Monday, April 30, 2007

Great Website on Faith and Psychology

In case you haven't clicked the link here on my blog, if you are interested in psychology and Christianity then you really should check out There are resources for people suffering from mental illness, as well as clergy and those in the helping profession. Also, check out Rob Waller's blog here - he is a psychiatrist who has regularly posted comments on my blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Parental Religiousity is Good for the Kids

I just read a study on the positive effect of parent religiosity on children's social skills, self-control, and approaches to learning. To some who think that religion breeds intolerance, such studies may prove to be enlightening of the beneficial aspects of religious involvement. Here's some interesting quotes from the article:

"Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children."

"The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services... were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents."

"Bartkowski thinks religion can be good for kids for three reasons. First, religious networks provide social support to parents, he said, and this can improve their parenting skills."

"Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family."

"Finally, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said."

The study noted that secular interventions designed to accomplish the same goals were not as effective and the study did not have an answer as to why this might be.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Living in an Emotional World

It is easy to forget that we live in a world infused with emotion. But in grad school it can become more visible, as students are stretched beyond their prior capacities in a setting that has a variety of stressful experiences. In fact, burnout is expected among long-term graduate students; there is little way around it. And while I am studying psychology, I can still be oblivious to the emotions of my fellow classmates, as well as my own occasionally, and that just seems to highlight why this issue is so important.

Emotions are unavoidable. We are feeling creatures. And we are affected by these feelings and emotions in how we behave and think. Burnout can make us grumpy and resentful. Depression can make us lethargic, unmotivated, and sullen. Sometimes we can only perceive our emotions from how we are acting. Such interpretations are unnatural and typically occur at the rational level. But noticing our emotions, based on how we are behaving, can be useful in making changes. And imagining the emotion in another person can allow us to have greater empathy for them. We live in an emotional world. Best get used to it!

Intellectual Surrender

When two intelligent, faithful people hold two opposite positions, what are we to make of it? Do we consider that one is right and one is wrong? Do we think that both may be right? or both wrong? How does it shape the way we see our own opinions?

Sometimes I have to forcefully bend my mind to recognize the point of view of other people. I actually have to remind myself, "This is an intelligent person who knows a lot about what they are talking about." So I can empathize with anyone who has difficulty in seeing a problem from another person's view. Whether it be spouses, siblings, friends, or neighbors, we all find ourselves making different conclusions about the world around us.

When faced with the possibility of being wrong we can become defensive and angry. But this shuts out new knowledge to correct us. I think we need to learn the practice of intellectual surrender. We just need to admit that the other person could be right. That is sometimes all it takes to see we are in the wrong. But at the very least, that humility puts us in the position to be understanding and care for the other person's feelings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christians and The Image Problem

Christianity has an image problem. In America, Christians are seen as homophobic, closed-minded, superstitious individuals who are concerned only with getting their way. Abroad the problem is more that Christianity is associated with America, which means Christians are seen as materialistic, immoral, and narcissistic war-mongers. In a religion that desires to be recognized by our love (John 13:35) this seems like a problem.

Does this problem need to be reconciled? Shouldn't we just be faithful to what our religion is concerned about and pursue it regardless of what others think? Not exactly. The problem is that Christians have long pitted themselves against the values of non-Christians. But we need to recognize that Christians are not the only ones concerned with doing good. While we should not abandon our faith to be accepted by others, I think we should be retooling to address the issues that Christians and the world converge on. These issues include solving global poverty, becoming more eco-friendly, and finding a way to create a more peaceful society.

When Christians focus on issues like homosexual marriage, they distance themselves from non-Christians and appear unloving (even if the pursuit is done with honest heart). And I think it matters how we are seen by others. I think Christians ought to find points of unity where we can live in harmony with others of different beliefs from ourselves.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Important Qualities of a Modern Day American Christian

My pastor challenged me to think of 10 qualities that are important to develop in present day Christians. The list below is not systematic nor is it comprehensive. The qualities are numbered but keep in mind that they are not being ranked in order of importance.

1) Global awareness - appreciation of global problems
2) Prayerfulness - relationship with God that infuses all of life
3) Community mindedness - both valuing and building community
4) Integrity - ethical behavior in work, school, and personal relationships
5) Compassion for others - willingness to learn how to help others
6) Self-awareness - understanding thought patterns and behavioral habits
7) Peacefulness - desire for peace with others, both politically and interpersonally
8) Service - Working to help the church by serving others, both inside and outside the church
9) Sense of Christian Identity - becoming comfortable with the positives and negatives of being a Christian and knowing how to represent Christ well, in both words and action
10) Discipline - ability to practice spiritual disciplines, both individually and within a community

Saturday, April 07, 2007

With What Authority?

Sometimes we can enter into a situation and think that we ought to have a hand in it, only to find out that there is nothing we can do. Take driving for example, you may have a dangerous driver swerving through traffic behind you and think - why should I get out of this guy's way? He may end up tailgating until there's enough space for him to sneak past you. In a way, this is you trying to teach the other guy a lesson. Or perhaps you go for the tactless move and just flip him the bird. Basically you believe that you have the authority to dictate how he should drive.

I was listening to a John Eldridge book on cd called the Power of Prayer. One of the topics he points out is that we cannot demand God to act in areas where we don't have authority. I see this as informing all of our relations - do we have the authority to try to change something? Maybe it's driving, maybe it's with another person's clothes or behavior, maybe it's the weather.

Adam and Eve were granted authority over all creation. But after eating the forbidden fruit, they lost full authority and had to settle for partial authority. We have authority over certain areas: ourselves, our family, our car, our house, our safety, etc. These are things that we are connected to us or belong to us, perhaps only temporarily. But most of the world is not under our authority. Still with me? Authority is the right to control something or someone in some form - direct or indirect - and that right is bestowed sparingly.

In reality we experience this all the time. We try to convince, persuade, manipulate, teach, or guide, in other words control, someone else but they do not obey us because we lack any real connection with them. Even in close relationships, like marriage, we are still only entitled a small amount of authority over our spouse and this becomes evident as they continue to disappoint one another. On the flip side, we realize that we can only do what we want to an extent; we are bound to honor the needs of those around us.

The reason I like thinking in terms of authority is because when I question what right I have to being in authority over another person, I realize I have very little. With the bad driver that I mentioned in the beginning, I have no authority to tell them how to drive, the police do, but I do have authority over my own life. So by thinking in terms of authority I do what I have a right to - I get out of their way as soon as possible. If I would insist on pretending to have authority over the other driver, they would certainly not be happy with me and I would not be exercising wise care over my safety.

Unfortunately I think I embarked on a bigger topic than I can write in a single blog. But what I want you to consider is that we have much smaller spheres on influence, or authority, than we think (the exception is public figures who often do not live up to their authority and instead follow their own passions and desires). I also want you to consider what authority people have over you. One thing that Jesus has called us to is to be servants to others. That means putting ourselves under the authority of others. Ask yourself, how can I submit to the will and desires of others, without yielding my own authority, so as to better serve others?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Being Culturally Different

I sometimes forget that I'm white. I don't think about being white when I go to the grocery store. I don't think about it when I'm in class. But not too long ago I was in the library and I suddenly realized that every person in that particular part of the library was Asian. I instantly felt out of place. I actually asked myself whether I had intruded into a study session which I was not invited to. Gradually I came to my senses and realized that it was just a coincidence. But it made me more aware of what it can feel like to be ethnically different.

Some people, like me, need reminders of what it feels like to be different. But, if you are a minority, you probably get more than enough of that experience already. My mind had automatically jumped to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy of some sort happening in the library where one people group would congregate in a particular location. I think cultural issues took on a personal feeling after that experience. I can now use that experience as a landmark for understanding how people sometimes, although it may be "paranoid" and "irrational," assume that there is prejudice against them - that they are unwanted strangers.

I hope I learn to use that experience to guide the way I treat others. Reminding myself of what my mind can assume is a good place to start in learning to accept another person's insecurities. While I hope that I go beyond mere welcoming, I hope that I can remember just how lonely it can be to think that I'm an extra piece to an already finished puzzle.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Christian vs. Christ Follower

Thought I'd post this for anyone who hasn't seen it. Although I like the lesson that we don't necessarily have to show off our Christianity to others, I sometimes wonder if cynicism is the right approach to make a point. It makes it seem that if something appears funny to the culture then it is wrong. Though I sometimes resort to cynicism too, I prefer to find common ground with other Christians (or Christ-followers) and proceed with love. Although it may not be as funny, I believe that it is the best way to build unity within the body of believers.