questions you need to be some kind of mystic. But that's not true. But if you felt that way then you're asking the question, "How can I actually learn to do this?" and that is a good place to start. Learn from that feeling inside of you that might have arisen when I was sharing about paying attention to your heart... that is the kind of feeling that you need to let form itself into a question. Let your frustrations become a question. Let your anger become a question. Let your excitement and curiousity become a question.

Were you feeling angry, excited, bored, or frustrated as you read this?

Why were you feeling that way?

What questions did you want to ask to satisfy that emotion?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Our Shattered Selves

I tend to talk to myself. Every once in awhile I will catch myself engaged in a full conversation, out loud, where I am trying to deride myself for a mistake, to remind myself to do something, or to teach myself a lesson. I am having a conversation with a part of my self. Sometimes the dominant self will say to the submissive self to stand up for itself. In a sense, I am a schizophrenic. I am a split person. I am not a whole self.

I think the reason I have been split is because, though by nature we humans are relational, I do not want relationships with others. Whether it is shying from relationship with God because I fear punishment and chastisement or from relationships with people who I fear rejection from, I tend to isolate myself. The problem is that I am still a relational being and thus I crave and need communication with others.

So I create inside of me various persons who communicate with each other and take up the various roles that have been created because of my fear. Some fear creates the persona that is controlling because lack of control is frightening. Then some fear creates the persona that is disorganized because facing the reality that the environment can never be controlled is frightening too. So I have many dyads of relationships who relate to each other. But in the end these create disharmony within myself. I simply end up communing with parts of me that are unhealthy and conflict erupts.

However, there is a solution. The solution is two-fold. The first is that we need to foster healthy and vulnerable relationships with other people. We can never break out of our fears outside of external relationships because communicating within ourselves guarantees we are in a state of fear. But by building relationships with other people we can approach them as whole people by being honest about what we really are experiencing.

The second is that communion with God is necessary. We cannot relate with others all the time. We need someone outside of us who we can talk to as whole beings at any moment. I cannot experience wholeness without communicating with God. By taking all of the thoughts which I would usually tell myself, I can pray and tell God all. This does two things: it allows me to store the information in memory and it allows both "parties" within me to tell their story. It probably does more than that but that is all I can think of. But I need to express the ideas in order for them to be better consolidated in memory, so trying to stop all communication is no solution. Second, praying to God means that I am no longer in conflict within myself. Instead of one part of me trying to convince the other part of me to be a certain way, I can express my desires and reservations as a whole person.

I believe that wholeness is God's desire for our lives. I live in constant fragmentation. But I believe that God mends up the broken hearted (the shattered hearted). God can and does mend us back together and makes us beautiful creatures. We are not destined only for wholeness within ourself, however. We are destined for union with God and others, that we might experience love in relationship.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Does Media Make Us Different?

I read an interesting blog on media in the church the other day that got me thinking. The author pointed out that the church has been changed as the media as changed. For example, the reading of Scripture used to be a public event. Before the printing press, the church would have to meet together to hear the Word and would have to hold on every word. But now that Bibles are widespread, reading the Bible has become a private affair.

Of course, the impact has been on more than just the church. Technology has been shaping our lives since the day we we born. Medical technology can save our lives. Consumer technology can change our recreational activities. But how does technology change us as people?

As I sit here, I'm watching TV that I muted during a commercial to type this blog. I'm on a laptop connected to the internet wirelessly. I am sitting in a recliner chair. I am enjoying the breeze from a ceiling fan. I am wearing comfortable clothes in a comfortable environment. Does all this change the way I view the world? What about the way I view myself? Does it change the very way I think?

A recent article in USA Today found that teenagers were retreating from face-to-face relationships and engaging in more online interaction. The benefit (according to my values) is that these teenagers are becoming increasingly less private with their lives and are gaining an increased appreciation of relationships that previous generations never have. While these technologies are occurring within an individualistic culture, they are at the same time revolting against individualism through online networking and text messaging.

Yet the dangers are obvious. These children of technology are losing the ability to relate to people of other generations, who value face-to-face interaction and etiquette. They also are beginning to fracture relationships by being so self-disclosing that they no longer respect the feelings of others because of the "anonymity" of the internet. And at it worst, the technocommunication encourages a relativistic view of human communication, where words are given meaning by the reader. In face-to-face communication, words are coupled with vocal intonations, gestures, affect, and many other non-verbals which can communicate meaning. But with text-based communication, the reader can interpret words in any manner that they wish. At times this can be hurtful, such as when one takes a joke as an insult. But culturally, this is bound to produce the belief that messages are entirely internal and that how one reacts to a neutral message determines what the meaning was.

All of this is to say that it is important to be aware of how we interact with technology. When we go online to chat, we may be reinforcing cultural values that do match with our aspired values.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Christian Psychology is Heresy?

I have found an interesting site arguing against Christian psychology which sums up some of the major rebuttals to what I am currently dedicating my life to. Now I first need to be careful, because I am obviously tied up to what I do. And I have already argued for ways in which therapy can actually help the church. But here I want to discuss a few of the arguments against Christian psychology. You will find these arguments on their website.
  1. Psychology encourages "talebearing." Essentially, talebearing is when the client retells stories from their past that cast them in a positive light. First of all, yes, psychologists generally do want clients to share stories from their past. However, talebearing would be considered generally bad and unhelpful for the client because it would perpetuate negative factors in their life - whether it be denying their own problems, trying to live a fantasy, blaming others, or whatever. Nearly all therapists would agree that this is bad. But talebearing will still occur and can be useful. If a client tells a story which was not completely true to what actually happened, that can still be useful because that is how the client actually remembers it. Even if they remember something totally different from what actually happened, the therapist needs to work with that memory because that memory can be shaping them even if it wasn't true.
  2. Christian psychology accepts the teachings of Freud, Jung, Rogers, etc. I have spent a yearlong sequence of classes critiquing these theories from a Christian perspective. What we hope to do is not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We try to take the good parts from these theories and throw away the mumbo jumbo.
  3. Christian psychology only teaches people how to understand themselves through a human perspective. Now this isn't fully wrong. I'm not saying that Christian psychology can take the place of studying the Word but I am saying that it can add insight. It is important for the Christian therapist to remember that certain things are wrong and certain things are false. But there is much to be gained if we devote ourselves to a rigorous self-analysis, even if it is human based. We would never doubt that medical students are helpful even though they have gained their knowledge from secular sources. I'm not in favor of huge theoretical models that conjure up that the reason we hate our fathers is because of an unresolved Oedipal complex, for example, simply because it can lead us too far off the conventional track. But I do favor using common sense and observation, as well as solid research, to back up certain therapies. Also I should add I support the spiritual disciplines, which encourage a healthy spiritual life.
  4. A healthy faith and church life can provide everything that therapy does. This is a judgment call. I personally think that serious mental illness is a problem. There are others who might not. I know that if a person is depressed, the church does not have much to offer them in terms of a solution, although it offers support, hope, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of belonging (some believe that it can alleviate mental illness and I admit I need to learn more about that, it was not my personal experience). But the untrained Christian will not know how to encourage a depressed individual so that they can find relief. But like I said, some in the church still believe that depression is God's testing of us to see if we persevere. I cannot disagree with them theologically. It just seems masochistic to me to continue to suffer when there is a possibility of a solution.
I suppose you should read arguments from both sides before you make your own decision. There are definitely some good points in what they are saying. It was tempting to me to move away from psychotherapy at one point because I was told that Biblical counseling was the best option, because the Bible has the real truth (obviously I changed my mind back). But we ought to consider the facts from both sides. I don't want to totally discard their opinions simply because I disagree with some of them. In fact, healthy debate with anti-psychotherapy adherents could probably help improve the integration of Christianity and psychology.

Finally, what I dislike most about the anti-Christian psychology movement is that it proposes very little middle ground. They don't propose a research backed Biblical counseling model. They don't say what the good points of Christian psychology are. They simply want to tear the entire "tree" down. I have experienced my own dissatisfaction with many of the theories. But I still think that doing therapy requires extensive training, a background in research, personal contemplation and informed decision as to a theoretical model, learning about working with people different from oneself, and personal development. I think together all those factors produce the best therapists. I think that Christian therapy still seems a bit too secular and I do in fact see that as a problem. But I think its possible to move further towards a Biblical, effective method of talking with people that can heal people's souls.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

I had studied Intermittent Explosive Disorder just recently in my psychopathology class and the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders had reported that this disorder was "apparently rare" although it admitted that no prevalence study had ever been conducted. Before I got to this phrase I had remarked at how common the symptoms seemed. All it took was a reaction that was "grossly out of proportion to the stressor."

But a study that hit the news recently found that 5-7% of Americans suffered from the disorder. I have a feeling that this will be the new diagnosis of choice for clinicians, just like ADD and ED. But I think this is sadly appropriate. Our society has been infiltrated by a hateful spirit, particularly on the road.

I remember taking a test for road rage as a 17 year old in the middle of a traffic school class. I scored extremely high because I had answered "yes" to questions like: Have you ever fantasized about killing or severely hurting other drivers on the road. Certainly not a bragging right, even for an adolescent. I remember that being a turning point for me, as I was forced to face my own vicious anger. But how many people have not had that opportunity, or have refused to face that truth even when it stares them in their eye?

I have considered myself fortunate to have had a change of heart since that day. I assure you I am a much improved driver and am thankful that I have avoided drivers who seemed ready to "severely hurt" me. But I know that many of the drivers on the road are filled with rage. They fume with anger as they wait on traffic. They may not take it out on another car. But many will take it out somehow, often on someone in their own family.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I read Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son and he brought up something I had never heard suggested in the many times I have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Nouwen said that the call of every follower of Christ is to become like the father in the story.

If you are unfamiliar with the story then it goes something like this: boy asks father for his share of inheritance, boy runs off to foreign land to gamble and spend his money on prostitutes, boy goes broke, boy comes back to father to ask to become a servant, father embraces his son and lavishes his riches on him by throwing a feast, boy's brother is pissed off cuz he was always the good kid and never had a party thrown for him, father tells the brother that he could have celebrated anytime. Maybe you should just read it yourself!

Oooook... back to the father. The father is the God-figure clearly from the story. He forgives graciously and holds no wrong against his son, even though he ran off to waste his money. The father was waiting for his son to return and runs to him when he sees him in the distance.

Some of us can relate to the story of the prodigal son. I know I can. And some can relate to the older brother. I can relate to his legalistic sense of entitlement too. But I had never thought that my goal in life is to become the father. But it makes sense for we are called to become like Jesus who is God.

I wish I had more time to write on this. But maybe this is something you shouldn't be spoon fed. Maybe you need to think about this yourself. You don't need to be a man to become like the father. In fact I think the father has many of what we might call feminine qualities. He runs after his son, embraces and kisses him, and gets incredibly excited at his return - not precisely what we would call a cowboy man. But the father demonstrates love. He demonstrates the ability to love unconditionally. I believe we should all aspire to be like the father - loving and seeking those who need to be loved and found.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tolkien vs. Lewis

I've engaged in a mini-debate with a professor over whether Tolkien or C.S. Lewis is better. I've not read much of Tolkien but I've read a fair amount of Lewis and from what I understand they take opposite views on the use of allegory.

If you have read the Chronicles of Narnia or The Great Divorce, you know that Lewis likes allegory. Aslan is clearly the Jesus figure and The LW&W is the story of Christ's death and resurrection. Tolkien, on the other hand, shied away from allegory nearly completely. He preferred to "sub-create" a new reality to which we could escape. This reality had the same values as earthly reality but it was a different story that did not directly relate to the Christian story. Tolkien liked certain elements of the Christian narrative, such as eucatastrophe (i.e. the happy ending after a catastrophe) and escaping into an alternate reality (Christians create a reality where an invisible God is more clearly visible). But Tolkien does not create an allegorical story.

There are two realities that are being "created." For Lewis it is the reality of the Kingdom of God. His stories clearly describe how God interacts with the world. For Tolkien it is a fairy story (and he readily describes his story as this) which is not merely for children but which describes a land where we can go to experience life.

So here is my opinion on the matter. What good is it to create an alternate reality that is not actually based on reality? Why not do as Lewis does and shed light on the Kingdom of God through the use of story. Is this not what Jesus does when he shares stories, or parables, with his followers. Perhaps Lewis is a bit didactic at times in that he tries to take some of the mystery of the experience away. But I think Lewis actually evangelizes through his stories, and not in some confrontational manner, by simply presenting the story of Christ in a manner which we can relate.

Tolkien, on the other hand, writes incredible stories (and he is clearly a better storyteller than Lewis) but the stories simply are made for enjoyment. The ethics may be the same as Christian ethics but since when is Christianity about ethics alone? I believe that books that share the story of Christ are greater books than books of fantasy and lore because they allow us to gain a greater understanding of who God is and who we are.

In the same way, therapy can be a means of simply allowing the client to escape into another world. And that is important for some. In fact, for those who do not want to discuss faith issues that may be where I get stuck. But I prefer to help the client see that God really exists and that God is a part of their life story.

Perhaps literature should be appreciated apart from its function. And perhaps we should consider how therapy tickles the client and makes them feel good. But to me that is far less potent than imagining therapy that brings clients into the love and grace and glory of God.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Psychology of Salvation

Ok this blog was a long time coming. I think I'm finally ready to write it. I had saved it as a "draft" a couple months ago but couldn't motivate myself to finish it. The problem earlier was that my theology was changing. The way I saw the world was changing. I was beginning to see "the point" of holy living. It made sense why I should live a righteous life. But I didn't know what to do with the fact that I kept messing up.

I ended up beating myself up every time I would fall short of my own expectations. I would drown myself in guilt and the result was usually that I felt God was distant. I put my own guilt on God because why should God love me if I couldn't love myself? I think this is why I turned my back on God for that short period, which I wrote about in a previous blog. I was so pissed off at God for flooding me in guilt. In fact it was me who was putting guilt on myself and pretending like it was God.

So where does salvation fall in all of this? If you would have asked me two months ago I didn't have a clue. I started writing this blog and I couldn't finish. I just didn't understand what the significance of being saved was. I thought that if I entered into my guilt, and I used it as a motivation to change, then I would be able to live God's life for me. I had some of it right. I was transforming my mistakes into something positive. But God's grace had no part in that. And when I ended up failing I didn't know what to do. I just felt guilty and ashamed.

But the concept of salvation provides me with something deep. The word "saved," once stripped of the religious stuff, is a powerful word. "Saved" indicates that there is something which I could not protect myself from. Coming back to salvation meant that I had to rely on God's actions and not my own. Instead of feeling like I have to make myself feel bad for doing wrong - which is ineffective at making me do the right thing by the way - I accepted the forgiveness of my sins. I was able to accept the story of Christ's crucifixion as grounds for believing that God is forgiving. And if God can forgive me then I should be able to forgive myself.

I can't understand why I didn't understand this just a couple months earlier. I had been raised on this. I guess it is just so unnatural to receive forgiveness that we have to intentionally accept it. But since I have started to practice receiving grace again people have remarked that I look happier. I don't know quite what it is, but I feel lighter. And I am now able to reconnect with God in ways that I haven't been able to in months. I think I'm starting to reappreciate God's grace. And that's it. The psychology of salvation is that it frees us from the cycle of guilt that can keep us trapped. It brings us into freedom. There is nothing that can make us feel worthy in the midst of our guilt except accepting the forgiveness of God.

In case you are interested here's how my previous post, which I was unable to write any more on, began:
If you have read my blog for a long time, you might have noticed that I steer clear of the Christian belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. Not because I don't believe it. Mostly it is because I just don't know what to make of it from a psychological perspective. Which is fine for me because I can accept that I will not ever fully understand God's greatest act for all mankind. But I'm afraid that it paints the picture that I believe that Christ's death on the cross means nothing. So here I will be a tad theoretical and I heartily encourage feedback because it is a topic that I am only beginning to consider.
Once I got to there I couldn't write any more. I said that I was afraid that it suggests that Christ's death meant nothing to me... but I could not argue the opposite. Clearly at the time I really thought that Christ's death meant nothing. Now this might shed more light on why I nearly renounced my faith. Without the work of Christ I'm stuck with a bunch of guilt and anger towards God. And because of all that anger I could not deal with the reality that God exists. Thank God that He taught me what it means to be saved by grace and not by works.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mirror Neurons and Our Connectedness

I'm taking a Cognitive Psychology class and my professor has been speaking a lot about embodied cognition, or how we "think" with more than just our brain. He also brought up "mirror neurons" which are neurons that fire when we see someone doing something in the same way that they would fire if we were doing them ourselves. Now this was perhaps one of the biggest findings in neuroscience in the last decade. (see Mirror Neurons)

The significance is that mirror neurons testify about our innate wiring to be affected by our environment and the people around us. I find it amazing to think that I can experience what someone is going through simply by seeing them go through it. Apparently, our gut reaction when we see someone getting hurt or crying is something that is hard wired into us. It seems our Creator wanted us to be relational beings.

I think the most exciting part of it is realizing that what we consider to be me actually stretches out beyond our flesh. We are connected to other people and the things around us in ways we simply cannot avoid. We interact with the world and the world interacts with us. As John Donne prophetically wrote, "No man is an island unto himself."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Forgiveness is Action

One error that the modern person, Christian or not, commonly makes is to believe that forgiving a person means simply making a decision within your mind not to remain angry at that person. We mistakenly believe that forgiveness is separable from reconciliation, or making things right between the two parties involved. But if that was the case then forgiveness would remain merely an abstract concept and forgiveness would mean nothing.

I believe that true forgiveness means that we are willing to do good to another person as if they had done nothing wrong to us. And sometimes when a person says to themself, "I forgive them," that may be exactly what they mean. But I believe that forgiveness requires action whenever possible. Why? Because a person could merely tell themselves they forgive another person just so they don't have to deal with the guilt of not being a forgiving person.

The problem is that people like to feel good about themselves. They want to think of themselves as kind, forgiving people. And if they are ever brought to the point where they must forgive another, then suddenly they feel ashamed because deep down they don't want to forgive. So what do they do? They pray or say to themselves that they forgive the other person or party. But they still treat the person with contempt, claiming perhaps that the person has "lost their trust or respect" or that "they still need to learn their lesson."

Real forgiveness, on the other hand, requires action. Because we can deceive even ourselves, we need to let our forgiveness change the way we act. True forgiveness requires that we act to restore the relationship, regardless of whether or not we were wrong. The only way to own forgiveness is to embody it. Just as Christ was the incarnation of God's forgiveness of humankind, so we must incarnate our beliefs into action. We must stop acting self-righteous and we must take responsibility to "prove" our forgiveness. Otherwise we risk the seething anger of hostility that will eventually tear down our souls.

Finally, I hope you may gain peace, patience, and grace if you embark on this. It is perhaps the greatest challenge of maturation to learn how to forgive and reconcile. Sometimes it does in fact mean that you keep a healthy distance. There are people out there who you should not "forgive and forget" what they have done. But unless we learn to test our willingness to do good to those whom we have reason to remain angry against, we may really be hiding a great deal of anger within us against them.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Connecting with God

How do we measure our relationship with God? I have sometimes strayed to believe that it all depends on the emotions I feel as I pray. Then I have gone to the other end and said that it all depends on how righteous a life you live. I suppose that I'm not the only one. The one side stresses that the religious law has been abolished and replaced with freedom. The other side stresses that relationship with God will lead you into holiness. So how ought we live?

I am returning once again to the third option. Jesus offered himself as the new source for fulfillment. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) And prepare yourself for some spiritual cannibalism...
"Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." (John 6:53-58)
The point is that we need to rest and exist in God. If we get caught up in performing, or in doing as we please, we are missing the mark. We must stop criticizing ourselves when we aren't perfect. Instead we should accept the forgiveness of Christ with joy.

Why the sermon in a blog primarily about psychology? Because if we take the road of legalism we will end up getting caught up in focusing on our behaviors. Then we will end up focusing on ourselves more and more and then get frustrated more and more. Why? Because it is hard to receive forgiveness when we forget who it is that forgives. If we stay in relationship with God as an end in and of itself, then we will not be constantly troubled (psychologically) by our behaviors. It is a sign of a lack of connection with God if we are feeling depressed or bothered that we are not growing spiritually.

The solution is that we can connect with God through constant prayer and that can be the measure of our walk with God. There is no doubt in my mind that prayer, if authentic and honest, will lead you to holier living. But holy living is a byproduct and not an end in itself. If you are interested in learning how to walk in prayer with God I suggest "Practicing the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. It costs just a few dollars at Christian bookstores. The final warning is that we are also not supposed to feel guilty if we are not constantly in prayer with God. If we do not connect with God then it is our loss because the spiritual connection ought to be fulfilling and fun. We should not feel guilty, only sad, that we forget to pray to God.

As it says in 1 Thesalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing."