Vulnerability is Sacred

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Vulnerability is sacred.

I first thought this when I had been attending First UCC Tucson for about three years. I was spending a great deal of time, attention, thought, and meditation in developing relationships, including the one that I had once known with God. It was a communion Sunday and I often did not partake in communion. This was due to a resentment that I had against those who created insiders and outsiders at the communion table. The other aspect of my refusal was that I did not know what, if anything, communion meant to me and my path.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The work that I get to do in the community where I live is often heart-wrenching at times and  celebratory at other times. Working in the realm of substance dependence and mental illness, I see people often at their most vulnerable. The stripping away of ego is so hard to watch, especially when it is due to illness. Many of the folks who fill our jails and psychiatric facilities have a large number of adverse childhood events, also known as trauma. As trauma increases, health needs and disparities often increase. As safety increases, health needs and disparities often decrease.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The return to the sense of safety often comes on the heels of talking about that which made it unsafe, most often trauma. The concept, “the only way out is through” is very applicable here. Finding that way through trauma is not for the faint of heart. That being said, I shall now give you a bit of a gross comparison that a coworker of mine uses. He says, “This whole time we have been together, you have been swallowing your saliva without any thought about it. It’s natural to you, it’s normal. If you were given a cup and told to spit in it vs swallow the saliva, that would likely gross you out. If you were then told to drink from that cup (my note: my stomach is turning too, ugh) you would likely refuse.” Here’s why that is: when it is out of you, it changes. We interact with it differently, we see it differently, we address it differently.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The telling of trauma is exhausting, scary, and so incredibly hard. The pain that induced the trauma feels fresh and feels awful, most do not want to talk about things like that. Yet, we must. To some degree, we must. In the telling, we are no longer alone with it. In the telling, we are able to look at what exactly it is that was inside us. In the telling, the event of the trauma can be a single event versus the overshadowing painful, all consuming thing that it had been. It is out of me, it is out of you and we can look at it together.

Vulnerability is sacred.

That communion table. What am I to do with that communion table? Can I just fake it and hope the feelings of acceptance for communion comes? Can I continue to ignore it and just check out while it is being served? I could do that. Or I could work on this a bit more. I chose the latter. The only way out is through, after all. Within the same hour that I opted into contending with communion and determining my beliefs and practices, a thought came to me. Communion is the telling of trauma. As we sit with the understanding of the horror that was done to Jesus in his execution, we are bearing witness. We are bearing witness to injustice. We are bearing witness to something intensely private and very human. We are bearing witness to trauma.

Vulnerability is sacred.

I look very closely for the vulnerability in those around me. I have a strong desire to protect that vulnerability, to ensure they are safe and cared for in whatever way the vulnerability arises. I have a strong connection to vulnerability and I have a strong disdain for abuses of power. The Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes made perfectly clear the expectation that we would look for the vulnerable and honor that vulnerability with love. In so doing, we are reaching beyond what is in front of us or what is our present reality and we are inviting the sacred into our relationships. When I am vulnerable with you and when you are vulnerable with me, I do believe God is there. The whole, when two or three people are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them. The presence of the sacred.

May we tell our stories.

May we look for our shared humanity.

May we be vulnerable. And may the sacred be present.

Your vulnerability is sacred.


The Force is with us

by Ken McIntosh

This year, the world is celebrating a very special season, in a very special way. Evidence of the unique meaning of this time is a phrase that we hear repeated, in some cases daily.

“May the Force be with you!”

It really is very appropriate for this season, when many of the world’s religions celebrate the battle between the dark side and the light…the winter solstice could perhaps be regarded as one epic lightsaber duel… the annual return of the Jedi. For Christ-followers, it is the time of the year when we choose to celebrate the Force coming to live among us.

John’s Gospel begins with a word of enormous importance…a somewhat mysterious word…and that word is… ‘the Word.’ “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That’s some ‘Word!’

Oceans of ink have been poured out trying to explain and understand ‘the Word.’ In Greek the word is ‘Logos.’ It has survived and transmuted into our language today whenever we speak of a brand ‘logo.’ The Word ‘Logos’ was used outside of the Bible—used a lot, in fact, for centuries. It had meaning for Jews, Greeks and Romans. And it was still somewhat mysterious.

Jews associated the Divine Logos with the Hebrew word ‘Amar,’ = “to speak, to utter”…as in Genesis 1, “In the Beginning… God spoke, saying let there be…and there was…and it was good.” The first words of John’s Gospel echoes Genesis, “In the Beginning was the Word…”

The Greeks also spoke much of the Word. The Logos was the ordering principle, or the cosmic pattern, that underlay all things. Heraclitus spoke of the Word as the rational and divine intelligence that controlled the universe. In fact, for the Greeks the Word was what made the universe the UNIverse (as opposed to a disordered omni-verse); the Word was the single unifying factor shared by a vast number of diverse phenomenon in the cosmos.

I am sure that if ancient sages could speak to us at the end of 2015 they would readily affirm—“In the beginning was the Force!” Remember Obi Wan’s first description of the force, from the original 1977 Star Wars? “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power… It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” That sounds an awful lot like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus!

So the thinkers and mystics of the ancient world knew the Word the same way that people now know the Force. They could protest, like Han Solo protests in the first movie “There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny!” Or give benedictions like a Jedi “May the Force be with you!”

But there are things they could not know about the Word…not until “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

They could not know that the Word would look at humanity through eyes filled with compassion.

They could not know that the Word would challenge a lynch mob telling them “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone,” and then assure a shamed woman, “Neither do I condemn you.”

They could not know that the Word would weep, shedding tears at the death of a friend.

They could not know that the Word would shed tears again, thinking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and say to the women of Palestine “I have longed to gather you, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.”

They could not possibly imagine that the Word would rasp out a phrase, over and over, from the cross, “Abba, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” “Abba, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

The Force was strong in that One.

Christians have gotten their theology backward, over the centuries. They have sometimes proclaimed “Jesus is like God…Jesus does what God does.” But in fact it’s the reverse. In fact, “God is like Jesus…God does what Jesus does.”

Yes, the Force was in Jesus of Nazareth… and the Force is with us still. Not just a fact of history, but a reality today.

We can feel the Force within us, and…the Force is still speaking.

And that’s Good News for 2016, because the power of the Dark Side still entices us.

In 2016 we need to heed well the words of that ancient prophet of the Word, Master Yoda. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Fear-talk abounds: be afraid of terrorism, be afraid of refugees, be afraid of people with darker skin, be afraid of people who follow other religions, be afraid of your neighbor, be afraid of the future…be afraid, leading to anger, leading to hate, leading to suffering.”

Jesus still speaks, saying “In this world you will have many troubles, but do not give in to fear, for I have overcome the world!”

God is love.

The Force is love.

Be strong in the Force, and may the Force be with you.


Angry is as Angry Does!

by Donald Fausel

Angry is as Angry Does!

“If you want to learn something, read. If you want to understand something, write. If you want to master something, teach.” I’m not sure who the original author of those wise words was but I accidentally found them in a Chinese fortune cookie. Then not far after my discovery, 1983 to be precise I read a book by Neil Clark Warren, titled Make Anger your Ally. I was impressed by his book, not just because he earned a Master of Divinity from Princeton, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Chicago, but his book was down to earth and made a lot of sense to me. Oh and a more recent version of the original book was published in 1999.

Following the dictum from the Chinese fortune cookie, and the credentials of Dr. Warren, I began to read more about anger,  write commentaries on anger, and a few years later I began to teach courses and workshops on anger. Eventually I realized that anger was another obstacle to living a happier life, and I began to make it a part of my pursuit of happiness commentaries.

As the title of this blog Angry is as Angry Does suggests, it’s not anger that is the problem, our problem is how we cope with the anger that we have, and the anger that others have towards us. Anger affects millions of people. It affects all races, all ages, all religions, all ethnic groups, in essence—everyone!  

In the words of the Dalai Lama, “When people get angry they lose all sense of happiness. Even if they are good-looking and normally peaceful, their faces turn livid and ugly. Anger upsets their physical well-being and disturbs their rest; it destroys their appetite and makes them age prematurely. Happiness, peace, and sleep evade them, and they no longer appreciate people who have helped them and deserve their trust and gratitude. Under the influence of anger, people of normally good character change completely and can no longer be counted on. They are ruined by their anger, and they ruin others too. But anyone who puts all his energy into destroying anger will be happy in this life….”

In order to write this blog I had to go back and review the work I had done on anger some years ago, and bring myself up to date on current research. When I googled Anger and Happiness I was surprised to find how many articles were available. There was even one titled Awaken Your Own Force: 9 Ways Happiness and The Force are One . The author of the article, Jim Smith, was referring to the opening last week of the movie Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I didn’t even know the force had been asleep, since I left off at Episode II. Dr. Smith was kind enough to remind us that in the original Star Wars film, the Force “…is described as an energy field created by all living things that surround and penetrate living beings and binds the galaxy together.”  He goes on to state, “That sounds an awful lot like Happiness, right?”  To prove his point he offers nine ways happiness and the force are one. As an example the number one way they are the same is, both the May the Force be with you, and Happiness are indeed one, since they’re both are “all around you.” I found an another article, Understand Anger: Why Anger Isn’t Irrational which agrees that “Anger is a force of energy that we project in order to push away or combat a threat.”  But it doesn’t identify happiness as force of energy. If you want to read the rest of the ways that force and happiness are the same just click on Dr. Smith’s article above. Or maybe your children or grandchildren can enlighten you.

I also searched for a book from Earnie Larsen, whom I mentioned in my last blog, hoping he would have written a book related to anger.  Sure enough he didn’t disappoint me. The title of his book is From Anger to Forgiveness . Here are a few themes from Larson’s book that I found helpful. He first talks about what he calls The Faces of Anger. These include:

  • Depression: probably the most common face of anger.
  • Smoldering Rage: One symptom is the tendency to take everything personally.
  • The Fidgets: people with behavioral styles that always seem to be tap dancing faster than anyone else. They have very little serenity.
  • Secret Keeper: This person must always look good. They lie about things because they don’t want to spoil their image.
  • Victim: They feel they have no options. Down deep they sense they don’t count—that no one takes them seriously.

For each one of these faces of anger, Larsen provides a story of one of his former clients who had dealt with that particular problem. Without going into details, for an example of Depression, Larsen tells Curt’s story. He describes Curt as being depressed but not dysfunctional, and goes on to show how you don’t have to be dysfunctional to be depressed. In Curt’s case he was very active in his professional activities but at the same time he felt terrible negativity and hostility, and was emotionally flat. The stories are very helpful.

The following YouTube videos are each about 20 minutes long. They both focus on anger and their answers are too long for me to cover in a blog. So here they are. The first one is The Purpose and Importance of Anger and the second titled How to Deal with Anger. I hope both are helpful!

You may also like:

Psychology Today on Anger

Pathway to Happiness

May the Force be With You, and may you have a healthy and happy 2016.


How Do You Search?

by Amanda Peterson

Advent is a season of searching. It acknowledges that we are a searching people hunting for that tiny part of us that nudges us to keep looking for the “thing”. This thing has many names like peace, abundance, hope, love and God. And the question arises “how do I find it?” There is a yearning for that arriving place where that tiny nudging will be satisfied and calm down.

During Advent we can call that nudging out. It is a Season to say “where is that nudging leading me?” Is that nudge coming from a place of lack? Or is it a nudge affirming what is looked for already exists and to look at life from that place. An invitation to look in the ordinary, unexpected places one might not normally go. For some that is to the marginalized, the “other.” For others it is in the midst of a flawed and abundant culture. Is that nudge for peace about filling a void and being satisfied or about knowing it is already there and seeing it everywhere?

Learning ways to search are the spiritual practices and the gifts of community. I’ll share more about those next time. But first it is time to rest in questions, pondering and looking around the next corner for how Peace and Love are revealed.

Wishing you all peace this season and all year!

Be a Good Parent. Be Selfish.

by Karen Richter

Parent friends, can we talk? It’s rough out there, right? Parents get a lot of conflicting messages about how to be the best we can for our kids. Tough but compassionate. Attachment and yet independence. Respecting their agency but retaining authority. Let them make choices… but not too many. Say no and mean it, but stay positive. Be available for your children, but take care of your primary partnership.

And yet we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’m convinced that parenting is a fantastic spiritual discipline. When I was a kid, I daydreamed about being a nun. Since I was born and raised in the South and never met a single Catholic person until college, this was never a likely scenario… But I think it had something to do with selflessness and dedication – the idea of spending your life doing something worth doing. And maybe it was a juvenile fantasy about Maria from The Sound of Music – that’s a possibility too. But what is parenting, if not dedicating your life’s energy, and sometimes the last cinnamon bagel, to something worth your best efforts?

Be a good parent. Be selfish. by Karen Richter - Southwest Conference blog
Good for babies…and my most faithful prayer discipline ever!

We parent to make our children good human beings and along the way, we become pretty good too.

At the same time, I see a lot of parenting anxiety. I see parents putting their children’s wants and needs ahead of their own – not out of dedication but out of fear. It starts as soon as the stick turns pink, with nutrition and playing music and avoiding stress. About the time my first child was born, new brain development research began to be available to popular audiences. The importance of second language acquisition, “windows” of prime learning, speech development, and stimulating learning environments for babies… I was convinced that any moment that wasn’t full of stimulation was a waste!

Now I see it more with afterschool activities, music lessons, tutoring, drama, and sports. Our families are stressed out. And it’s hard: hard to say no to the opportunity to play with a competitive traveling volleyball team; hard to step away from the pressure to perform; hard to insist on time for your child to just BE.

Be a good parent. Be selfish. by Karen Richter - Southwest Conference blog
Does this look familiar at all?

So start with you. Be selfish. Be a role model for selfishness. Take care of your own spiritual self. Find something that feeds your own soul.

I see families… good loving wonderful families… who are involved in a faith community for their children’s sake. Goodness knows, that’s not a bad thing, but those parents need to hear this loving and gentle instruction: you too are a child of God. Find something spiritual for you.


You are unique and unrepeatable.

You – the universe becoming self-aware.

You, sent by the Spirit to the world to learn and grow all your life long.

You are a gift to the world, so take care of that good gift!

And Merry Christmas to all.

10 Things You Want to Know Before Going to War with ISIS

by Ryan Gear

Following the recent terrorist attacks, a few presidential candidates and other political leaders are calling for an increased U.S. military presence in Syria. For example, the CNN Republican presidential debate this week produced an unusually substantive debate on the wisdom of the U.S. engaging in regime change. As the political debate intensifies, followers of Jesus must once again reevaluate our stance on war.

For centuries, Christians have debated the most Christ-like position regarding war. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of Just War, and the Catholic Church includes their concepts in its catechism. Conversely, pacifists generally trace the origins of their nonviolence to Jesus.

One of the titles Christians use for Jesus is “Prince of Peace.” While living in a violent empire, Jesus taught his followers:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45a).

As conflict with ISIS escalates, how should followers of the Prince of Peace think about war? What questions should we ask before supporting a war? And how should we respond to those Americans who seem to be eager to go to war?

Here are 10 things followers of Jesus should keep in mind about a war with ISIS.

  1. ISIS wants a war with the United States to fulfill their apocalyptic scenario.

ISIS intentionally releases slickly produced videos of gruesome murders like beheadings and the burning of the Jordanian pilot, and they claimed responsibility for the Russian plane bombing and the terrorist attacks in Paris. They want their videos and attacks to be viewed by as many people as possible. Why? Perhaps ISIS releases these videos as propaganda in order to enrage the U.S. and other world powers with the goal of drawing us into a war.

Graeme Wood reports in “What ISIS Really Wants” that ISIS has their own version of the apocalypse. After drawing the world (Dajjal, in their view) into a final battle in the Middle East, “Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.”

You read that correctly. ISIS wants a final war, and they believe Jesus will come back to save them. The more rage and fear they can create within the United States, the greater their chances of drawing us, and the rest of the world, into their final war.

  1. The American news media profits from war coverage.

I believe that there are many honest and decent news journalists, and I most appreciate journalists who are willing to give a self-critique of the American news media. We know that the advertising profits of commercial television channels depend on advertising that is driven by ratings. When a war begins, news channel ratings go up. When news channel ratings go up, so do advertising profits.

On top of that, some media outlets are more fear-based than others. Psychology Today suggests that fear-based news follows a two-part formula – 1) Create fear with the headline, then 2) Suggest that the fear can be relieved by watching the newscast. What could possibly create more fear-based ratings than a war with terrorists? Again, I deeply appreciate honest journalism and responsible media. We must be aware, however, that war financially benefits those who give (actually, sell) us information.

  1. War will likely not stop terrorist attacks.

In Matthew 26:52, Jesus famously tells Peter, 52 “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

In other words, Jesus says that violence begets violence. With every bomb that falls, ISIS terrorists are emboldened to kidnap and execute more hostages and attack more innocent people. The perpetual conflict in the Middle East is an illustration that the cycle of violence can last for hundreds of years.

  1. Christians who do support war cite Just War Theory, not a desire for vengeance.

Just War Theory began as a doctrine of justifiable war created by followers of Jesus such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. While I am not Catholic, I find the catechism of the Catholic Church enlightening regarding war. Criteria include:

  • The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • There must be serious prospects of success;
  • The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The second criteria of “All other means…” could be endlessly debated, but it demands the question, “Are there any other means by which to address this conflict other than violence?” Certainly followers of Jesus should lead the way in suggesting alternate means of addressing a conflict.

  1. There are potentially more effective ways to decrease extremism than war.

If one criteria for war is “All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective,” we must ask, “What are some other means to put an end to conflict?

ISIS appeals to disenchanted young people who feel marginalized by using a twisted interpretation of Islam that moderate Muslims reject. Consequently, perhaps the two most effective means of confronting ISIS are to 1) Address the reasons for marginalization and 2) Promote the voices of moderate Muslims.

  1. Children and other innocent persons will die in a war.

This is a fact we would like to ignore, but innocent people are killed in every war. The innocent dead will include children who are every bit as valuable to God as your children and mine.

  1. Our children will be the ones fighting the war.

Those sent to fight will be the sons and daughters of peace-loving Americans. While the murders committed by ISIS are horrendous and inexcusable, a war will lead to the deaths of more people.

  1. Few Americans have been killed by ISIS, while thousands of Americans are killed annually within the United States.

Ten thousand Americans are killed by other Americans with guns every year, and “In fact, far more Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone (33,636) than all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years, and that’s including 9/11.”

According to CNN, U.S. officials are not sure how many Americans ISIS is currently holding hostage. One official said there may be “a number.” The article states that approximately 80 journalists from various countries are now held. Every life lost is tragic and horrific, but the number of Americans killed by ISIS is small relative to common causes of death within our own country.

Just across our southern border, staggering violence is occurring that is largely ignored by the American media. According to the Huffington Post, over 100,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence since 2007 in Mexico. Why do we see daily reports from the Middle East and far less reports about horrific violence closer to our country?

Motivated by love for our neighbors, followers of Jesus want to relieve misery, protect the innocent, and save lives. Relative to the causes of misery and death in our world, is a war with ISIS warranted?

  1. A war with ISIS will cost American taxpayers.

Much of American politics is an argument over how much the government should collect in tax revenue and how it should be spent. The Harvard School of Government found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers $6 trillion. That’s $75,000 for every American household. How much would American society benefit if that sum of money were to be invested right here in the U.S. in the form social programs, infrastructure, education, etc.?

  1. It is certain that more Americans will die in a war with ISIS than the number already killed by ISIS.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deaths of five Americans, and it is a certainty that more than five Americans will be killed in a ground war with ISIS.

On September 11, 2001, 2,996 Americans were horrifically murdered by terrorists. During the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,802 U.S. service members were killed, over twice the number of Americans killed on 9/11. Several thousand more U.S. contractors were killed in the two conflicts, and the number of civilian deaths is massive, perhaps between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Many times more people lost their lives in the wars following 9/11 than in the terrorist attacks themselves.

While I, personally, accept Just War Theory, I believe that Christians should sober-mindedly consider the teaching of the Prince of Peace regarding violence– do not murder, pray for those who persecute you, and those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Whether or not you support an escalated conflict with ISIS, as the drumbeat of war intensifies, those who follow the Prince of Peace should march to a different beat.

Trapped in a Single Story

by Tyler Connoley

In July of 2009, Chimamanda Adichie gave a Ted Talk in which she talked about the danger of the Single Story. The talk recounts the ways in which we trap groups of people by only telling one story about them. “The single story creates stereotypes,” she said, “and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

The same is true for the metaphors we use about God. When we only say that God is our Father, and forget that God is our Mother, we trap people in the Single Story. That trap can be damaging for someone who has difficulty connecting with father figures. The same goes for any metaphor that becomes the only metaphor we use for something that is beyond our understanding.

I learned this lesson most-profoundly from a hospice patient I met when I was a chaplain. This woman, who I’ll call Hope, was a devout Christian who was certain that God would welcome her when she died — and yet she was terrified of dying. As I visited Hope over the course of weeks, I couldn’t figure out why she was so afraid, until one day when she opened up to me about the one and only time she had left Grant County. She and her husband had gone to Phoenix to visit his family, and within twenty-four hours of arriving, she had begged him to take her home. “I hate traveling,” she said. “I’ve never left Grant County again.”

As I pondered why she needed to tell me this story now, I finally realized what was making her so afraid. This was a woman who loved life and laughter and exploring ideas, so her family, her friends, and the hospice staff were trying to help ease her fears by talking about the “amazing journey” she would soon be going on. But she was thinking, “I hate traveling.” All she could think about was that trip to Phoenix.

So, we began to talk about “going home.” I invited her to share stories about her mother and father, whom she loved and looked forward to seeing. We talked about her sister, who had died the year before. They loved to cook and eat together, and we imagined the banquet God would prepare for her on her arrival. Hope’s family and friends agreed to use this metaphor when they talked to her, as well. And soon, she was not afraid, but looking forward to her home-going.

I return to Chimamanda Adichie, and her observation about stereotypes. The Single Story is a trap that can be damaging. The problem is not that our metaphors for the Divine and the Beyond are untrue, it is that they are incomplete. We need multiple stories, so each of us can find our place in the stories of God’s people, so the child of a single mother can know his God loves him like his mom, and so Hope can know she’s going home.

Christmas & Bowen Family Systems

by Amos Smith

Christmas is a time for family. Above is a picture of my family growing up. Family is never perfect. Every family I have encountered in ministry has challenges. Some hide the challenges better than others. Yet, challenges are always there.

How we deal with the challenges of our family of origin has profound repercussions for the rest of our lives. Family and the dynamics of family relationships give us the blueprint that tends to define our future relationships. I have a high regard for Family Systems Thought or Bowen Family Systems as it is commonly called. Bowen Systems has given me and many other ministers and rabbis a more accurate understanding of faith community dynamics than any other paradigm.

One of the counter-intuitive insights of Bowen Family Systems is that all of our relationships are inter-connected. In other words, if a man is having challenges with his wife, instinctively one might think that the best thing for him to do is to work on that relationship. Yet, often Bowen Systems would say, “If you are having challenges with your wife work on your relationship with you mother.” If a woman is having challenges in her relationship with her son, she may need to work on the relationships she has with her ex-husband, husband, or brother. And the list goes on… For a humorous representation of what this might look like in the twenty-first century you may want to take a look at the television show “Modern Family.”

During the holidays many people are stressed by all the preparations. Yet, what is more important than the meals, the stuffed stockings on the mantel, the lights, and the presents under the tree, are our relationships. Seen correctly, beyond shallow commercial and cultural trappings, Christmas at its best is a time to work on our relationships with the people we love. And when one relationship grows in honesty, good boundaries, respect, and love it will have ripple effects on our other relationships.

Merry Christmas!

Ancient Bible Reading and Today

by Kenneth McIntosh

Faithful to our ‘God is still speaking’ faith, we read with the Bible in one hand and our smartphone in the other. This week, news on the phone practically screams with agony; multiple shootings, a presidential candidate blaming an entire religion, and—a poignant twist—a Dutch video in which people read from the Bible, claiming it’s the Quran, and listeners hearing the violent verses are fooled. In the midst of such troubling times, I’ve been working hard to complete The Celtic Study Bible: Gospels. Curiously, that work does intersect with the headlines.  If believers in the modern and postmodern eras had followed ancient principles of Bible reading, we might be better off in 2015. The following is excerpt from the (unpublished) Celtic Study Bible.

Eucherius (380-449) of Gaul wrote a book titled Formula for a Spiritual Understanding which influenced Celtic Christianity. Eucherius invites readers “to see through the surface (historical) level of Scripture to its ‘higher’ spiritual meaning.” The Apostle Paul can be cited to support this view “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor.3:6). Such a metaphorical reading of Scripture is indeed pervasive in the Bible.

For some Early Christians there was a pressing reason to adopt this method of interpretation—they were trying to save the Old Testament. Marcion (85-160) a Christian living in what is today Turkey, noted that the Old Testament God did things which seem unworthy of the God revealed in Christ. Could God who demanded genocide of unbelievers (1 Samuel 15) be the same as God who loves the world (John 3:16) and is love (John 4:8)? Could the same Divine Spirit command “Do not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:16) and then speak through Jesus’ lips saying “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44)? Marcion had a simple answer—do away with the Old Testament.

Origen (184-254) a Christian scholar living in Alexandria Egypt agreed with Marcion that some Old Testament portrayals of God are unworthy of God. But Origen defended the Old Testament by interpreting the genocide passages symbolically. Origen wrote: “If the horrible wars related in the Old Testament were not to be interpreted in a spiritual sense, the apostles would never have transmitted the Jewish books for reading in the church to followers of Christ.”  A century later, Augustine likewise used symbolic interpretation to deal with troubling Old Testament passages. How could God say to smash the heads of Babylonian infants (Psalm 137:9)? Augustine explains “the ‘infants’ of Babylon were not literal children but rather the vices of the Babylonians.”

In our time, Marcus Borg was an important recent scholar in the field of Jesus and the New Testament, and a defender of symbolic Bible interpretation. Borg called metaphor the more-than-literal meaning of language. John Dominic Crossan, another major figure in contemporary Jesus scholarship, likewise says, “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”1

The Bible is critiqued today for the same reason that it was questioned in the second century—the malingering shadow of its violent passages. At a time when the world is reeling from religious terrorism, it is tempting to dismiss all religious Scriptures that portray God as demanding the slaughter of innocents.

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, questions whether the Quran endorses violence more than the Bible? He answers in the negative: “If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery.” He goes on, however, to note, “Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam.”2 As Jenkins points out, Abrahamic religions each have Scriptures that can be used to promote violence or peace, and if they are to result in peace then the teachers of religion must learn to talk about violent passages constructively.

Jenkins reminds us that in the accounts of Old Testament Genocide “we have a constructed narrative in which particular authors and editors have taken a story and framed it in ways that made sense to them. It is a story with a point or theme, and one that is aimed at a particular audience.”3

Investigating the conquest of Canaan, archaeologists find evidence that differs from the Bible tales. “Archaeologist William Dever concludes that … evidence ‘supports almost nothing of the biblical account of a large scale concerted Israelite military invasion of Canaan.’”4 So why would the Bible writers exaggerate tales of how they exterminated their enemies, down to the noncombatants? The Bible was mostly written after the Babylonian exile and Jews were wondering: how can we make sure history does not repeat for us? To ensure Israel’s future purity, the Bible writers portrayed a golden age of Israel, before they fell into God’s disfavor. This golden age was marked by absolute loyalty to God’s commandments. The wars in Canaan were portrayed as the utter extermination of everything that did not faithfully worship God, as an illustration of the way that faithful Israel should expunge everything ungodly from their midst.

The Bible stories of genocide were composed to point to a larger truth—the need to utterly eradicate idolatry—rather than a straightforward recounting of history. Thus, the best current scholarship supports the instincts of the ancient interpreters; the Bible stories of genocide were intended to be understood for their spiritual meaning rather than taken as literal history.

So there are compelling reasons—both the symbolic nature of many Bible passages, and the continuing need to properly interpret violent passages—that commend the ‘more-than-literal’ reading of Scripture. An ancient form of Bible reading could help us create a less-violent future.


1 James F. McGrath, John Dominic Crossan on Literalism, Patheos, June 14, 2014,

2 Philip Jenkins, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (New York, Harper Collins, 2011), 13.

3 Jenkins.,210.

4 Jenkins.,57.

image credit: Ken McIntosh


…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Don Fausel


There are a number of obstacles to living a happier life. I believe that perfectionism is at the top of the list. I say that not just from my own experience growing-up as the perfect child, the perfect friend, the perfect student, and ending up as Mr. Perfect, but also from evidence that scientific research confirms. Among other things sciences shows that for many of us adult perfectionists our journey begins early in life. But first my story!

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was the day my mother took me to Red’s Barber Shop for my first hair cut. I must have been close to five years old. My mother prepared me for this experience by warning me that I needed to be a “good little boy” in the barber’s chair to avoid losing one of my ears. I was prepared to be the perfect customer.

As Red placed me on a booster seat on the barber’s chair, I noticed he not only had red hair but his arms were covered with red hair. That in itself was scary for me. I clearly recall thinking something like: I need to do everything that Red tells me to do. Don’t move one way or another. If I do that I bet he’ll tell his family about the perfect little boy’s hair he cut today. As they say in the 12 step programs, “That’s stinkin thinkin”.

Moving on to my life as a catholic schoolboy, I remembered how I had respect or perhaps it was fear for the authority of the nuns, brothers and priests that taught me, and I embraced whatever they taught me as “the truth”. I learned to have that respect for authority from my family. It’s not something my mother and father preached to me, but I was very aware of the esteem my parents had for our religions “superiors”. No one ever told me, “Donald, you are not allowed to challenge any of the doctrines of the church, or you’ll go directly to hell.” I just observed early on the unquestionable deference my parents had for clergy. I’m not blaming anyone for my not being more assertive in expressing my convictions. Although I think I was influence by the words that G.K. Chesterton paraphrased, “My church right or wrong!”

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I learned the process of critical thinking. I was in my middle twenties. I had already been ordained a priest and taught two years in a seminary. I was then sent by the Bishop of Albany, NY to get a Masters degree in Social Work at Fordham University. Critical thinking was new to me. Over the next few years I was able to start my path of recovery from my addiction to perfectionism. I even started doing workshops entitled, Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible. I’m not going into details, since my life is an open book. The title of my book which was published in 2010, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic should give you an idea of the rest of my journey.

Speaking of journeys, one of leaders, and pioneers in the field of recovery from addictive behaviors and a nationally known author and lecturer was Earnie Larson. I had the good fortune to attend several of his workshops. He had a strong influence on my realizing the negative effect my perfectionism had on my life. So after all these years I googled him and found his website, Change is a Choice. To my dismay I found out that Earnie died in 2011 but fortunately his website is still going strong thanks to his wife Paula and colleagues. After he was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer he spent the last two years of his life writing a book that shared his insights of his final journey. The title of the book is, Earnie Larson: His Last Steps.

Reading the book not only brought back fond memories, but Earnie’s way of facing his last days could be a model for all of us.

Among other things one of Earnie’s favorite dictums came back to me:

What we live we learn.

What we learn we practice.

What we practice we become.

What we become has consequences.


In psychology there are a number of definitions of perfectionism. Here is one from wikipedia that’s as good as any: “Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards accompanied by over critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations…psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.”

There are also many methods used to overcome perfectionism. Below are several TED TALKS and articles that you might find helpful.

When Perfect Isn’t Enough is a TED TALK that lasts for about 15 minutes by Martin Antony. He also wrote a book with Richard Swinson titled When Perfect is Not Enough: Strategies for Coping with Pefectionism. The book was awarded The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Seal of Merit. They state in their book that “People who are perfectionists tend to have standards and expectations that are difficult to meet…Although high standards are often helpful, perfectionism is associated with having standards that are so high that they actually interfere with performance. Does that ring a bell?

Here’s a combination of a short YouTube and an article. I was not surprised that there was even a 12 step program for perfectionists so, here it is: 12 Step Program for Recovering Perfectionists

This is an article by Tamar Chansky titled, How to Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Stategies for Making Life Better . She is a psychologist and anxiety therapist committed to making the mind a safer place to live for children, teens and adults. I believe that her strategies can be very helpful.

My next blog will be on another obstacle to living a happier life—anger!