Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Holistic Look at Guns

A lot has been said about guns in the past three week, but what I have found is that all the arguments are very narrow in focus. Memes focus on how mass shootings are reduced with someone "good" with a gun, while others emphasize how there are exponentially more gun casualties than military men and women lost in the war on terror.

What happens when we put all of this information together? What happens when we acknowledge the validity in both sides of the argument (yes, both sides have something important to offer!)? What is the overall impact of guns when not just looked at in one sphere? What happens when we ask honest questions about it all rather than just attempting sound bite arguments that don't capture the real world?

Let's look at those numbers and assume the memes are correct (I haven't verified their claims). So if everyone was armed, mass shootings could be reduced to an average of 2-3 victims, probably saving hundreds of lives a year. Let's not understate this fact. This is powerful and significant. Saving the lives of the innocent is tremendous. And the sense of safety that can give us is important.

The pithy comics emphasizing how gun control wouldn't stop terrorists completely miss a big picture, but the point is well taken.

But let's also look at the other side. The cost of having the opportunity to have guns is that tens of thousands die annually. Let's not mention the injuries.

So let's do the math: hundreds of lives saved versus tens of thousands of lives lost. All are tragedies, but is my life worth more than someone else's? It's a similar argument I made just before the San Bernardino shooting asking whether the cost of security and self-preservation is worth it.

While I would follow good gun safety of course, as every gun owner would say, it's the irresponsible folk who die or whose families have problems. What is our responsibility to create a safe society, not just a safe household? What is my responsibility to help protect the kids of a family who may not provide the best supervision or follow all gun safety rules? Is my sense of safety worth another family losing their child to a gun accident? And I guess I need to be particularly vigilant about screening my kids' friends' families' gun safety practices, too...

And then there's the memes about guns not being dangerous, but rather it being the shooters. The best one I saw was of Anakin Skywalker and the Padawans he slaughtered. I understand this perspective quite well as I have used it myself. However, the difference between modern guns and even lightsabers is that no other weapon allows someone to kill and maim so many people so quickly and so far away. A lightsaber is only so dangerous in the hands of someone uber trained. Two terrorists would not have been able to kill 14 people in 3 minutes with knives. Evil still happens, but the consequences of it could be contained. Remember that guns at the time of the second amendment only shot once before taking a minute to reload, and the accuracy and distance of the bullet wasn't that impressive.

Then I consider the culture that is created by wanting to carry guns. What is the psychological state I have to be in to need to carry a gun constantly? What state does carrying a gun reinforce? I can only imagine the anxiety I would regularly feel carrying a weapon like that. I wouldn't be able to grab my son and throw him up in the air freely. I'd always been on some level of higher alert. Do I want to live like that?

Further, what are the consequences of having many people carrying guns in this state, especially when we're a bit more hypervigilant? The people who own guns now are probably more likely to really follow proper gun safety techniques than someone who went through the bare minimum processes to get one out of fear. That means the casualty numbers would jump even higher, and at probably at a higher rate, if more people armed themselves just because of accidents.

So when we start arguing that arming ourselves will help reduce violent attacks, let's also remember that the cost of their guns for the chance at saving lives is tens of thousands of lives of collateral damage and a culture of fear.

Are guns worth it?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Light in the Darkness

Today marks a celebration of St. John of the Cross, author of The Dark Night of the Soul.

The last week and a half has been filled with darkness. In fact, it's fair to say the December 2 San Bernardino shooting has consumed my life since it happened.

Many of you know that my office is a half mile from the site of the shooting. Both the Inland Regional Center and Public Health are close partners. I know many Public Health employees and have referred many families to the IRC. Our building was on lockdown, and there were thoughts during the lockdown that county facilities and behavioral health sites were being targeted. The shooters' home is a few blocks from our church. Several people I work closely with lost family and friends. My department is on the front lines of crisis response, and I'm currently managing a large team working with survivors.

While the news overall has been dying down, our work has not slowed. Recovery and healing for our community will continue for weeks, months, years. And in the midst of it, the remaining press has engaged in some disgusting behavior, lying to intrude into people's personal pain and coping.

And yet the light shines.

While there have been responses of fear turned to hate, there have been far more responses of fear turned to love.

People of all walks of life have banded together to build each other up.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of county staff have volunteered to step up and do extra work to help, including 24/7 support, like those amazing people on my team.

Supportive texts, calls, Facebook posts, etc. keep us moving forward and feeling supported.

And don't forget the prayers.

Then there's parts of regular, daily life that shows me God is present and caring for me.

Our healthcare provider gave us a beautiful specialty blanket with our newborn's name embroidered on it. What healthcare provider does that?!

Our primary car (the only one that will fit the carseats) had a leak, so I took it into our shop. It was a problem that we fixed two years ago, but was now out of warranty and was going to cost around $3500 (can't afford this and was close to the cost of the car). A half hour later, the manager called me and said he pulled some strings and got it covered under warranty. No cost. And because I dropped the car off and rode my bike to work, but it was now dark and raining, the manager sent one of his employees to pick me up. I never even considered not riding to the shop. He thought of it and offered.

My toddler is obsessed with trains. We got to have some "normal" time and built a train together at a Lowe's kids clinic. He hasn't stopped talking about how we hammered together and made "our train." He's carrying it everywhere. And then last night, he said, "You're a great friend. You're a great dad."

Yes, God is present here. There is light in the darkness, and it's even more meaningful because of the darkness and will eventually overpower the darkness completely.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is the cost of security and self-preservation worth it?

Security has become a bit of a conversational past time the last couple of weeks. The Syrian refugee crisis and Paris attacks have, of course, brought this to a significant head. But the issue is not new and comes up with various issues, including gun control, police force, just war theory, etc.

My problem is that, like many issues, we have dichotomized the sides, which doesn't help any solution-finding. We need to validate that a sense of security for ourselves is important. But security for other people is important, too.

Assuming refugees pose various dangers to us (on Monday, I talked about my personal experience with Muslim peacemakers), is our safety more important than the safety of the refugees? Should we be putting our needs and (more commonly) comfort about the basic (often life and death-related) needs of others? It's human nature to do so, so it's understandable, but is it what we should strive to do?

When we start denying people asylum in order to protect ourselves from potential (not guaranteed) cultural changes and potential (again, not guaranteed) attacks, we should also not place these as opposites and acknowledge the true costs. Few people want cultural change, and no one wants the safety of their loved ones and themselves to be put at risk.

What we are saying is that maintaining our culture as it is is worth hundreds of thousands of lives of the Other who have no safe place to go. We are willing to let hundreds of thousands of innocent people live in limbo with a horrible quality of life with many likely dying in order to maintain a status quo culture and give us a sense of security. Is that cost worth it?

Let's assume for a moment that denying refugees prevents another 9/11-like attack, so we have saved 3,000 American lives. The cost is hundreds of thousands of refugees' lives. All are innocent victims. All would be tragedies. So are our lives worth more than theirs? What does it say about our value system that we put psychological security above human rights? The problem is the cost of denying refugees isn't ours to pay, at least in the short term and materialistically. It's theirs. But it's ultimately our cost morally.

What is our obligation to our fellow human? When do we put ourselves at risk in order to reduce the risk to someone else?

Should security be pursued at all costs? Is self-preservation or (wise) self-sacrifice for the sake of another the higher goal? 

Monday, November 23, 2015

My First-hand Experience with Muslim Peacemakers

As we all know, there has been increasing ignorant, critical dialogue about Muslims being a threat to the foundation of American and Judeo-Christian society. I have seen and heard comments ranging from ISIS representing over 90% of all the world's Muslims to ISIS followers being the most serious and honest Muslims. People are regularly claiming that followers of Islam are fundamentally interested in divisiveness and contention.

During graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with a group of both Muslims and Christians from across the United States on an interfaith peacemaking effort. I literally had the opportunity to break bread with Muslims who took their faith very seriously, which led them to advocate for, raise awareness of, and build competency in interfaith peacemaking. Oh, and this effort was funded by a grant from the US Department of Justice.

This experience led to my dissertation, entitled Being a Peacemaker: A Qualitative Study on the Faith-Based Values of Exemplar Muslim and Christian Interfaith Peacemakers. This title should help emphasize that peacemaking can actually come from deeply-rooted serious faith, even from Islam.

There is good in the faith world. There are wonderful people doing amazing, important work. They have been doing it for decades, getting very little credit, but positively transforming people's lives. And both Muslims and Christians are doing it because of their faith. I believe the values of the people involved in these efforts are far more representative of the larger Muslim and Christian cultures; the perspectives are just not as well-known because the participants do their work quietly and humbly, in contrast to the work of groups like Westboro Baptist and ISIS.

Let's acknowledge the amazingly positive, pro-social transformative power Islam can provide, not just the destructiveness of minority extremism.

Wednesday, I'll explore the cost of security and self-preservation.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: De-Stigmatizing Depression

As a psychologist and Christian with a particular speciality and passion for the integration of spirituality and behavioral health, I was hopeful when I started David Murray's Christians Get Depressed Too.

While Murray explicitly admits this is a short text to introduce Christians to some of the facts about depression, he regularly oversimplifies things in a way that probably contributes to on-going stigma and discrimination. He has an excellent intent to reduce such stigma from the Christian community, and the book starts out appropriately combating some common theological myths with regard to depression. However, he also quickly makes other statements that stigmatize and inaccurately represent other diseases (like addiction).

He also gets many facts wrong about treatment options, often due to the theme of not acknowledging the complexities of behavioral health, including depression. Further, he makes assumptions about the readers, once even saying, "as Reformed Christians, we..." Not all Christians are Reformed, and not all Reformed Christians would agree with his more extreme theology that falls in line with people like John Piper.

As I've noted in other blog posts and reviews, this theology is incredibly damaging. Murray makes several statements along these lines, including stating that if someone is depressed, God made them depressed and wants them depressed. He argues that God working all things for good supports this, which is a warping of this Scripture. Just because God can use something for good doesn't mean he made that something happen. This kind of explanation is what leads people away from Christ.

I'm frankly conflicted about this book. For those coming from extreme views, it's probably helpful to validate their beliefs and help them be open to alternative explanations and understandings of the world. But again, Murray actually contributes to on-going stigmatization of the behavioral health community. I don't for a moment believe this is intentional. Especially as he narrated the audiobook, it is easy to hear his heart of compassion and true desire to help others. Therefore, I pray this book will be helpful to those who read/listen to it, but I would not recommend it for most people.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Love Truly Casts Out Fear and Hatred

In a time of increasing globalization and exposure to people with different ideas, cultures, values, and faiths, putting a face and a personal story to the Other can be quite powerful and meaningful in building love, respect, and understanding. Love Casts Out Fear: A Jihad Survivor's Journey from Revenge to Redemption is a personal testimony of one man's experience of pain, tragedy, hatred, and personal transformation that has led to the transformation of many other lives.

This book is the story of Brother Nathan, an Egyptian Christian who witnessed his father's murder by Islamic extremists. He details how this event changed his life and could have led him down a path of responsive, retributive violence (and he was planning on going down that path). However, the consistent love and support of community helped him experience the transformative power of Christ, replacing his fear and hatred of his father's murderers. He went on to build relationships and demonstrate the love of Christ to all in his community, including Muslims of the dominant, ruling party in his country.

While many Christians in America claim to be oppressed and discriminated against and yet continue to show hatred to those "oppressors," Brother Nathan's story is a powerful reminder of priorities and what real oppression looks like. It also reminds us of what Christ's true love calls us toward. All those who want to continue to pursue self-protection at the cost of destroying others should read this book and remember core Christian values.

The audiobook version was very well done, and narrative Youssif Kamal was excellent. I frequently had to remember that this book was not read by the author, as Kamal put appropriate emotion to bring the story to life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: The Reality of the Dark

The dark night of the soul is one of my passion areas because of the way it can help us reframe priorities, grow, and strip away extraneous parts of our lives. Unfortunately, some books on the topic over-spiritualize a dark night too much and try to find answers where sometimes the point is not having an answer at all.

Nancy Ortberg's latest book, Seeking in the Dark: Finding God's Light in the Most Unexpected Places does not make the mistake of explaining away dark places. While she doesn't really talk about a "dark night," that's exactly the experience she describes. She poignantly notes the way tragedy can impact our lives without watering it down or explaining it away like so many Christian authors can do. Rather, he emphasizes the need to let these experiences be as they are. The describes the pain and doesn't try to change it in any way. She acknowledges and accepts reality. And that's what allows us to move forward. As Ortberg says in quoting Dallas Willard, "God only meets us in one place, and that's reality."

She does acknowledge the challenges of the dark times, especially when they're in contrast to good times: “Living in between is hard work. It’s much simpler to make a choice, color it black or white, draw a line. But even though this living in between is more difficult, it’s better. Definitely better. What lies in between is nuance, richness, and meaning. It’s only in the in-between that we can live in color, with heartaches and joys combining hues.” There is more difficulty in living with complexity, but how much richer is life?

I find these times often help give great clarity to priorities and the meaning in life. When we over-spiritualize, theologize, minimize, or other-ize pain and darkness, the power behind them is often lost. I found Ortberg's work to be moving and reinforcing of where I should put my values and efforts.

Ortberg also does a nice job of connecting dark nights to later movement in improving the world. She states, "Stories are powerful, but stories from brokenness, stories that intersect with another’s pain–that, my friend, is life-changing stuff. This is gospel. Good news. Great news, really. It is the same power that puts us in the fight for justice, for serving the poor and the marginalized in the name of Jesus. It’s what keeps us, in the face of overwhelming odds, going the other direction, using hope as a shield for the fight against human trafficking, poverty, and inequitable access to health care, education, and work.”

We often try to avoid the pain, but it is usually because of our brokenness and pain that we are able to meet others where they are at and help bring hope to others in their darkness.

I listened to the audiobook version, which was well-done. The narrator spoke with enough inflection and passion that the book seemed to be her own (in contrast to many audiobooks that seem dry).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).