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.