Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Joy of Confession

No one likes to confess. Confessing means there was some wrong, some violation - perhaps a sin of some sort. It also means that there is some reason to take ownership of that wrong. It also means that the ownership of that wrong is communicated to some other. Confession is difficult because it makes vulnerable the confessor.

Sometimes confession is repugnant to people because sometimes confession is forced. It is the outcome of oppressive acts perpetrated by the powerful. Even if there is some genuine desire to draw out some genuine sense of contriteness, such an outcome cannot be forced. Forced confession, even if it is a true telling of the wrongs, is contrived contriteness.

Some people view confession like self-harm, like spiritual cutting. Why in the world would a person do that to themselves? Others view confession as some sort of exhibitionism - a desperate move for attention. And to be sure, there are some people who share their darkest secrets for these purposes, but these people are not actually confessing. There are a variety of things they may be doing, but confession, in these cases, is not one of them.

So, where is this "joy" in confession?

The joy in confession comes in the relief felt in taking a secret from inside and setting it on the outside, into a social context of you and another who loves you no matter what. Two can bear the weight of the sin more than one. When confession is a discipline, a common thing, the practice of the day or week, it loses its fearful anticipation of what bad thing might happen in confession and turns into the desired process that provides so much relief of holding in anything for too long.

When confession is a frequent discipline, it functions like other normal part of the day - exhaling, going to sleep, going to the bathroom, perhaps sneezing. In the discipline of confession, there is no sense to be made of waiting for some big infraction or for the minor infractions to accumulate to a critical mass. Daily confession is spiritual health like exercise is the body.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Ache

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Is watermelon-sized,
Like a third lung in the chest,
Pressing everything else out of place;
Heart pushed back,
Tears pushed up,
Soul pushed down.

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Makes announcements, at strange times,
Like television commercials,
Drowning out meaningful conversation,
Tarantino of dreams
Shyamalan of visions
Steven King of memories.

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Weighs in at twice bodyweight,
Like instant obesity,
With a sweat-sheen of shame,
Knees buckling,
Lungs laboring,
Back hunching.

Oh unwelcomed intruder,
You are invited,
To leave,
And relocate,
Into the sea,
Into space,
Into Hell where you belong

This space is reserved for the One,
Who lived pre-Ache
And outlives all Aches
And redeems the mess you made
With soothing mercy balm
To the soresoul
To the worrysoul
To the hopesoul

Monday, August 25, 2014

Psalm For Home

We are all tender inside;
Wounds so slow to heal;
Places so easy to wound;
We can get so afraid,
Because it can hurt so bad
Just to be touched

We wonder why flesh covers bone,
And not the other way around;
We fight like warriors,
But we are built to play and dance -
Like children

Don't touch:
Too hot,
Too cold,
Too strong,
Too - This place is just too

Shaken from:
The storm,
The quake,
The war,
The abuse,
The dismissal,
The neglect,
The forgottenness,
The sting after sting after sting after sting - they just keep stinging,

To stop the shock - get stuck one more time.

Were we even meant for this place?
A parody of home,
A caricature of home -
This is bizarro home!
With cracked mirrors that lie,
And full of things that die,
How are ever going to get some rest?

I want to sing a song
And walk through the melody
That opens the door home
Close my eyes
And harmonize
With a song I know from home

I'll just sing til I'm there
Let's just sing our way there
We'll join a song already going
And it will carry us home
The Spiritsong in our voice
And we are home

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blue Thief Walks

Hung jury -
The Blue Thief free -  
To kill, to steal, and to destroy,
Creative souls, 
Delicate hearts, 
Lives saturated in potential.

"Blame the dead!"
They chant at the intersection of
Ignorance and Pomposity, 
Like billionaires comment on slums,
Like Iowans speak of the ocean,
Like the history of Winter in Maui

Compelled to debate, 
While the Blue Thief walks
Into more lives, 
Like fog rolls in obscuring sight,
Like mildew creeps in souring the soul,
Like allergens debilitate with so much sneezing - 
As life is slowly extracted,
From the body,
Such that the body alone remains, 
Compelled to debate;
Missing the point.

"Who killed the clown?"
Says the Blue Thief, 
"The search for the real killer continues,"
Says the Blue Thief, 
As though his murders are not staged. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Community Engagement: Marriage and Family Therapy Has Left The Office

Marriage and Family Therapists are trained as systems thinkers. What this means is that when an individual presents with symptoms of depression or anxiety, the family and social context of the individual is considered to be at least as important as the thoughts, feelings or biological factors at play. In short, MFTs view the individual through the context in which they are situated.

To push the idea of systems even further, the MFT views the social system as the client, not a collection of clients. MFTs treat families in which someone bears the symptom of depression as opposed to an individual with depressive symptom that also happens to have a family. Context is everything for MFTs.

But what would happen if MFTs engaged on a level one step up from the family system? What if MFTs entered the system at the community level? What does MFT work look like at the community level?

Well, the good news is that it is happening already and it is happening more and more frequently. Here is what I mean: Traditionally when a family comes in with a child with school problems, MFTs think of the family taking their position relative to the school system. That is excellent. But now MFTs are engaging at the school level seeking to help develop systemic processes in the school to help families. When a family comes to therapy because their child is not complying with his diabetes regime we consider the medical community - and that is awesome. But now MFTs are developing ways to collaborate with medical professionals to help families to work in the context of other families with the similar challenges to build supportive communities of families. Healing happens better in community.

As mental health professionals trained in systems thinking, MFTs are taking lead in creative ways to engage at the community level for the benefit of individuals, couples, families, and the overall health of the community.

It is now more common than ever for an MFTs to engage with:

  • Hospitals, medical centers, and clinics
  • Public and privates schools, homeschool co-ops, and school districts
  • Non-profits, service organizations, and agencies that serve specific populations or needs
  • International NGOs, mission groups, and relief organizations
  • Religious congregations, parachurch organizations, and faith-based agencies
  • Neighborhoods and community associations
I am so eager to see the creative collaborations that the new MFTs will develop in the next decade. I believe that the MFTs being trained today are going to be the most creative and innovative MFTs since Minuchin and Whitacker. 

I am excited about the MFT students in the Lipscomb University masters program and the community engagement projects they will develop this Fall. It is going to be a joy to see what they invent and an even greater joy to see them get out in the community and deliver. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kenya: Safari

One of the cool things we did while we were in Kenya was to go on a safari with the whole group. It was amazing. We saw some of the most beautiful and majestic creatures that roam the earth. Seeing this giraffe so close was a  treat. So tall, it felt like Jurassic Park. 
We saw this cheetah eating a wildebeest. Just missed the kill. It was kind of incredible and kind of nasty. 

This elephant was the first of the creature we saw. It charged a little bit at us and the van driver's hit reverse faster than I have ever seen someone put a vehicle into reverse. 

This zebra and wildebeest represent the, oh, million or so of them during the migration. Wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye can see. 

 We imagined that God was looking down on us - right through the clouds.

This giraffe pair was so beautiful

 There were crocs down by the river. Made me think of Steve Irwin.
 And then there was this guy, a secretary bird - I think
Hippos are so big. There were probably 100 of them down in the river and the shore. And how can you not say, "put a bird on it?"
 And seeing over a dozen lions was pretty cool. Seeing this one walking about and not sleeping was great.

Mork, Mr. Keating, Patch and Me

I was 8 years when Robin Williams first made me laugh. His appearance on Happy Days as Mork from Ork spoke deeply to my third grade sense of humor and gave me a whole lot of joy. Since then, he has delivered the gift of laughter to me and millions of others in consistent and generous portions. What is more is that he punctuated the stream of hilarity with poignant and compelling roles in such films Dead Poets’ Society and Good Will Hunting. Every age I have been since my introduction to Mork, Robin Williams has provided meaningful and life-giving experiences. There is a part of who I am now that would never have been given space to develop without this man. His life’s work was replete with messages that opened up parts of me.  

His final message breaks my heart. The heart of the 8 year old boy in me breaks because that little boy still wants to hear about the zany culture on the planet Ork.
The teenage young man in my still wants the courage to stand up and say, “Oh captain! My captain!” The 20 something man in me, who is sorting out his past, still wants to cry and be held and be told that it’s not my fault. There is a health professional in me that needs Patch Adams to remind me that we treat patients more than we treat diseases and disorders and of how laughter is so healing.

As a mental health professional and educator, I also see the death of Robin Williams through the lens of depression. Williams, like millions of others, did not sit down one day and make a choice that he would like to wrestle with depression, but rather it rolled in like dense fog obscuring his psychological clarity or perhaps slowly crept in like black mold infecting him and his ability to psychologically breathe. Depression is an insidious experience that no one chooses. Sometimes it goes away all on its own like a common cold, but sometimes it is psychological Ebola that requires immediate, intense, and sustained intervention or else it is fatal. The problem is that there is no way to know on the front end whether it will heal on its own or will progress toward death.

Depression is always a serious situation. It always deserves meaningful and professional attention. The death of Robin Williams has further reinforced within me how important it is for people with symptoms of depression to go and get those symptoms checked out with a mental health professional. Getting symptoms of depression checked out by a mental health professional is no different than getting an x-ray on your arm to check for a break after an injury. It is just a smart thing to do. 

“I Am Depressed”

“I am depressed.” I have heard it so many times. You probably have heard it too. It is possible that you have even said it yourself. I know that I have. When someone is feeling down, having a bad day, has experienced a serious loss, or is having significant symptoms of depression, “I am depressed,” is often the way their emotional state is described.

I don’t like it – the language that is. The language that has become the most common way to talk about the problem called depression is also a personal identity statement. This is not good.

Think about it – people fighting cancer do not say, “I am cancer.” People who have the flu do not say, “I am flu.” And yet, the most common way to communicate a struggle with depression is to make an identity statement – “I am depressed.”

So, what’s the big deal? Who cares how a person articulates their experience? Isn’t this just a nit-picky thing for academics to argue about as they try to sound important enough to justify their position?
Well, as it turns out,  it matters quite a bit. Here is why:

Objectification. When a person says, “I am depressed,” they are making a self-objectifying statement. Objectification is treating a person like a thing, and it is corrosive to the soul. No person is the problem that they are dealing with, and yet that is what “I am depressed” is communicating and reinforcing. Furthermore, When the rest of us allow depression and identity to be synonymous, we participate in the objectification. People deal with problems, but people are not problems.

Dangerous. When people say, “I am depressed,” they are making no distinction between the problem they are dealing with and who they are. When there is no distinction between a person and the problem the only way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the person. WHOA! This just got real. When the problem is as insidious as depression and people identify themselves as the problem, it can seem logically impossible to get rid of the problem without harming the self. With depression increasing the risk of suicide, this is no small matter.

Externalizing is healing. When we are able use language that makes a distinction between depression and the person, the problem can be externalized. When depression can be understood as something other than the self and instead something that happens to us, that ambushes us, that pays us unwelcomed visits, the problem can be resisted without damaging oneself. Many people experience some relief with the simple distinction that they are not the problem.

Just changing the way we communicate about depression, and mental health issues of all kinds, can help bring some relief. Changing how we communicate about mental health is a way that all of us can be part of a supportive social system for people struggling with depression. It is certainly not the cure, but it can contribute to a cure, it can be a first step to a cure. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide Narratives That Fail To Help

The tragic death of Robin Williams has caused quite a bit of conversation about depression and suicide. The topic is difficult enough to discuss all on its own, but in the midst of shock and grief over someone so loved as Robin Williams, the conversation becomes even more challenging – and even more salient.

There are social narratives of depression and suicide that inform, challenge or reinforce existing beliefs and ideas people have concerning these topics. Some of the narratives are accurate and useful while other narratives are riddled with flaws and are not the least bit constructive. Here are four narrative about depression and/or suicide that do not help.

The Freedom Narrative.  One of the suicide narratives that is difficult to handle is the freedom narrative. The Academy decided the go this route. We all love the genie metaphor and the iconic voice work Robin Williams did in Aladdin. The image below is awesome and memorable. The play on words is clever. However, the assumptions supporting the message are troubling.

The Freedom Narrative is meant to be generous and liberating, but what appears to be a message meant for the one who died is really an attempt for those of us remaining to be soothed – and in some way let off the hook for the tragedy. Of course is it not my fault Rabin Williams is dead, but at the same time I feel terrible about it and wish it did not happen. The Freedom Narrative is an attempt to gloss over the tragedy without responsibility.

But if the embedded selfishness in the Freedom Narrative of suicide were not enough of a problem, the message it gives to those who are on the brink is worse. People contemplating taking their own life are in such a dark and pained place that they are looking for a meaningful end to the pain and suffering. None of these people desires to take their own life, but when every other option appears to be a dead end, then taking the dead end option makes sense. The Freedom Narrative allows for the literal dead end option to appear far more reasonable than it is.

The Choice Narrative. Another suicide narrative that is seriously flawed in its failure of depth is the Choice Narrative. Matt Walsh has espoused this narrative and aggressively defended it on his blog. The Choice Narrative functions in many ways (ironically) as the opposite of the Freedom Narrative. The Choice Narrative assigns complete and total responsibility for the death of the individual on the individual and only the individual – without exception.

This is a flawed and risky blame-the-victim narrative that serves to absolve everyone from any responsibility, as though people just end their lives out of context. Only through the myopic lens of hyper-individualism does such a narrative begin to make any sense.

Walsh seems too understand that the effects of suicide are contextual in that people who knew and cared about the person who died are hurt, but fails completely too understand how context can contribute to the suicide itself.

He makes the same mistake many people do when trying to make sense of something so tragic – going to the single story. Suicide is NEVER a single story of a person who takes their own life. There is ALWAYS a complex interplays of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors with each suicide. Suicide is not the problem in and of itself, it is the horrific symptom of a complex systemic function and dysfunction on all levels.

To say that it suicide “is a choice – end of discussion” fails to address the issue. It is a gloss over just as much as the Freedom narrative. The Choice Narrative:
  • Is not a thoughtful or accurate understanding of suicide
  • Leaves people unnecessarily absolved or hurting even more
  • Does not prevent future suicides
  • Hurts others in its self-righteous disposition
  • Fails completely to demonstrate empathy for the hurting people who live with the aftermath
  • Increases the risk of suicide because people on the verge are only discouraged by the necessary social distance that the embedded blame causes
The Spiritual Narrative. The Spiritual Narrative is probably the most disturbing to me since I am Christian who holds his faith as more important than anything. I should start by saying that this is not about theology, but about BAD THEOLOGY.

Spirituality, religion, and faith can serve as protective factors against depression and suicide, but there is no evidence that a deep faith, regardless of the religion or spiritual bent, is an impenetrable psychological dome of mental health perfection. People of faith fight depression. In fact, Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet would most likely have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Did God judge him for having no faith? Nope. Did God just heal Jeremiah’s depression because he was a believer? Nope. He did find Jeremiah a good follower just as he was. Depression did not disqualify him from service. In fact, there were times when it drove him toward a deep and meaningful outpouring of pain that people can identify with.

Another sliver of the Spiritual Narrative is that suicide is a one way ticket to Hell. This perspective is completely unsupportable and is rooted in a theology that is void of the grace and generosity of the God of the Bible and the Jesus found in the new testament. No, of course God does not desire suicide, but what kind of God sends someone to Hell forever just after that person has already been through Hell on Earth?
It is a contempt of scripture to use it for the blaming or damning of people who suffer from depression and end up taking their own life.

The Disease Narrative. This is one of the perspectives I hear from people in my field – mental health practitioners. I have a problem with the word disease in this context. The reason I have a problem with the word is that due to its connotation, it does a few unintended things that are not helpful at all.

For many people, the word “disease” is reserved for infections that are bacterial, viral, or fungal in nature or a process that is in their minds tangible, like heart disease. When the word “disease” is used to describe something that looks like a “behavior,” the word become unhelpful. For example, addiction as disease makes no sense because there is an observable behavior that appears to be synonymous with the diagnosis. Thus, when the word “disease” is used and there is not an infection or condition that can be identified AND there is an identifiable behavior that is present, the whole conversation about the problem gets dismissed and people get polarized talking about the definition of the problem, but not the problem.

For others the term disease is debilitating. If something is a disease it means that it is beyond their capacity to resolve it. For some people there is a debilitating permanence connected to the term and thus makes treatment seem like a meaningless waste of time and energy.

Finally, it seems like the term “disease” is used as push back against people who deny that there is a problem. It is as if the problem is elevated to the level of “disease",” then people will take you seriously. In my opinion, the disease language is more about being taken seriously in a world that objectifies, stigmatizes, and dismisses what it does not understand or would prefer not to deal with than it is about a meaningful and useful terminology. The Disease Narrative is playing defense in an offensive world.

Depression and suicide are not easy topics to discuss ever, but are even more difficult or more charged when we are still aching from a loss from suicide. My suggestion is to be generous and thoughtful when discussing these topics without giving in to simply dismissing it altogether. There are many narratives about depression and suicide and many of them do not help in conversations because they are infused with assumptions that are filled with blame, abdication, or dismissal. And yet, many of these narratives are so easy to latch on to because they are plenty, come from what seem to be trusted sources, or allow for simply closure and a moving on to the next topic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kenya: Kenya Life

There is no way to tell the whole story of any story. Words capture as much as an image at a moment in time. All the smells, sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and moods cannot be gathered into writing.

Such is true with gathering words to write about Kenya life. What was it like day and day out at MITS? Being submerged into a culture different than my own made for everything being worth noting. I even understood the people I knew from the states differently in Kenya.   Context can change the meaning of something that itself does not change. Weird, but true.

There are four things I want to share that were a constant experience in Kenya: weather, mobility, access, and time.

Weather: The weather is important no matter where a person lives, but I would argue that it is more important in Kenya than in the states. The reason has not so much to do with the weather, but rather than so much of Kenyan life is outdoors.

We were within about 100 miles from being on the equator. Prior to going to Kenya, my assumption was that being so close to the equator would mean being super hot. I geared up for it.  I had been to Ghana twice, about 300 miles north of the equator, and it was always hot there. However, where we were in Kenya was about a mile high in elevation. Mornings were cool, in the 50’s and days were warm, but not hot, in the high 70’s and maybe low 80’s.  Days run about 12 hours near the equator. Since we were south of the equator, it was technically winter in Kenya. Felt pretty good to me.

It rained once while we were there, which of course prompted a chorus of Toto’s 1980’s song, Africa, more than once. The rain was not a deluge as it was not rainy season, however, the rain mixing with the dirt there made for some of stickiest clay-mud I have ever experienced. Since all walking paths and roads at MITS (and everywhere) are dirt, there is no escaping the clay-mud when it rains. Yes, read NO SIDEWALKS.

The way that the mud-clay accumulated on the bottoms of shoes was extraordinary. It was not the sloppy mud that is so messy, but sloshes off after some accumulation. It was not clay that sticks, but might knock off. It felt as though with every step the mud-clay accumulated a little more with the end result being an every  increasing heel of some accidental Kenyan platform shoe.

When it dried, it wanted to solidify so hard as to  simply become part of your shoe. 

Getting around. There is more walking in Kenya than in the states. A lot more walking. I had a 30 minute walk to get from where I stayed to where I taught. Had I a car, I would have driven it. But no one does that. Long slow walks are part of the life in Kenya.  It was good as it provided opportunity for conversation and getting to know people.

In the states, 30 minute commutes are singular activities with radio too offset the solitude. I liked the rhythm of daily walks.

Driving was necessary in order to get into the city or run to the store for something that was not at any of the local vendors. And driving is terrifying. With random, massive, and unexpected speed bumps and humps, with driving on what I consider the wrong side of the road, with the aggressive passing, with all the honking and flickering of the headlights, with all the “overspeeding” (as they call it), and herky-jerky here and there, side to side, speed up fast and brake driving action, it is enough to make one never want to be  in a vehicle ever again.

Locks. Everything is behind a pad lock, gate and wall. Security is an issue. Poverty is just life. Taking what is not yours is not acceptable, but it is understood to be a common occurrence. The challenge with everything being behind a padlock is that most of the locked were key locks with a single set of keys – that were in someone else’s hands when you wanted them.

Not having access to the place you are staying can make for a great deal of insecurity, especially bathroom insecurity.

Time (now). Now is the time. Clocks, schedules, appointments, deadlines, and so many of the situations that time-obsessed Americans tether to the clock are not so much in Africa. Although the more westernized style of educated Kenyans does lean toward time-centered flow of the day, there is still a sense that there is Africa time – which is when it happens. Time is now. We are here now and that is what matters.

There are ups sides and down sides to this. Being present in the moment is easier as a Kenyan. There is less worry about the future as today is all that there is to deal with. Americans may view this as an unproductive way to go about living, and in some measures of American productivity, it is. However, what Americans lose in their ever time-conscious worldview is the moment in which they are living. This can come at a high cost with excesses resulting in regret.

Kenyan life and American life differ, sometimes greatly. I hope to capture being in the moment more now than I did before.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kenya: MITS Staff

An organization is only as good as the people who run it. That being said, MITS is an amazing organization.

The staff at Made in the Streets is an incredible collection of people who are dedicated to the mission of rescuing, nurturing, and equipping children who have been on the streets of Eastleigh and preparing them for productive and meaningful lives in Nairobi.

The MITS staff is comprised of nearly 40 amazing people. What is incredible is that about a dozen off the staff are MITS graduates, which means they were on the streets at one time, went through the MITS program successfully, and then were invited to return to be on the MITS staff.

Here are a few of them:

Moses. Moses walks base camps in Eastleigh engaging street children, praying with them, inviting them to programs at the center that provide hope. Once on the street himself, Moses knows that challenges, questions, and experiences of children living on the street. He also knows that there is a pathway off the street.

Mary. Mary is so full of life and energy. She inspires skills students in fashion and design. Mary has overcome much adversity in her life. When she prays, it is a force of nature. When she leads worship, there is no stopping her. She desires to be fully engaged in what God is going in her life, in the lives of the MITS children, and in the world around her. She recently got some press in a prominent Kenyan fashion magazine that featured her work. When I was there, she was interviewed for an hour on one of the most listened to radio programs in Nairobi.

Mbuvi. Francis Mbuvi is the leader of the team in Kamulu. He leads with a quiet and gentle spirit. He is as rock solid as they come.

Irene. Irene is as intelligent as she is passionate about serving the children of MITS. Trained in psychology, she understands the experiences of the children, their trauma, and how to build resilience. She has big dreams too. She has hopes to create a counseling center at the MITS facility. I also have some big dreams that dovetail with hers. I would love to send students to MITS for an internship to do therapy with the children.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Something On The Horizon (Behind You)

After so much nothing
Wheeling so fast
Feeling so slow

After so much tut-tut-tut tut-tut-tut
Highway speed - for so long,
Infinite distance,
Never going to get there,
Monotony lulls,
Perceived progresslessness;
Weighted eyelids

“There.” It is! There is here! Wake up! You’re missing it!

Tut-tut-tut tut-tut-tut
So much nothing.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Marriage: Opportunity, Suffering, and Mystery

It is difficult to speak about marriage to people these days. Most people who are the age to get married (a first marriage – 20’s and early 30’s) have grown up their entire lives in a context where the marriage narrative is negative. Divorce, abuse, cohabitation is no different, loss of freedom, pointless and on and on, the negative cultural narratives about marriage make it unattractive. The limits and risks in the marriage negative narrative make it difficult for many to want to consider it. This narrative is supported by their own experiences growing up or at least the experiences of people they know as well as endless celebrity divorce and break up news and widely publicized (inaccurately at times) divorce  statistics.

The push back marriage positive narrative doesn't help much either. In short, marriage is oversold as a way to personal happiness: "Here are all the great economic and health benefits of getting married - live longer, get wealthier, be happy..." The marriage positive narrative can sound more the dreaded prosperity gospel of the crooked Christian television pastors. What is worse is the indulgent and greedy wedding industry that seems to link the amount of money spent on a wedding to the amount of love invested into a marriage.  This narrative is supported by selective research findings and religious templates of what marriage is supposed to be.

Sadly, both the negative and the positive narrative are all too often being oversold. Overselling either narrative is a problem in a number of ways.

1.They are not an accurate view of marriage

2. What might be descriptive of some specific marriages is communicated as prescriptive of  marriage in general

3. There seems to be additional and unhelpful motivation in either case for communicating the marital narratives in the way they are communicated. People who are  compelled either to diminish marriage or  militantly advocate for it seem to have some additional stake in their efforts that has nothing to do with the people they are communicating with.

Plus, these narratives are situated into the relentless cultural support for hyper-individualism and consumerism which elevates above all other things a cost-benefit analyses as the basis for marriage - the costs being "how little do I have to relationally invest or risk" and the benefits being "how much sustained satisfaction can I extract." No one is really going to outright admit that this is true. However, in a sense, although we know that we are not supposed to be selfish in a relationship, we have been so well trained by the power of cultural inertia to focus on personal satisfactions that it is the only thing that comes naturally when the relationship is up and running. Applying economic principles, even accidentally, to an intimate relationship is like spreading a smooth layer of mud onto bread and calling it a sandwich. It just doesn't work.

Marriage is, in large measure, a process filled with opportunity, suffering, and mystery that has great potential for good for a majority of people. Here is a very small sample:

Opportunity: The opportunities that occur within marriage, a committed, intimate, and exclusive relationship between two people that is recognized by layers of community and family, are numerous. The primary opportunities are for growth. Marriage provides context for growth that is constant and the stakes are real. In order to be intimate, there must be risk. Risk-free intimacy is no intimacy at all. Not committing in an intimate relationship is a risk-avoidant process that wears on efforts at intimacy. The answer to the question, “Can I be committed to someone, even when it gets difficult?” cannot be answered very well with serial monogamy. In order to there to be sustained intimacy there must be sustained growth. In marriage, an individual has the opportunity to become the very best version of themselves because there is real time feedback (intentional and unintentional) on their efforts. Satisfaction that is genuine and sustainable comes after growth, not before it. Gratification can happen at any point, but most people eventually tire of mere gratification like they do of eating the frosting off the cake -  it doesn’t kill, but it also does not sustain. Genuine satisfaction that is sustainable is a process that takes committed time to a committed other. Marriage provides opportunity for the experience that some things can only be accomplished by a marital social system or can be accomplished easier in that system. Yes, children can be raised in other family structures, but marriage provides an excellent social context as married parents can serve as an amazing resource for each other that were such a resource to be outsourced, the costs would be significant. Married parents are required to grow as they raise children together as the children force out all kinds of latent rules and roles that must be engaged and modified in order for the marital social system to survive. Grow or suffer.

Suffering: Speaking of suffering, there will be suffering in marriage. That is no different than any other part of life, so this should not be frightening to anyone. The person who believes they will escape this life without suffering knows so little of life. The suffering in marriage is often caught up in the extent to which the individual must give up part of himself or herself that does not make for a better relationship. It is called sacrifice or sometimes it is called self-confrontation. When genuine and meaningful sacrifice is made in the marital context, the outcome is often that the thing given up is not missed for what the space left by that thing given up allowed for in the marriage.
When significant loss happens and grief makes its unwelcomed visits, the couple suffers, but they have the opportunity to suffer together – to share in the grief, the pain, and the uncertainties. Such things can strain a marriage, but also opens door for the building of resilience and depth.

Mystery: Life long sustained efforts at intimacy can lead to unexpected things in marriage. Knowing that two people are committed to each other until death opens up dreams and hopes and the chance for the unexpected. Revelation about self, about the other and about the relationship through years of storying and re-storying events of life together can make for deeply meaningful reflections and marital identity making. It makes for shifting and generative meaning-making through years and decades together. Events change meaning when there are three, four, or five decades to re-story them. Such mysteries of marriage deepen and grow with the length of the marriage. Serial monogamy cannot offer this mystery as previous events of past relationships cannot be borrowed into the next as shared experiences.

This does not even scratch the surface, but it is a small hint into what marriage can be.
Marriage is not the horror narrative that all too often gets told in the media, nor is it the fairy tale narrative told by the marriage imposers. It is not an obligation in order to be a normal person and it is not a death trap  meant to ruin all of your freedom entitlements.

It is a context where in two individuals find meaningful ways to become one without losing themselves. THAT is beautiful.

Kenya: Kids

The children at Made In The Streets are inspiring. The younger children are learning basic literacy, math, communications, science, Bible and some other subjects while the older children are learning a trade: woodworking, fashion and design, catering, beauty and hair, or farming. They are being prepared with useful and marketable skills for their local economy. With these skills, these children who were formerly on the streets fighting to survive will be situated to thrive.
I like Antony’s smile and sly sense of humor.

Jane gave me my first ever pedicure. This girl is going to make it. She is good at what she does and is savvy in her marketing.

Lydia and Lucy are both such sweet and beautiful young women. Their hearts are deep and they have a lot of love to give.

Ambush is his name and he graduated last year and is working in the Nairobi fashion industry. He came back to MITS for a day to speak with current skills students on what it is like to graduate, get a job and live on your own. He is an inspiration to the current students, but also to the MITS staff and the visiting team.

Sylvester has such a welcoming smile and servant’s heart. He was found helping out frequently.

One of the great joys of this trip was to have my mother join us. It was a dream come true as I recall when I was a children she would speak about how wonderful it would be to do mission work in Africa. Well, it took a few decades, but here is evidence of a dream fulfilled.

Mom got tagged as “Sho Sho Linda,” which means Grandma Linda. The children took to her. Being from the streets, these children had little or no contact with their grandmothers. There is a grandmother void for these kids and my mother was glad to put a little something of herself into that void.
I had the privilege to teach a class to many of the older students to help them prepare to launch out into the world.

Children of all ages of all nations like to  play


and to be silly


and to be held. it should be stated that this little guy has the look on his face that we saw more than once. It is his fake "I am not having fun face." He was loving the attention he got from Sierra and LOVED HIM SOME IPHONE.

One of the most amazing things to ponder is how the street children of Eastleigh, with their painfully filthy living conditions, glued addicted stupor, and withering poverty can turn into healthy and smiling children poised for success in life. Having seen face to face both street children and MITS children, there is no better measure of the transformational work of this mission and how God uses people to lift people.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Kenya: Eastleigh


In two previous posts I talked about Methare Valley (here and here). Another place in Nairbo where Made In The Streets has a presence is in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh.

Methare Valley and Eastleigh have poverty in common, but there are many differences. Eastleigh is both more and less developed than Methare Valley. Eastleigh is not a slum, but s run down suburb where poverty has come in and run amuck. There are multi-story buildings in varying stages of either development or dilapidation in Eastleigh as opposed to the random, make-shift housing units cobbled together in Mathare Valley.

Another difference is that Eastleigh has a much more overt Muslim presence than Methare Valley. There are Muslim places of worship, more Muslim dress, and much more signage in Arabic.

IMG_6918Eastleigh is “home” to many street children whereas there are no street children in Methare Valley. In fact, street children in Methare Valley end up in Easleigh.

Our visit to Eastleigh involved base-walking, which means meeting the street children at their bases. A base is simply a location where street IMG_6900

children gather. It is usually identifiable by a small lean-to or unique land formation. To them it is home. When we came up upon our first base, I did not even know it was a base. It just looked like children sitting together, high on glue. Larry Conway guided our base-walking group through some basics of base-walking. As we approached the children, Larry and Moses took lead and helped our group engage with the group of children. Moses translated between English and Swahili.

We all introduced ourselves and they themselves. I was surprised they were so eager to listen. What I found out later was that street children are either feared as dangerous by locals or are invisible to locals. In short, no one bothers to talk with them. So, when Mzungus (white people) bother to stop, they are at least curious and sometimes eager as it might mean help.

This was a base that had been visited by Larry and Moses and others before, so there was some pre-existing familiarity. Larry, in both English and Swahili, ,asked who would like to say a prayer to start our conversation. It was an unexpected move so far as I was concerned. Then what come next was even more unexpected. One of the boys at the base base pointed directly at me and said, “you.” Then everyone looked at me. I looked around at everyone looking at me with the expectant looks on their faces. What else could I do? I began to pray. Moses interpreted.

We spent about 20 minutes at the base sharing scripture and stories and the boys at the base listened much more than I could have ever imagined. Perhaps they were really engaged. Perhaps they were so high on glue that they didn’t have the will to do anything else. Perhaps they thought they were going to get food. It is really hard to tell.

Then it was time to close it out and visit another base. Larry asked the boys which one of them would close us off in prayer. Again, it was unexpected. Then one of the boys stepped up and volunteered to pray. Dirty, covered in flies, glue bottles shoved in his left from pocket, he stood to pray.

His prayer maneuvered past all of my defenses and put me to tears. He prayer for us, for our safety, for protection for others, for all kinds of selfless things. His prayer was coherent, compassionate, and unselfish. How could a glue addicted street kid put together such a prayer.

It occurred to me that he is living in two worlds. He depends on glue and he depends on God. He is in squalor and abject poverty and has a wealth spiritual access. He is broken and he is whole.

But my tears. What was it about his prayer that squeezed my heart? Later I figured it out. I felt deep within me that as different as our life circumstances are, there is no difference between us. He has a glue bottle shoved in his pocket that I  can clearly see, but what “glue bottle” do I have shoved into my pocket? What do I rely on when I should have faith?

I entered the base walk to engage with people so different from me and left with the disconcerting and generous understanding that our differences are overwhelmed by our similarities.


These glue addicted children on the streets of Eastleigh are in process, just like I am. They are loved by God no less and no more than I am loved by God. We have our own types of poverty and our own types of wealth. We engage and share in each other’s poverty and share in each other’s wealth. And we hope and we pray and we never give up.


League of Extraordinary MFTs

It happened. For real. Last night a dream that began three years ago came into its complete fullness. The first cohort of MFT students has left the nest and now go into the world to practice the profession they have been rigorously studying for two years. It’s humbling. It’s exciting. It’s beautiful.

Three years ago, when the program was nothing more than an idea, I was reluctant even to consider engaging in it. I had completed my first year of being a new university professor and felt like I needed a couple more years to get my footing. Not only that, the idea was not even mine. I was simply asked to help out.

Well, little did I know that helping would become lots of helping, and lots of helping would become leading, and lots of leading would become being the director of the program. Before I knew it, I was in charge of everything.

Two years ago I met the first cohort at the initial orientation in a downstairs conference room in the student center. I was impressed at the first meeting and eager to get started. I decided to be bold and to challenge them that this program would be rigorous and that they would need their cohort to “cooperate to graduate.” I made promises about quality and rigor and how well prepared they would be by the time they graduated – promises I knew I had to find a way to keep.

My words were not based on any evidence whatsoever. I had no idea what was really going to happen. I wondered whether it would even work. We were working on the curriculum as we went, I was the only full time faculty, we did not have an onsite clinic nor did we have any identified clinical sites. In an ideal world, we would have had another entire year to prepare for the roll out of the program. We had no such luxury. We sailed the ship as we built it.

Looking back after two years, I see that the ship sailed all the way to from one shore to the next – no one fell out and no one drown. More than that, 15 students thrived and excelled and succeeded beyond my most optimistic dream.

There are now 15 graduates, a league of extraordinary MFTs, who will:

  • Take the next step in their MFT profession.
  • Provide excellent therapy for hundreds and hundreds of individuals, couples and families who need help.
  • Advance in the profession and make it a better profession.
  • Continue to grow and develop in their own relationships.

So, Aron, Jen, Jenny, Jeanetta, AnnChristine, Adella, Siobhan, Amanda, Nathan, Marcus, Nikki, Bekah, Drea, Juli, and Alyssa, you are amazing. You are forever etched into my life – unforgettable. You are the newest and most promising face of this profession and the field of MFT. You now take you place in this sacred work and will shape this profession in middle Tennessee, in California, in Pennsylvania and wherever else your life journey takes you.

I am proud of every single one of you. I am proud to say you were trained at Lipscomb. I am proud to say that I got to be  involved in your training as an MFT. I am honored and humbled that I got to  be involved in your lives so deeply. I cannot wait for the opportunity to say, “that MFT was trained at Lipscomb,” because the reputation of this program is tied to your excellence – and you are excellent!

May God continue to unleash blessing in and through you so you can continue to bless the world.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Kenya: Methare Valley (Where is God?)

In my last post I shared a bit about the slum of Merthare Valley in Nairobi where half a million people live. It is a place of contrasts with poverty as a main feature, and yet seasoned with beauty, redemptive smiles of children, and a thin but active economy.
When we first approached Methare Valley in our bus, all I saw was squalor. Lines of abandoned cars covered in dust, trash piled up with old men and children picking through it looking for something valuable, people standing around with seemingly nothing to do – the place looked like what depression feels like. I tried to imagine what it was like living there and my heart sank. I wondered, “Where is God?”
This question that emerges in the midst sprawling poverty, “where is God?” is exposing…of my own spiritual poverty. My immediate assumptions about Methare Valley and poverty and God had immediate implications. Although I did not overtly think this, the assumption supporting my question was that God cannot be where economic poverty is. In short, I was unwittingly admitting that I am much more beholden to the Joel Osteen style prosperity gospel than I would like to admit.
This is embarrassing since I am such a critic of this false teaching. To make the automatic assumption that economic conditions are some indicator light for the presence of God IS THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL!. Of course God is in Methare Valley. God is as much in Methare Valley as He is in my middle class neighborhood in Tennessee, the monasteries of Kentucky, Wall Street, or anywhere else. God does not play favorites and prove who is “blessed” by money.
When I looked to that which contrasted the poverty, I saw God. In the smiles of children, the the families that were still in tact, in the neighborly way people looked out for each other, in hospitable and welcoming spirit people had, in the lack of complaint for their situation – there is life in the slums. Slum churches were vibrant a live in their dark ramshackle structures. In the midst of economic poverty, life emerges, it presses through, and it is even thrives. Like flowers grow through the cracks of pavement, life presses through the pavement of poverty.
God does save people in the poverty of Methare Valley, but God also saves people in the poverty of Wall Street.  The way God saves people usually has nothing to do with how much money they have. People saved out of effects of economic poverty of Methare Valley might never get rich while people saved out of the moral poverty of Wall Street might always be rich. There is no necessary correlation.
There is a life and depth of spirituality alive and well in Methare Valley that I do not have access to in middle Tennessee. There is constant faith for provision that I simply do not consider on a day to day basis. I must purge the prosperity gospel that has a greater hold on me than I want to admit and notice that my confidence in things has so comforted me that I have replaced faith in God with the reliability of the good infrastructure.

Where is God in Methare Valley? When I was there, God was busy - very busy. And one of the things he was doing was undoing layers of internalized bad theology in me.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Kenya: Methare Valley

Methare Valley is a sprawling slum in Nairobi. Half a million people live in this slum. Narrow zig-zag pathways snake between endless ramshackle, make-shift metal housing units where ducks, chickens, and goats lap sewage water that runs in sometimes random places. Low hanging power lines link across the zig-zag pathways and water trickles in the cracks on the ground as you walk creating a constant hazard.
There are far fewer actual roads than the population density requires and the roads are poorly kept. It feels disorganized, unplanned, and uncontrolled. Forget about zoning and HOA rules. This place feels like a free for all. Poverty closes in on all sides as the slum stretches for as far as the eye can see.
The main road passing through the slum bustles with activity. Venders selling their wares and food fill the streets, some of the very engaging and some aggressive as they seek to make a day’s wage. If they can make a couple dollars, they have had a good day. One person cooked french fries over an open fire in the street. They looked pretty good, but I passed by not giving in the temptation.

The smells of the slum were a strange mix of delicious food, raw sewage, and diesel exhaust. The smells were pungent and savory all at once and there was the slight feel of carnival excitement. It appeared as though the smells were invisible to the locals, but what was not invisible to the locals was our group of white Americans walking through the slum.
In the midst of the immense poverty, there was beauty. The beautiful children with smiles on their faces played in the streets perhaps oblivious to the extent of their poverty.
Young women with habits looking like nuns enjoyed delicious popsicles as they walked down the street after Sunday worship.
The main focus of our visit was to go with a Made In The Streets staff member named Jackton to visit his father, who still lives in the valley. He lived in a very small place situated deep into the valley. Snaking between the puzzled together houses made it impossible for a newcomer to have any idea how anyone could know how to get there get there or how to get out. All 15 of us found a way to squeeze into the home of Jackton’s father, a space no larger than my bedroom. He told us stories of living in the valley, how he worked as a mechanic, and how his wife lived in the up country on their land in order to protect it from thieves.
Many of the children who are at Made In The Streets once lived in the valley. It is a place they call home and it is filled with a strange mix of memories for them, some good and some bad, just like the mix of smells.
It is overwhelming and humbling to walk through Methare Valley. In one sense it feels hopeless. How could there ever be enough economic input the lift this slum from the withering poverty? On the other hand, it appears that for many of the people there, the poverty is more of a problem for me than it is for them. Regardless, the experience in the valley felt like both a gift and an indictment. It forced me to understand myself outside of my most common context, to be in a place where I know that the social forces of poverty are so far beyond the power I have to change it that my own sense of power diminished to some more appropriate level. My privilege became as obvious to me as the color of my skin walking the streets.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Kenya: Teaching

Of the many roles I took on in my time in Kenya, teaching was one of the primary roles. I had two teaching situations: staff and students.
Staff Seminar. For the staff I conducted a 4 hour seminar on trauma and resilience. The purpose of this training was to help the Made in The Streets staff become more familiar with indicators of trauma as well as reinforce community processes that promote resilience in individuals. The focus on community processes was intentional because African culture is much more communal in its assumptions as opposed to individualistic.
The staff received the seminar well. I was not surprised that they were such quick studies on the material as it related to the MITS students, but what did take me off guard some was how readily they applied the material to their own lives. A decent percentage of the staff were once street children themselves. For some of the staff, along with the incredible work they do for the children comes reminders of their own difficult past. It was a great joy of mine to get to affirm what they are already doing right for the students and themselves as well as introduce them to some new and useful concepts.
Student class. I got spend several one hour class periods with the older students discussing their lives in the past, the present and the future. The goal was to get them to imagine a good and successful future, anticipating their success and potential challenges.
The students received the information well and engaged in the role play.

Teaching in a cross-cultural setting has its challenges. Even though the staff and children speak English, that does not guarantee shared meaning. One thing I learned is that English has a much more robust emotional vocabulary than does Swahili and also the tribal languages. So, when asking for emotional expression in words, what I am also asking is for the students and staff to go to their third language to find those words as I am monolingual (blush - shame). The problem is that when multi-lingual people express emotions verbally, their native tongue is most accessible to them, but the language most accessible is significantly void of emotional vocabulary. It is a challenge.

All in all, my teaching role went well and I was pleased with the outcomes. At the same time, if I get to go back and do it again, I believe I will make some changes and engage with more experiential opportunities.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Kenya: In General

The trip to Made In The Streets in Kenya was nothing short of amazing. There were so many things that happened that capturing it all at once is going to be impossible.
I am incredibly grateful to the over 3 dozen people who supported us financially and the many more who supported us in prayer. Thanks to all the people in Kenya who welcomed us, hosted us, made space for us, and shared their lives with us.
Although there are so many different ways to understand the time in Kenya, I try to clump the experiences into something I an put a name to. Here are the categories of things that happened:
1. Teaching
2. Methare Valley
3. Methare Valley (Where is God?)
4. Eastleigh
5. MITS kids
6. MITS Staff
7. Kenya Life
8. Safari
It is my hope to get the opportunity over the next few days to write on each of these topics.