Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Objectification of Adolescents: Monster-making, Trophy-making, and Colonization

I have spent a lot of time in my life with adolescents. In fact, most of my life has been spent in this is stage with these people. I have spent time with so many individuals in their second decade of life as well as with the social systems in which they are embedded – families, churches and schools.

First, I spent quite a bit of time being an adolescent, taking some bonus time in my 20’s really getting to know this stage very well. I spent several years as a public school teacher and youth minister investing lots of time into being near adolescents and their families and working with them. Then I became a marriage and family therapist and worked with families with adolescents in a therapeutic setting. Then my own children entered into adolescence and I am now getting a first-hand education on parenting teens. I am now 45 years old and have been in some level of engaging with adolescents since I become one over three decades ago.

In these three decades, I have explored, experienced, and examined how these humans in the second decade of life live and move individually and how they are treated in their social systems. I have learned a lot in these three decades, but I also know that I have much to learn.

One thing I have learned in these three decades is how much loved these adolescents are by the adults that exist in their families, churches, and schools. I have also learned that sometimes that love is expressed in some ways that are not so healthy. And frankly, sometimes it is not love that motivates the adults in their lives, but something less generous.

One of the processes I have seen frequently between adults and adolescents is adult objectification of adolescents. Adolescents are sometimes objectified by the adults in their world. In short, adults may intend to be protective, engaged, and supportive of the adolescents in their lives, which is a good thing, but what ends up happening sometimes is that the adults treat the adolescents more like a possession than a person.

I have identified three objectification processes that take place between adults and adolescents. For the most part, these emerge from good intentions, but devolve into dehumanizing processes. Here goes:

Monster-making. Sometimes adults and parents of adolescents make all adolescents into monsters. It is generally done as a response to fear as these adults hear horror stories of terrible things done by adolescents and fear that the teen they love is at risk for being the next one to do such a thing. Here are four ways adults engage in this process:

Obsessing negative. Sometimes adults and parents hold mistakes or imperfections against an adolescent. This process happens when an adult highlights only the negatives, the mistakes, and problems of an adolescent while obscuring, ignoring or dismissing anything good about the adolescent.

Overgeneralization. Sometimes adults and parents hold the worst in any adolescent against all adolescents. This process happens when the negatives, the mistakes, and the problems of any adolescent are generalized to apply to all adolescents.

Sympathy magnet. Sometimes adults or parents magnify adolescent’s imperfections as a way to gain attention or sympathy. Sometimes the insecurity or selfishness of the adult or parent becomes central when communicating about adolescents. There can be a sense in which parents or adults compete for who is suffering the most from their adolescent. Parents, teachers, youth ministers, and therapists are all vulnerable to this process.

Scapegoating. Sometimes adults scapegoat adolescents based on the problems of the adolescent in order to obscure their own problems. This process occurs when the adult or parent has significant issues of their own that they want to protect or are ashamed of and use the problem of the adolescent to absorb the attention of others.

Trophy-making. Sometimes adults and parents overemphasize the successes of the adolescent and obscure or dismiss the negatives, problems, or mistakes. In short, they set up the adolescents in their lives to be trophies of their own success rather than celebrating the legitimate success of the adolescent. Here are three ways this process plays out:

  • Self-esteem. Sometimes adults and parent use the success of their adolescent for their own self-esteem. Being associated with the adolescent reflects well on the adult and therefore the adult exploits this process.
  • Self-promotion. This process is the next step building off of exploiting the adolescent’s success for their own ego, it drags that process out into the public to demonstrate their own greatness.
  • Superiority. Stage three in this process is when this trophy-making process is leveraged against other parents or adults to demonstrate who is the better parent, teacher, youth minister, or therapist.
Colonization. In an effort to be or to appear to be (or to relieve guilt), parents and adults may over-engage so much in the projects, activities, or events of adolescents that they edge out the adolescent partially or completely. Here are three ways this process plays out:

  • Take-over. Sometimes adults or parents completely take over the success of the adolescent. They see an opportunity to be supportive, but end up commandeering the whole thing such that the adolescent becomes secondary to the success, project, or event.
  • Projection. Sometimes the adult or parent engages with the adolescent in the event, project, or effort so much that the original effort of the adolescent disappears and is remade in the image of the adult or parent.
  • Overwhelm. Sometimes the adult or parent offers so many ideas and contributions to the adolescent’s initiative that there is no room left for the adolescent to develop their idea, project, or effort. In the worst cases the adolescent just quits the project and the adult or parent continues it to completion.

Becoming aware of these processes is an important developmental component of the adult or parent. Awareness is the first step to stopping these objectifying processes before they become entrenched. If you find yourself engaging in any of these processes, here are a few tips:

·        If you can see a way to stop and it makes sense, then stop. Replace the objectifying process with a more humanizing process.

·        For some it might be more difficult to just stop. Talk it over with other parents or adults. Tell them that you might be inadvertently objectifying the adolescent’s in your life. Just talking with someone else might help highlight ways to make a shift in how to engage with adolescents. Make sure you talk to someone who can listen well and not dismiss your struggle.

·        For some it might take talking to a professional marriage and family therapist. The process might be so entrenched that it requires a family level shift.

It is never too late to make changes in how you engage with the adolescents in your life.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to Read the Bible Badly: A Primer

How to read the Bible badly: A primer

If you want to make a mess of the Bible and hurt a lot of people while doing so, I have a few tips that are going to really make your work a whole lot easier. Put these into practice and I promise you will completely ruin any chance of getting the point of scripture.

Therapy manual. Use the Bible as a therapy manual. Select scriptures out of context and then apply them to people’s legitimate mental disorders and relationship suffering. This way you can almost certainly make matters worse.

Hammer. There are some really harsh passages in scripture that have some specific contextual meanings. However, if you take them out of context you can make someone feel really bad and maybe even coerce them into doing things your way.

Science book. Make sure that you make specific scientific claims from the Bible, especially about how the world was created. The more specific the better. If someone pushes back, just say that the Bible was the first book science and it is the last book of science. That should open up their eyes.

Literalize everything. If the Bible has any truth in it at all, then everything in it must have happened. No room for story, poetry, narrative, parable, history, law, perspective, and human participation.

Act like you aren’t interpreting it. It is really important to be honest while reading the Bible. And the best way to be honest is to pretend that you are not the least bit influenced by culture, family of origin, 2000 years, translation, other people’s interpretations or any other thing. You are 100% completely objective.

Me-ify it. Make sure that every bit of scripture was written with you and only you in mind and that everything in scripture, someway somehow, applies to this moment in your life, right here, right now.

Hammer II. Use scripture to back up every belief you already have, especially beliefs that make you more powerful than anyone else. Start in Joshua to justify violence and then dig up a few scriptures to justify how God hates the people you hate. It’s much more convincing when God hates the same people you hate.

Metaphor it. Make sure that the stories in the Bible are merely stories and that none if it really happened. Jesus raising from the dead is a great metaphor for making a big come back, but it flies in the face of all common sense.

New Israel. Always apply everything about Israel in scripture to the United States today. Be offended when other people compare the United States to Rome.

Leverage Hell. Make sure that the Bible is used to identify who is going to Hell and who is going to Heaven and then keep maintaining the boundaries, but tell them God said it.

Don't Know What To Say In A Prayer?

Don’t Know What To Say In a Prayer?
An Introduction To Prayer

Prayer is a conversation with God. It is that simple. And yet talking to the God of the universe may leave you wondering what to say. What could I say that would matter to God? Doesn’t God know what I am going to say anyway, so why bother? And a bunch of other questions may inhibit.

Here is the truth: God is deeply interested in what you have on your heart and mind. God is ready to listen all the time and is eager to connect with you, hear from you, and talk with you. Every good mother or father not only wants to know what is on the minds of their children, but eagerly awaits the conversation that will reveal it, even if the parent already knows. 

But what do I say to God?

Here are several ideas:

 Thanks. Just voice your gratitude for the good things in your life. This has the added benefit of actually spending some time to focus on the positive in a world that either focuses on the negative or numbs itself because of the negative. Giving thanks to God is good medicine – for you.

Ask. Explore the desires of your heart and ask for them. Wait a minute, isn’t this selfish or self-absorbed? Well, it can be, but there is a huge difference between “God, let me win the powerball” and “God, fill me with great wisdom and humility.” Seeking virtue in order to help you become your best self is never selfish.

 Intercede for people you love. Knowing the struggles and hopes of the people you love (family, friends, neighbors, co-worker / other students etc) and sharing these with God is a generous act. It also has the added benefit of increasing your empathy for those people.

 Intercede for people you do not like. Genuinely seeking the good of others and asking God to be good and generous to those who bother you, hurt you, mock you, take credit for what you did, accuse you, embarrass you, wrong you, etc is beautiful and humble. It also has the added benefit of developing empathy better than just about any other thing.

Intercede for the world. There is a lot going on this world that could use some intervention. Hunger, disease, terrorism, war, scandal, oppressive systems, various kinds of human trafficking, all manner of discrimination, etc. Pleading to God for intervention on these matters is powerful. It has the added benefit of helping you find your place in being part of the solution.

 Pour out your heart. Expressing your hurt, worries, fears, pain to God in an honest and vulnerable way can build intimacy between you and God. Yes God knows it, but sharing it makes the relationship closer and more intimate. it may also feel good to cry with God. 

Confess. Sharing secrets, especially sinful or even shameful secrets, with God is one of the most power kinds of prayer. Confession is not about giving God new information that would have otherwise remained unknown, but rather about having the humility to “look God in the eye” and say it while having the trust that God’s response will be loving and kind and forgiving. Confession has the added benefit of great emotional relief.

Repentance. Seeking ways to change unhealthy or sinful ways of living and asking God for the courage to change and the strength to maintain the change is about as humble as it gets.

Listen. Sometimes prayer is about just listening. Being quiet in a room alone, in nature, in the car etc  can provide a rest for the mind and heart. Sometimes the rest itself is enough. Sometimes God provides thoughts that would not otherwise have come or feelings that had no space to emerge otherwise.

Scripture. Open up Psalms or Proverbs or one of the gospels and read through part of it, but read it as a prayer. Sometimes there is no better way to connect with God than through the Word of God filtered through you and back to God.  

There are more ways to pray than these, but when those moments come when prayer is difficult or you are overwhelmed and just can’t think of how to talk with God, maybe these can help. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Big Empty

I am a thimble
Yearning for the ocean
Longing to be a bucket
Yearning for the ocean
Longing to be a hole
Yearning for the ocean
Longing to be a canyon
Yearning for the ocean
Longing to be a crater
Yearning for the ocean
Longing to be empty enough
To be filled with the ocean

Friday, June 12, 2015


A scoop of sand
Held as tight as can squeeze

Sand of hourglass
Sand of desert
Sand of sea

Gravity, wind and wave
Conspire to regain
All sand

From this moment
Of held sand
Till it is
Wisped away
Fallen to earth and
Swallowed by sea

My fingerprint 
On every grain

The Parable of the Sculptor and the Saboteur

The Parable of the Sculptor and the Saboteur

The Kingdom of God is like a great sculptor who hammered and chiseled at a large stone. The sculptor alone knew the image that was contained within the stone and therefore knew how to release the image by eliminating unnecessary pieces of the stone to reveal the image. Day after day the sculptor chipped away at the stone and eventually some semblance of an image began to emerge.

One night, when the sculptor was away, a saboteur approached the stone with hammer and chisel in hand. The saboteur neither knew the image within the stone nor cared whether there was an inherent image. Instead, the saboteur began to chip away at the stone in some other way. Some of the chisels were random and harsh, damaging the image while some of the hits with the hammer were intentionally damaging. Still other efforts of the saboteur were carefully crafted attempts to make the inherent image in the stone into something that the stone was never intended to be, something much less.

“This is your real image,” the saboteur said to the stone, “this is what you were really meant to be.”

When the great sculptor returned to see that the stone had been sabotaged, never once did the thought of destroying the stone come to mind. Rather, the sculptor loved the stone so much that the damage done inspired an even more creative impulse in the great sculptor.

“I will take each wrong hit and make it right again,” the great sculptor said, “for so long as there is stone the image remains within it.”

When it came time for the great sculptor to reveal the finished sculpture to all the world, the saboteur was in the audience. A sheet covered the sculpture with everyone waiting in anticipation to see what the final work of the great sculptor would be. The saboteur sat smug and eager to humiliate the great sculptor. Yet, when the sheet was pulled down and the sculpture revealed, the crowd cheered in great joy as this sculpture was even more beautiful and glorious than they could have imagined.

“I can see myself in this,” said one person.

“It is like the sculptor knows me,” said another.

The sculpture was the exact representation of the inherent image imagined by the sculptor all along, with each mark made by the saboteur creatively and masterfully worked into the final product as though it had been anticipated all along. Every jagged chip crafted into a clever angle; every ugly mark made beautiful.

The saboteur sat shocked and humiliated, whispering in disbelief, “That’s impossible. I made irreparable damage. I destroyed that stone.”

“My chisel of redemption,” said the sculptor, “is sharper than my chisel of creation.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Yankee? Lessons on Moving South

1. When you move to the South from the North you're going to hear and see some strange and perhaps even offensive things. Grow a tolerance for difference. 

2. Only people in the North believe Texas is in the South.

3. There are many Souths in the South. Learn the difference between Georgia and Mississippi and you're on your way to a much more pleasant experience.

4. Not all things that look alike are alike. For example, in Texas cowboy boots and a cowboy hat are for work, but in Tennessee they are for style.

5. They're going to call you Yankee. It doesn't matter if you've never thought of yourself in that way. If you must correct them, do it in a self deprecating and funny way, like you don't really mean it. But it's probably best just to let it pass because you run the risk of offending their entire sense of history. 

6. They will know in much greater detail the history of the Civil War than you do.

7. About 30% of their knowledge of the Civil War is incorrect or biased, but because you don't know anything about the Civil War, you won't know what they are wrong about. Either read up on the Civil War or let it go.

8. The pop versus soda versus Coke debate is not one worth having, but if you do have it, enter into it in a self-deprecating way such that you do not appear to be coming across as superior. They already think you think you're better than they are, so no sense in proving them right. 

9. If you think you have nothing to learn from someone from the South you are every bit the fool they think you are.

10. . Don't let your longing for home degrade into comparisons of how much better home is than this place. Just long for home and visit there when you can.

11. When you start hearing how the SEC conference is a better football conference than your football conference, just smile and nod and let it go. It is useless to offend another person's religion. Plus, boasting about your pro team when the topic is college football is like sneezing in the pudding. 

12. There is beauty in every place and there is worth in every person. If you spend your time looking for those things you'll have spent your time well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Inadequate Containers

Oh Eternity wrapped in flesh
So eager to expand
Pressing from within
With anxious impulse
And untamed energy

Like a hurricane in a thimble
A volcano in wine bottle
A tornado in the soul

You strange Gift
Feels so empty
Never so full
Feels so lonely
Never so close
Feels so afraid
Never so powerful
Perfection wrapped in imperfection

Perfect gifts given
To the imperfect
Have weight
Infinity swirling within
A body…
A glorious risk
A reckless faith
An experiment in Heaven’s lab

It is Love, no less
Spilled gleefully, endlessly
Into little fissured vats
Flawed and leaking
Not good at containing
Eternity must spill out
Just as it spills in

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lipscomb Family Therapy Center - a Place For Healing

This house is now officially the Lipscomb Family Therapy Center. This center is Lipscomb’s newest outreach to Green Hills, to Nashville, and to Middle Tennessee. It is our mission not merely to engage the community, but to make an impact on the community by providing high quality, affordable, and highly accessible mental health services for individuals, couples and families. In this house, some amazing things are going to happen. In this house there will be healing. 

Couples on the pathway to divorce will walk through the doors of this house and walk out of this house on the road to reconciliation, forgiveness, and relational healing.

In this house, people who fight the insidious and destructive powers of depression and anxiety will learn how to push back against these monsters and have joy and peace once again. 

In this house, parents and teens who can’t find a way to get along will find meaningful ways to refresh, renew or reclaim a meaningful relationship with each other. 

In this house, children who have been wounded, abused, and broken will find ways to heal, and grow and be children once again.

In this house, the wounds of the past that keep festering will find healing and relief. 

In this house, engaged couples will learn relational skills that will help their coming marriage for years and decades to come. 

In this house, people who have lost hope will find hope. 

Because inside of this house is holy ground. Within the walls of this house is sacred space where conversations are safe, where people can show their wounds, and where healing can begin. 

Let this be a house of healing.  

Thursday, May 07, 2015

"I'm Prolly Sinning Right Now"

I don't usually sin, but when I do, it's because I'm human. Actually, I sin a lot. In fact, I'm prolly sinning right now. What, you may wonder, am I doing right now that qualifies as sinning? Well, the way I see it, everyone has a relationship with sin in some manner that varies in its visibility to the individual.

Sin is, in short, missing the mark. It is imperfection. If you're not comfortable with the word sin, then maybe let's just go with "nobody's perfect" and leave it there. So, when I use the word sin, just think about "nobody's perfect."

My relationship with sin varies in awareness and likeliness to engage in it. Here are a few ways I think about sin.

Obvious Sin; No TemptationThere are some sins that are so obviously sin, murder for example, that almost everyone would agree that they are indeed sin. Furthermore, I have never been drawn to murder. It has not been a temptation for me. I hope it never is. The odds of my murdering are low, but of course still possible.

Obvious Sin; Temptation: There are some sins that are obviously sin, selfishness for example, that almost everyone would agree that they are indeed sin. For me, it is so very easy to miss the mark on this one. I am selfish. I know that act on self-interest. I take too much and give too little. It is a real problem. I know it is a problem. I do it anyway.

Obscured Sin; Oblivious: Here is a tricky one. This is the one when I am sinning and I don't even know it. It is either due to a lack of awareness that whatever it is I am doing is sin or that I am sinning and do not realize what I am doing. I am either unaware of sin or unaware of myself.

Obscured Sin; Promoted as Though a Virtue: This one is even more tricky. Greed, for example, unless you're Gordon Gekko, we can all agree greed is bad. What we cannot easily agree on is the definition of greed.  What we cannot easily see, especially Americans who live in capitalism like a fish lives in water, is how greed operates, how systems of greed make sin so normal it is espoused and defended (sometimes in the name of God) as virtue. I am a participant in this sin, promoter of this sin, and in the rare moments when I find some vague awareness of this sin, I find it next to impossible to get out of it. But most of the time I am not even aware of it.

This last sin is more abstract than what are more often understood as behavioral sins. It is a system or process of sin. It is a condition of culture on some level that situates people into missing the mark, but in a way so nuanced and subtle that it may be experienced as normal or even virtuous.

So, yep, I'm prolly sinning right now.

Now, here is the kicker. What is obviously sin to me might be in some other category for another person. I might know X to be sin when another person might see the sin X as a virtue - and vice versa.