Looking for One of My Readers

I want to talk to you!

looking for binoculars

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Several months ago I received one of the kindest, most genuine, honest emails I have ever received. It was fairly lengthy (which I love) and I didn’t have time to respond at the moment so I simply fired off a note that the email was really meaningful to me and that I’d respond in more detail soon.

When I went to respond I couldn’t find the original email so I lost the reader’s email and their contact info. If you read this post and you are the person (a person who described herself as spiritually searching, african-american, and gay), I’m looking for you!

This was such a meaningful email to me and I feel terrible that I never was able to give it the attention it deserved. Whoever you are, if you’re the person I’m thinking of who reached out to me in such a beautiful, heartfelt way, would you please either respond to this post in the comment section or email me at dave at davidkflowers dot com?

I know this is a long shot but I want to do all I can. And, if you’re reading, I’m SO sorry. All these months later I can’t stop thinking about your email and would like so much to find you.

“Christian” and “Counseling”

How do these fit together?

christian counseling

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I recently completed an interview for several of my graduate students about my perspectives on the integration of faith and counseling. I think my answer to one of the questions is something some of my readers might appreciate.

Question: How do you distinguish between secular counseling, Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, and biblical counseling?

Secular Counseling

For me there’s no such thing as secular counseling. I’m not capable of doing it because God is always in my perspective, even if I don’t share that with the client, and oftentimes I won’t, depending on where the client is coming from. I don’t feel any need to make this part of therapy if it doesn’t speak to the client.

Christian Counseling

The most important word in “Christian counseling” is “counseling,” not Christian. In other words, if a therapist is good, sensitive, caring, and intuitive, they can do enormously healing work (which I believe is the work of God). This is true whether or not the therapist acknowledges God in this work. So being a good counselor comes first. If that’s taken care of, the work can be incredible.

The “Christian” thing is a distant second.

Any client should seek a good therapist before seeking a Christian therapist. If they can find a therapist who is both good and Christian, that’s fine.

In my view God is in the act of healing all of creation at this very moment and every human being as part of that creation. Healing is on the way, in process, a given, something that will happen naturally, in God’s ordained order, if we learn how to get out of our own way and let it happen (which all good therapy helps us do, Christian or not).

Healing was a huge factor in the ministry of Jesus, who healed, but usually did not heal and preach at the same time. Healing was his ministry in those moments. He didn’t angle. He didn’t “integrate.” He just acted, in God, from a place of faith, confident that healing was inevitable from that place. I do my work from that place.

Biblical Counseling

When I think of “Biblical counseling” I think of the “nouthetic” counseling movement. NC insists that the Bible contains everything human beings need to know about psychology and uses it as their sole source book. I see this as fundamentalist, deeply flawed, and therefore dangerous.

Pastoral Counseling

I see pastoral counseling kind of like spiritual direction. I help people discern where God is moving/working in their lives, and how they may be getting in the way. I help them work through personal issues that may be affecting their spiritual life or vice versa. Anyone who has read the work of the Desert Fathers and Mothers knows they came up with many psychological insights out of their spiritual communities that were confirmed by studies in the 20th century.

The best spirituality is often psychological and the best psychology is often spiritual.

How Liberals Tend to Misunderstand Compassion

In my last post I said conservatives often mistake compassion for weakness, and to the conservative mind, strength — if not everything — is extremely important. Strength, of course, has limitations of its own, which is another post. In this post I want to focus on the particular way liberals tend to misunderstand compassion.

In its simplest form, liberals tend to want to own that virtue, and to assume that if someone thinks differently about an issue than they do, it stems from a lack of compassion. This isn’t necessarily the case for several reasons.

First, as I mentioned in the Facebook post that kicked off this series (if you don’t follow me on Facebook, and you wonder what you’re missing, you can do so here), simply feeling deeply about something is not the same as compassion. Compassion is not an emotion, it is emotion in action. A liberal who feels strongly about something but takes no action has no right to call a conservative heartless for also not taking any action. Feeling something, again, as I have said, is not the point.

Second, I know people (both liberals and conservatives, by the way, as these labels are useful primarily for purposes of writing about individual positions, not summing up entire human beings) who do not give to homeless people out of what I believe is sincere concern for their welfare, lest they spend the money on booze or other things bad for them. Misguided as I believe this is, I do not doubt the intentions behind it. In this case, those who do not give are taking action (withholding money they would otherwise give) for the benefit of the other.

Third, liberals are often former conservatives. They may tend to confuse specifics of their time as a conservative in the past with the individual conservative they are dealing with presently. For example, I know when I was a conservative I listened to a lot of heartless people on talk radio and adopted many of those positions for myself. I may therefore make the mistake of ascribing heartlessness to a conservative I’m dealing with about a specific issue. In other words, it may have more to do with me than it has to do with that other person.

Fourth, and this is similar to the first, is that I think we liberals tend to see ourselves (for better or for worse) as the standard-bearers of morality. I’m just keeping it real. We have been through our own journeys to get where we are and we know we are better people than we were before. But it is important to keep in mind the difference between being a better version of yourself than you used to be, and being better than other people. I really think that’s a blind spot liberals often have. Conservatives sense that condescension and it rightly drives them up a wall.

If a given liberal really has moved forward on their journey to compassion, that is excellent of course, but we do not want to lose in humility what we may sometimes gain in compassion.

How Conservatives Tend to Misunderstand Compassion

Conservatives tend to make the mistake of believing compassion is synonymous with being a “bleeding heart.” They may think someone calling for compassion is unreasonable, or doesn’t understand reality or economics.

This is false. The word “compassion” is rooted in a Latin word that means “co-suffering,” and it’s literal meaning in English is “to love together with.”

So to exercise compassion is not in any sense to be unreasonable, but it is to enter into the sufferings of others, to consider their suffering as your own.

Compassion as a way of life, or a way of seeing the world, stems directly from the ancient Golden Rule, expressed best in our Judeo-Christian history by Jesus Christ — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

No political party can lay exclusive claim to compassion, for it is not a political term, but a religio-spiritual one. It is opposed neither to reason nor to emotion, but it transcends them both with its call to concrete action.

Let us get very practical for a moment. Compassion, applied to the Flint water crisis, would mean that as we go forward in addressing this issue, we hold solidarity with the suffering ones — the families who have been most deeply affected. We resist the urge to simply boil this down to economics on one side, or to immediately diagnose it as human evil on the other. Those are knee-jerk political reactions, but the path of compassion calls us to see things from the perspective of those who have been and are being harmed. We can evaluate it economically or judge it morally, but neither of those things requires us to stand with those who have been most deeply affected. We can do both from a distance.

But compassion asks us to co-suffer, if not in our bodies, then at least in our hearts and minds, to put ourselves in the places of the suffering people of Flint. Whatever merits careful thinking and deep feeling may have (and they both have many merits and many potential pitfalls), compassion is something else entirely.

A substantial part of the reason conservative people may mistake compassion for blessing heart liberalism is due to how liberals often misunderstand and misrepresent compassion. I’ll write about that in my next post.

Your Primal Fear

Fear that your way of viewing the world is wrong

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Want proof that most people live with a deep fear they are constantly trying to disguise?

All you have to do is teach a college philosophy class and watch what happens as one person after another finds their most basic beliefs threatened. See how people sputter, how their ears and cheeks turn red, how they desperately flail around trying to find a logical argument to support their dearly-held beliefs. You can see the terror in their eyes.

Watch students drop out after two weeks, some of them honest enough to say, “This class is threatening my beliefs.” Translation: I am scared to death that this class is going to cause a deep crisis in my life and I don’t know how I’ll get through it. I’m afraid I’ll discover that the logical reasons for being Christian aren’t any better than the logical reasons for *not* being Christian (or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, or atheist, etc.), and that scares me to death. So I’m going to quit, and pretend I don’t know the things I’ve come to know.

The Matrix translation: I’ll have the blue pill, thank you.

We are fragile people, running from anything that might hold our beliefs up to the light, but then defending that unstable fortress vigorously, as if we are certain we are correct, even to the point of getting angry at anyone who challenges us or refuses to accept our version of reality.

This is human nature. We try to act strong and confident, but we’re terrified someone might be able to get us to question our reality. That’s precisely why you should be most suspicious of those who admit to the least doubt. This isn’t an indicator of strong faith, but of a deeper-than-usual fear which causes them to be especially rigid, so it is not only others who are not permitted to question their beliefs, but they themselves.

If Hitler or Stalin had been willing to allow someone to challenge their beliefs, they could have been proved wrong in ten minutes. This because, like all homicidal belief systems, their beliefs were irrational. Instead they chose to cover over their doubt with what looked like strength by exterminating millions of people. ISIS is engaged in this same mindless work today. Defending, reacting, and simply killing all who threaten them, lest they be exposed to themselves as what they are — mindless and evil automatons, whose real beliefs are irrational and therefore without any sensible defense.

On some level we are all doing that work — defending, reacting, and ignoring, criticizing, or downplaying those who threaten our way of seeing the world.

Once upon a time I was naive enough to think Christians would see this pattern (since this mindless defensiveness and reactivity is what killed Jesus), or at least *want* to see it, and that most would understand that God, who is truth, calls us into truth and that we have nothing to protect or fear.

How wrong I was. As a group, Christians are as deeply rooted in unreality, in defending, reacting, and fighting against truth, as anyone — oftentimes more.

All because of fear, which Christians know, in their minds at least, perfect love drives out of us. Still, most choose fear over love and in today’s political environment, I’m sorry to say more are actively choosing fear than I have ever seen before.