A mixed up (and messed up) understanding

It is useful here to make a distinction between confidentiality and secrecy. A commitment to secrecy is a commitment never, under any circumstance, to share the information in question. This commitment on the part of the priest is inherent in a sacramental confession. Confidentiality, on the other hand, means holding information in trust and sharing it only in the interest of the person involved — with their permission, or in order to seek consultation with another professional, or in order to protect others from being harmed. The ethic of confidentiality is intended to assist people in getting help for their problems; it is not intended to prevent people from being held accountable for their harmful actions or to keep them from getting the help they need. Continue reading A mixed up (and messed up) understanding

Confidentiality in the Church

From the article Confidentiality in the Church: What the Pastor Knows and Tells, by D. Elizabeth Audette.

A recent survey I conducted of 300 Congregational clergy and laity uncovered some assumptions about confidentiality. No members of the group articulated ecclesial or theological grounds for their assumptions. Continue reading Confidentiality in the Church

Brain Theory

The term “triune brain” describes three levels of the brain; the reactive brain (brainstem), the feeling brain (limbic), and the thinking brain (neo-cortex). When anxiety arises the reactive brain takes over, and we become more instinctive in our action.

This understanding of the brain plays a role in Bowen’s Family Systems Theory, which focuses on being “less-anxious” presence (the correct phrase is “non-anxious presence,” but we are only non-anxious when we are dead), attempting to allow the thinking brain to function even when the anxiety in the surroundings is running high.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers a good overview of the brain on their website, called Brain Basics: Know Your Brain.

Clergy Burnout

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke University who directs one of the studies. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

via Evidence Grows of Problem of Clergy Burnout – NYTimes.com.

Ministry to shut-ins

Few years ago I wrote an educational material for the church of Iceland, in collaboration with Guðrún Eggertsdóttir and Ragnheiður Sverrisdóttir, about how congregations can structure their ministry to those that are unable to leave their home.

I have always meant to look at the in context of the structure of Stephen Ministries here in the US. And maybe one day I will.


Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects. The word behavior is especially important in this definition, for it indicates that action is essential to addiction.

There is a vast difference between doing these things because we freely choose and doing them because we are compelled. In the first case, the motivation is love; in the second slavery.

From Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions

Vocabulary: Co-Dependency

“Co-Dependency” is a term used for a systematic deficiency in relationships in which a person either subordinates his or her life to another’s or uses his or her life to control or dominate another’s.

From Clinical, Clerical, and Congregational Co-Dependency by Donald R. Hands (Action Information, September/October 1990)

In his writing Rev. Hands uses a co-dependency graph, where distance, differentiation, and individuation are on one axis, and relationship, connectedness, and closeness are on the other.

  • When Y is min, and X is min – Nothing matters
  • When Y is max, and X is min – I matter, and you don’t
  • When Y is min, and X is max – You matter, I don’t
  • When Y is max, and X is max – I matter, you matter

Why It’s Not An Affair?

Patricia L. Liberty has written an excellent short paper on why sexual contact between a pastor and a parishioner is never justified.

Since the ministerial relationship is professional in nature, it is inappropriate to call a sexual encounter an affair. Affair is a term used to describe a sexual liaison between peers, or equals. In addition, the term affair focuses attention on the sexual nature of the behavior rather than the professional violation. It also places equal responsibility for the behavior on the congregant. Since clergy have a responsibility to set and maintain appropriate boundaries, those who are violated by clergy’s inappropriate sexual behavior are not to be blamed even if they initiated the contact.

via Why It’s Not An Affair by Patricia L. Liberty.


The main problem has to do with the uncritical, theologically naive, rigid, and overly confident manner in which Myers-Briggs categories are often employed in various church settings. Church people, particularly the clergy, are taking MBTI results as the gospel truth and blithely using them to make employment decisions, to establish leadership styles and regulate staff relationships, and to advise people about everything from marriage roles to prayer techniques.

Why is it that so many in the Christian church, with its long and rich history of understanding persons in the most profound way possible -as living souls and as creatures made in the image of God should fall into the trap of allowing for a moment those theologically enduring and wondrously mysterious understandings to be displaced by something as superficial as a grid of sixteen suspiciously artificial personality types woven out of a questionable and all-too-fashionable theory of human temperament?

via Theology Today – Vol 49, No.3 – October 1992 – EDITORIAL – Myers-Briggs and Other Modern Astrologies.


Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

via The Autumn of the Multitaskers by Walter Kirn.

Family Systems Approach to Premarital Work

We advocate the use of a family systems approach to premarital pastoral work, involving exploration of the families of origin of the intended spouses. Family systems theory argues that a marriage is like a merger of two corporations, each having its own stockholders; thus, adequate preparation for marriage involves coming to terms with the realities of one’s family of origin and that of one’s intended spouse. Exploratory techniques include genograms, house tours, family photo albums, and discussions of the rules and rituals in the respective families. Leaving father and mother is the central prerequisite to marriage.

via You Must Leave Before You Can Cleave: A Family Systems Approach to Premarital Pastoral Work.

This article does not fit well into the marriage culture in Iceland. Having said that, its focus on family of origin work, differentiation, and different views on relationships is valuable.

The Miracle Question

There are various catch-all solution to be found out there. The miracle question, pioneered by Steve de Shazer could be seen as one of them. However, it is merely an attempt to be a shortcut to get right to the core of the problem in therapy. The therapist asks the client to imagine what the world would be like if the problem he presented to the therapist would disappear by a miracle over night.

One might wonder whether this is very far from the Secret or Joel Osteen, and surely I am not sure.

You can read about Solution focused brief therapy which is the fancy name for the Miracle Question.

Biblical Therapy or Biblical Counseling or Biblical Whatever

David Winfrey wrote an interesting article in Christian Century, January 23, 2007. In the article called “Southern Baptists reject ‘pastoral counseling’- Biblical Therapy” he addresses a change in practices by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The change is to reject psychology as a tool for counseling and focus solely on the Bible as know-it-all information about human behavior. What is more, the pastoral counseling model that is being rejected for Biblical counseling was partly pioneered in Southern Seminary by Wayne Oates, according to David Winfrey. Vicki Hollon is quoted in the article saying:

Their movement away from science reveals a lack of faith, or at least a fear that somehow science is outside the realm of God’s creation and domain.

What is of special interest is that this rejection of scientific methods, and a move towards the Bible as a some kind of an ultimate handbook of all human behavior is a relatively new phenomena. Its origins are after mid-20th century, and it seems that it is getting stronger in the beginning of the 21st century.

“Power” is Not a Bad Word

Some people are put off by the blatant appeal to power, which is an integral part of congrega tion-centered organizing. We tend to think of power as manipulative, as domineering, as too political, as “power over” someone else, and we suspect such power is out of keeping with our Christian values. We recall Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”

More recently, however, we have come to recognize that power in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Power is nothing more than the ability to accomplish something.

Whether the goal is to accomplish something helpful or harmful is another question, but power itself is a necessary ingredient for any action. Power is constitutive of life. (Mark I. Wegener)

from  Congregation-Centered Organizing: A Strategy for Growing Stronger Communities via The Gamaliel Foundation an organizing institute.

5 Stages of Grief

In a world where everything is supposed to be doubted, and nothing is as simple as it seems it is interesting how many theories claim to be universal. One of them is E.K. Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. Surely, there is a value in recognizing the various emotional stages a grieving person goes through, and I am not saying that using Ross’s stages can not helpful. It is the universal claim in her book that is problematic. Well here comes the real reason for this post, naming the stages and give the “official Icelandic translation.”

  • Denial (isl. afneitun), or this is not really happening.
  • Anger (isl. reiði), or this is someone’s fault.
  • Bargaining (isl. samningar), or can we make a deal (with God or…)
  • Depression (isl. þunglyndi), or what is going to happen next, or I don’t care.*
  • Acceptance (isl. sátt), or this will happen, the hope of continuing is lost (a new hope emerges).

* The use of the word depression (isl. þunglyndi) is not very accurate in E.K. Ross’s writing. I would prefer using anxiety (isl. kvíði). However, I am not a psychologist.

The Myth of Positive Thinking

I came across this via orvitinn.com. Watching this video led my to www.thersa.org which describe themselves as:

For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

Various Religious Views about Organ Donations

One common concern people have regarding organ and tissue donation is how their individual religion feels about donation and transplantation. Most religions support donation as an act of giving and caring. Outlined below are brief descriptions of the viewpoints from various denominations.

via Lifeline of Ohio » Religious Views.