Near death, explained

Wow. That’s all I could say. As a pastor, I would occasionally visit with people who reported Near Death Experiences (NDE) on an operating room table, a hospital bed, during a car accident or heart attack. Without the necessary and pretty impossible to get research, I wasn’t sure what to think about these very similar but unusual events in people’s lives. All I could say was Wow.

This article, published April, 2012, in the online magazine Salon, is written by psychology professor and research scientist at the University of Montreal, Mario Beauregard. It is excerpted from his book, “The Brain Wars,” and talks of recent research into this quite common human event.

I was always talking about life after death, but was quite sure I knew, really knew, nothing about it. I would speak in the language, images and ideas of my Christian faith tradition. Here is new brain research that confirms what many have said about their experiences, and points to a new truth: that the brain, while very much another part of the body, the Executive part, managing and processing our experience as well as coordinating all of our other body function, may, in fact, exist in some way beyond our living, breathing life.

That is simply amazing. Science finding that we are not just materialistic human forms. As a therapist, I now have some science to back up what we have talked about before as mystery. AWESOME.

Here’s the link:  Near death, explained

On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough

Today I was talking with two different clients about the research done at the VA in Minneapolis in veterans experiencing PTSD – finding in brain scans that traumatic memory seems to “reside” in the right hemisphere of the brain, right above the ear. So happy to have located a story on this research, and want to pin it here 🙂  On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough
Thanks to Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos for his continuing research!

In The Therapist’s Office (now)

Every so often patterns seem to emerge from the diverse clients I see. Here’s what I’m noticing now:

1. Couples in my area are coming to counseling at higher distress levels. In our initial conversations, they easily say their problems go back years, not months. This often translates into one or both of the couple completely emotionally “finished,” and only coming to counseling out of a sense of obligation or the expectation that the divorce process in their county will expect some kind of counseling to occur.

Very often, men in these marriages are slow to agree to get counseling help. They may view the marriage differently, or be reluctant to reach out for support. When the wife begins to seriously talk about separation, the husband wakes up and says he’s ready and will often make the initial phone calls to therapists.

2. Couples have less confidence in counseling. Perhaps it comes from more choices for treatment (online, email therapy, coaching, prescription drugs) or a growing reluctance on many people’s part to give permanent change the time and energy it requires. I wonder if more people are willing to try therapy but quit when it gets hard to schedule or invest in, or if more people are choosing therapists by price alone. Many people will start therapy with less experienced counselors, but stop attending when the process gets bogged down.

Each of these issues makes helping couples heal and grow a true challenge. Therapy works best when there is less damage to heal, and works best when everyone is ready to invest themselves. Sometimes these factors don’t happen between partners at the same time.

Holy Saturday reflection 2014

I contribute to a regular newspaper column every couple of months for the local paper, and have done so since 1997. That’s well over 100 different Spiritual Reflections on faith, the world, church and us. 
This round, my column is being published on Holy Saturday. Because I agree that the newspaper has first shot at publication, I can’t print the whole thing here. But I am going to print out my last two paragraphs because, well, I want to. The whole thing will be in the Savage Pacer tomorrow, and on their website Monday. 
Here’s how the essay ends. For any and all who may read what I have here, I wish you the grace and faith to see yourself as one for whom this resurrection happened. Happy Easter. 
          Easter, which will be celebrated in countless churches around the world tonight and tomorrow, and for weeks afterward, is the celebration of a completely improbable rebirth. The experience of the early disciples that this very dead and gone young Messiah was, by the unique action of God, raised up. It doesn’t make sense, this dead body given new life, but our scriptures tell several stories of encounters, of conversations, of visions, of meals that person after person had of a newly alive Jesus. At least some kind of life that was touch-able, converse-able, and physical in the way that bodies are physical things. Something happened to Jesus that dozens of different people in different contexts experienced, and the only words they had to tell of their experience was to call it being raised from the dead, of his resurrection. Christ is risen, they said. He is reborn from the dead.
            Easter celebrates this miracle, this unique intervention of God upon the physical world, to bring dead Jesus to life again. We don’t understand it. But we cling to it as a promise: that in Jesus, death doesn’t win. Not finally, not in the end. And that he leads any and all who would follow to new life at their death, too. Which is why there will be lots of singing about our own deaths in Easter songs and hymns tomorrow. Why we will remember with full, hopeful hearts those we love who have died. Why we will smell lilies and see new hats and share meals with loved ones tomorrow. In these bodies, death appears to win. But in God, death is a big, fat loser. That’s what all the fuss in church tomorrow is about. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we be. Hope and faith sing together: Alleluia, alleluia.

When To Get Marriage Therapy

Most couples come to therapy when they have completely run out of steam. While there is a great deal that MFTs can do to help, it’s not a time in the family when people feel resilient, optimistic or energized. In order to create permanent change, one needs a good deal of hope and energy. And so does one’s partner.

I’ve observed that for many couples (especially those who have had a less-than smooth relationship history, full of stops and re-starts, difficult emotional turmoil, previous long-term partners and/or huge life stress) there are much better times to come to couples therapy and have a much bigger chance for successful growth.

They are:

1. Before marriage. PLEASE consider pre-marital counseling, whoever you are. There are fabulous tools available to me as a therapist to assess your relationship as it is now, help you understand your unique partnership in basic system and personality terms, and help you enter the marriage more awake to your strengths and weaknesses.

2. After the FIRST really big, painful, emotionally threatening argument. Happier couples, those whose likes and dislikes, personality styles, family of origin patterns and conflict themes are more similar to each other may never even have one of these blow outs. Ever. That would be ideal. The moment a frightening, threatening, abusive fight happens, think: Help. We need help.

3. When one of you feels as if you are drifting away from your partner and couplehood in a big way : a job that takes you away from home for days or weeks at a time; when new parenthood strains the closeness; a crisis of faith or health or employment. Couple relationships are always managing their own sense of healthy emotional distance from one another. But the marriage should always feel quietly, confidently connected. If it doesn’t, don’t let it drift without comment and professional support.

These are the times I have noticed in marriages of change and opportunity, when both partners may be open to learning new things about each other and themselves, and still see the relationship as positive, life-affirming, permanent. These are the points at which relationships can be strengthened, renewed, matured. Don’t wait until you can’t stand it any more to reach out for counseling. Chances are, your chances of recovery get lower with every week you wait.

Now I’ve Done It: Saying Yes (Almost) to a PT Therapy Job

It was a huge surprise, and really flattering.

A lead psychologist working for the Minneapolis Veteran’s Administration Hospital Center called a couple of weeks ago to recruit me for a part-time job. I am exactly what she wanted, she said: a licensed therapist who is/was also clergy. No one, other than myself and my smallish circle of family, friends and clients, think that my double expertise is anything remarkable. To have someone outside my circle seek my particular set of education, experience and interest and ask me to work for them was, well, a first.

After days of thinking, reading, talking, prayer and observation of my own reactions, I’ve said yes to the work. I’ll be trained in a research protocol, leading a small group of soldiers who are suffering with PTSD to use their own spiritual resources to assist in their recovery. I will lead the group in a church in my area of the cities, and go up to the VA weekly to join in consultation group of the therapists who are also leading the various protocol groups in this research study. I expect to bring all my experience to bear, enjoy helping meet the needs of soldiers and building new relationships with colleagues I will come to know.

What has me a bit unsure is how the rhythm of these new hours of work for the VA will fit into my private practice. I have imagined the best I can how to work that out, and requested those hours as those hours I can work. So far, every effort has been made to honor my request. I trust that experience will continue as the groups get scheduled, and I go through my training. You can probably imagine the pile of paperwork that is required to join – even at a 6-8 hours a week – the VA as an employee. 40 pages of repetitive information sharing paperwork and fingerprinting are the start. Online web-based ethics workshops, protocol review, and recruitment of soldier participants follow. Wow. Our government at work!

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish me continuing good health, the joy of something new, and the energy and flexibility to enjoy the professional challenge. I’ll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: The grant contract, as it turns out, was written in such a way that I couldn’t just work a few hours a week as planned. I did do the training, but ended up turning the work down. Oh well. It was an interesting interlude. LSB

College Athletes Getting Played : Guest Post : Hannah Silva-Breen

College Athletes Getting Played
            Many kids dream of being a professional athlete, and their first stop is getting a full ride at the best university in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). These kids will have a lot places to choose from, with over 1,000 schools and 400,000 student athletes under the umbrella of the NCAA (Who We Are 1). What they don’t know is that even “full ride” college athletes end up in debt, along with having the stress of balancing the demanding sport with a just as demanding course load. Student athletes have a full time job, travel included, at their university with the sports they play. Scholarships are a good starting point to compensate them, but it is not enough; collegiate athletes should get paid every year beyond those scholarships to help keep them out of debt and make them a more reliable player for their team.
            What many people forget about student athletes is that they’re still students. Just because they play a sport does not mean they get a free pass in their classes. Some athletes may have professors that give them a little later deadlines, or make up labs, but if they fail, they fail. Athletes must at least meet the minimum GPA standards in place to graduate, and take certain amounts of credits each term (depending on the division) to stay eligible to play (Remaining Eligible 1). Tyson Hartnett, currently a writer for the Huffington Post and an alum of NCAA college athletics, explains: “On a typical day, a player will wake up before classes, get a lift or conditioning session in, go to class until 3 or 4 p.m., go to practice, go to mandatory study hall, and then finish homework or study for a test” (Harnett 1). Harnett continues to talk about his roommate, who had a “full ride” but still needed money: “He would work his butt off all day, with two or sometimes three basketball training sessions, plus classes and homework, and go to that job for a few hours late at night. He would come back exhausted, but he needed whatever money they would pay him” (Harnett 1). He continues to explain that his roommate was forced to quit his job once the season started up, and could only use the money he had saved up. That doesn’t sound like what all the young athletes dream of doing, does it? But it doesn’t end there.
            The life of a college athlete is not just this “free” education and grueling schedule; many players end up paying for a lot more than they bargained for. Researchers at Ithaca College discovered that on average, Division 1 athletes pay $2,951 in school-related expenses – after their “full scholarship” (FYI: College Athletes Have Debt, Too 1). For many people, when thinking about attending college, they expect to pay extra for miscellaneous expenses. But for students who are promised a scholarship and sign a National Letter of Intent saying they’ll get free tuition and room and board, they are shocked when they realize it says nothing about books, computers, parking fees, and food and are at a loss when all their cash runs out fast. The new study The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports discovered that on average 85.5% of players are living below the federal poverty line. They also estimated the “fair market value” to the universities of these studied football and basketball players was between $120,048 and $265,027 (Nance-Nash 1). There are many opposing arguments saying that people with academic scholarships are helped enough, so it’s not necessary to try and help athletes, but no one really explains how different these types of scholarships are.
            When comparing academic and athletic scholarships, the only similarity is the fact that each student, whether or not they’re getting an athletic or academic scholarship, must maintain certain standards to keep that scholarship. However, those standards vary dramatically. David Wunderlich who studied Decision and Information Sciences at the University of Florida explains: “Academic scholarship requirements are far less subjective than athletic scholarship expectations. You know ahead of time what’s required to keep an academic scholarship, and you can change majors to keep it if you struggle in your chosen field of study. You get periodic progress reports in the form of graded work and exams to know where you stand in each class” (Wunderlich 1). These academic requirements and progress reports are in complete contrast to athletes and their teams. Athletes can’t switch to a different sport like a new major, and they don’t get progress reports (or warnings) from coaches telling them that they’re on the verge of breaking the rules or not meeting the standards. Also, it’s rare to see students who travel as often as athletes do (a few days or weeks at a time), and the students with the academic scholarships won’t have as many miscellaneous, necessary expenses. But then the next frequently-asked question is, don’t high schoolers learn all of this before they sign up? It’s their choice to do this, right?
Scoop Jackson from ESPN argues just that: “Every student who signs a letter of intent or agrees to accept a scholarship to play a sport knows going in that the school’s job is to make the most money off of his or her efforts. They agree to that. It’s no different than a professional athlete signing a contract” (Jackson 1). What Jackson doesn’t take into account is the fact that the people signing these contracts are 15-17 year olds, and the only help they usually have reading over their contracts is their parents. Professional athletes have lawyers to read and change contracts if needed. These high schoolers are too excited to be living their dream to understand what every technical term the contract says. They do – or should – know that yes, the colleges are looking to make money of the programs, but when they’re only getting a couple tens of thousands of dollars to cover tuition when their net worth to the school is over $200,000, there’s no good reason they shouldn’t be getting more. In the most popular sports programs, like Duke University, many basketball players are valued at over $1,000,000 while living just a few hundred dollars over the poverty line (Nance-Nash 1). This isn’t just; it’s taking advantage of them, and exploiting the talents these college athletes hold.
Another common argument against paying college athletes is that with the lack of financial incentive, the programs weed out the poorly-focused or the undedicated players. But it would be just the opposite. When a school gives an athletic scholarship to a player, they cannot take it away unless the player voluntarily quits the team or breaks NCAA, university, or team rules (Fitzgerald 1). But by giving these athletes extra money, they’d be more invested to stay on the team and make the team successful and popular; the less success the team has, the less excess money they could possibly be giving to the players. If you had a president of any multimillion or billion dollar company (like a university, for example) do their job for free, it’s safe to assume they would not work as hard, if at all. Give them their hefty paychecks back and it would be business as usual. It’s not only fair, but it’s an investment on the school and the NCAA’s part to help create healthier and more successful sports programs.
Yet, the NCAA prides itself on keeping these student athletes amateurs. The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, explains: “you have something very different from collegiate athletics. One of the guiding principles (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports” (NCAA President: Not a Good idea 1). But the NCAA has never explained or shown any reasons for why it’s such a bad thing for them to be “professional” athletes in college. It’s not much different from college students who get paid to assist with a research project or internship that follows their career interests. Technically, that would make those students “professionals” in that field as well. If the athletes at the university want to have their careers involve sports, the NCAA has no reason not to support them financially similarly to academic internships.
One way to fix these problems is to pay these athletes enough to cover their basic needs and necessities, but not too much to demean their education. There are two places this money could come from, the first being the universities themselves. A lot of the direct profit (game tickets, concessions, etc.) go straight back to the athletic programs, which then goes to coaches and funding new equipment, uniforms, and facilities. College coaches earn at least $100,000 a year (Harnett 1) and there are a minimum of three coaches per team. That can get up to half a million dollars just for coaching alone. Then there are programs that have a single coach getting paid in the millions. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, also known as “Coach K” from Duke University made 9.7 million dollars in 2011 alone (Medcalf 1). Coaching is very important in any sport, but coaches don’t win the games, the players do. Without the players, Coach K’s dynasty at Duke wouldn’t exist. That’s the first place the compensation could come from for these players. However, not every team is as successful as Duke University. In that case, the programs would set a minimum per athlete to help out the less successful or less popular sports without hurting the overall program by taking out too much money.
The second place to look for change is to the NCAA. There are many different opinions about the NCAA. Some say they’re extremely helpful in keeping players under control in college, while others say the NCAA is just there to make money and doesn’t care about the players or programs. Either way, the bottom line is the NCAA is an extremely profitable organization. On the NCAA’s official website they state: “For 2011-12, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available. NCAA revenue was $871.6 million” (Revenue 1). If you divide that money up by the 400,000 players that participate in the NCAA, they would each get about $2,000. This would help the players, the programs, and help keep the NCAA’s prideful “non-profit” reputation. In that same study, The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports they also explain: “the NCAA explicitly allows college athletes to accept food stamps and welfare benefits. ‘The NCAA is forcing taxpayers to pay for expenses that players would be able to pay themselves if not for NCAA rules’” (Nance-Nash 1). There is no reason that these players giving up their time risking their and bodies should be forced to accept food stamps when they could be getting paid by the same organization that pays their executives an average of one million dollars a year (Harnett 1). The NCAA should encourage a healthier life if they’re truly that focused on helping the players. This doesn’t happen when these athletes can’t afford to buy enough food when they’re out on the road.
NCAA athletics isn’t high school sports. These aren’t minors playing for fun. These are collegiate student athletes playing for a purpose and for a goal: to get to the next level of becoming professional athletes. For many of these players, that next level never comes, whether through injury or simply not getting drafted. If players continue to be unpaid employees, raising money for their school and the NCAA, those years might become a waste. Lives get changed by academic failure, permanent injuries, or simply unfulfilled life dreams. Referees are part of sports to keep games fair, but it’s time to make the college athletic programs fair to the players.


Works Cited
Fitzgerald, Dan. “When Can a School Take Away Your Scholarship?” Connecticut Sports
Law. N.p., 6 Oct. 2006. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
“FYI: College Athletes Have Debt, Too.” Do Something. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Hartnett, Tyson. “Why College Athletes Should Be Paid.” The Huffington Post., 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Jackson, Scoop. “The Myth Of parity.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 12 Sept. 2013. Web.
15 Nov. 2013.
Medcalf, Myron. “Coach K Made Nearly $10 Million in 2011.” ESPN. N.p., 15 May 2013.
Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Nance-Nash, Sheryl. “NCAA Rules Trap Many College Athletes in Poverty.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
“NCAA President: Not a Good idea.” ESPN. Associated Press, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 Dec.
“Remaining Eligible.” National Collegiate Athletic Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.
“Revenue.” National Collegiate Athletic Association. N.p., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.
“Who We Are.” National Collegiate Athletic Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
Wunderlich, David. “Academic and Athletic Scholarships Are Not the Same – Team Speed
Kills.” Team Speed Kills. Vox Media, 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.

“Bound Conscience” is Theological Bullshit

SERIOUSLY? I won’t start fights on Facebook. But a post I read has me fuming.

A female pastor claiming that being against women clergy in the church isn’t really sexism, it’s just “bound conscience,” and we have to respect those folks who believe this way. I have been trying to craft a response to her post for an hour and I have just come to this:

 I see “bound conscience” as racism, sexism, and homophobia all dressed up in fancy theological clothes. The incarnation of Jesus isn’t just about God’s love for the male, privileged body. It is about God’s redemption of all human flesh – whatever color, race, gender, ability or age. And those who preach this gospel ought to reflect the diversity of this God-loved human race.

Bound conscience?! That is the power of discrimination : it creates self-hatred in those who are hated by the majority. Our blindness to our own condition continues to amaze me.

Here’s my bottom line: It is not OK with me that an ELCA pastor, called to preach and teach, misstates or misunderstands the power of discrimination about gender, race or sexual orientation, when talking about Scripture.


Help For Your Nerves: Review

Hope and Help for Your NervesHope and Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I help people with their thinking, emotions, relationships and beliefs every day. This little gem, written back in 1969 by an Australian physician/psychiatrist should be in the hands of every person who has ever suffered with a full-on panic/anxiety disorder. We call that general diagnosis “GAD” or Generalized Anxiety Disorder today. There are a lot of great resources out there to help. This book is quite personal, clear and wonderful. It’s not perfect; she suggests leaving the family for up to several months to recover, which is not something I would easily advise to anyone. And all the advice will probably not be enough without therapy, but it’s a helpful adjunct.

Her principles of treatment, and they are right:

1. facing fear as a normal emotion running too high in your life
2. accepting that it is doing that at the moment, and it WONT KILL YOU
3. learning to rise, or float above or behind the annoying physical sensations
4. giving your body time to heal itself from the super-tuned-in experience of fear sensation that has you knotted up

This, along with EMDR, talk therapy, exercise and a lot of self reflection can and will help most anyone recover.

View all my reviews

A Sermon On Demons that Won’t Make You Want to Die From Boredom

So, you may know that I was a parish pastor for 20 years. It was a brutal ride most of the time.

As I reflect upon those years now, from the relative safety of 9 years away, I think it would have been a joy if I had felt that my seminary education and the role I was given in the churches I served really wanted ME to be there. Me, rather than some kind of cut-out, public symbol and personal mascot to the historic values and expectations of ministry. Because I will tell you, my life as a pastor was the life of someone shaped to live a role a certain way, and while it worked for me on occasion, all the while it was strangling me. 

As I listen to Nadia preach and speak, as I read her sermons (link below,) I recognize in her words so much of what I wanted to say, to be and to be appreciated for as a person, as a young adult, as a mother, a woman, a spouse, a pastor.  Her journey, unique as it is, makes me wistful for a past I didn’t get to have : the chance to be a pastor as a real, full, imperfect, intolerant, anxious but bursting with ideas, concerns and love of God person that I was.

Maybe this is the core difference : she started her church and shaped it around the goals she brought to it. I inherited systems that were so entrenched, there was no moving them without someone accusing me of all manner of untrue and awful things. I had to work in the shadow of pastors who were living lies and working full-time to keep them hidden. I had to work with the feeling of judgment from unhappy people in every, single moment of my work day. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating.

So I listen to preachers like Nadia with joy as well as a heavy heart. I would have like to speak as colorfully as she does because I use those words every day. I would have liked to bring that kind of full person-hood to my work. It just wasn’t the road I ended up walking. So here is what I say: you go, girl. Preach. Because I’ve moved over to make room in a church that needs more preachers like you.

Demon Possession and Why I Named My Depression “Francis”