Friday, March 31, 2006

Regan in pigtails

You asked for it, and so here it is. (Actually, I think Kyle's the only one, but I'm sure others are interested.) Regan has been coming home in pigtails a lot lately. Someone at the babysitter's likes to do it, and I can see why. ISN'T SHE ADORABLE?!?!

It was very warm today -- in the 60s. A big storm came through as we were getting home. We decided to watch from the front porch and took some pictures (We LOVE our front porch for this and other reasons.) Check out a few of the other pictures at my Flickr site.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Aidan the bowler

My son joined a bowling league. That's right. He was a proud member of a league of 3 and 4-year-old bowlers. We had to find a new child care provider beginning about six weeks ago when our previous child care person went on maternity leave. Our new child care person apparently gets the kids involved in various extra-curricular activities (do they actually have "curricular" activities for 3-year-olds?), one of which is bowling. Aidan LOVED it. While he was involved, he always looked forward to Wednesday mornings. They start gymnastics in April, and I think Aidan might pop a vein from excitement.

Regan, meanwhile, often comes home with her hair in pigtails, despite the fact that her hair really isn't long enough for pigtails. (I'll have to get a picture of that soon.) Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 27, 2006

"Fathers in Family Therapy" Research Website

I have created a new website to help publicize my dissertation research. Because I am relying on the referalls of other therapists, I can use all of the publicity I can get. I am hoping that this website will serve as a means of disseminating information about the research and a way for potential participants to contact me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Problems of Race in 2006

I went to the Michigan Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) Annual Conference today. The keynote speaker was Dr. Kenneth Hardy of Syracuse University. The topic was "Working Effectively with Adolescents in Families of Color". It was the best workshop/discussion about multiculturalism, race, and institutional racism that I have ever heard.

What I appreciated was his candor and ability to accurately convey to a predominately white, middle class audience that racism and general prejudice are still very pervasive throughout our culture. Perhaps more importantly, he helped me understand the subtle, innocent ways that even I participate in the perpetuation of racism. This is very difficult for me to understand because I am in a cultural position of power. I am a white, middle-class, Protestant, straight male, which means that the existing societal structure was created and is largely maintained by people just like me. But I walked away from the conference with something very different than "liberal guilt" which most people assume should be the primary react of those in the majority. Rather, I left with a much better understanding of how people of other cultures see me as a privileged male, which is the first step to open dialogue.

So here are a few of the most important points that I took away from Dr. Hardy's lecture:

  1. Saying the wrong thing about race and multiculturalism is better than saying nothing at all. At least when we say the wrong things, it has the opportunity to open dialogue about race and differences. Staying silent for fear of "saying the wrong thing" only breeds further misunderstanding.
  2. It is more important for me to understand the perspective of others than vice versa. This is because my intentions are irrelevant to everyone but me. All that matters is how my speech and actions are received by others. If I did not properly convey my intentions, then it is my responsibility to restate in a more accurate manner.
  3. People in the minority know more about my culture than I know about theirs. Ye, we often put the responsibility on them to teach us, rather than on ourselves to learn. One example given was from a Pakistani woman who said that most in the room would not be able to spell or accurately pronounce her name. Yet she could probably accurately pronounce and spell most of the European names in the room. Although no one tested her, we all knew that she was likely correct.
  4. There are four aggravating factors that effect adolescents' propensity to act out. The first and most damaging of these factors is a process of devaluation, which is the process by which an individual or group is steadily stripped of the essential elements of humanity and unique, valuable perspective. It is essentially the loss of one's voice of influence in the larger ecosystem.
  5. The Process of devaluation immediately leads the person of color to begin valuing respect over life. If their lives have no value, as society tells them, then they will view respect as the ultimate prize to be protected and avenged if necessary. This is what leads a person to shoot another person for disrespecting.
  6. People in power are usually innocently oblivious of the ways that they walk over those below them, devaluing the identities and culture of the others. The powerful make the decisions and are often moving to fast to notice the toes that they stomp on.
With this understanding, it becomes clearer why so many Middle Eastern Muslims have rage at Americans. Americans are in a position of unequalled global power. We have not entered into the kind of dialogue that facilitates collaboration. Instead, we have allowed the process of devaluation to create a culture in the world that has its back against the wall. They have gotten the message that their lives are not valued, and so they will insist on respect. We have had no dialogue with them, and we have expected the world to adhere to our culture, without bothering to learn or respect theirs.

This is not a justification for the violence that a few Muslims carry out. There is no justification for that. Rather, it is an explanation. It is a way for us, as people of power and privilege, to understand the context of their rage. This is not a way to blame America for the events of September 11. Rather, it is a way to understand how we can begin to heal and prevent this from happening again. Until we open dialogue with those who's culture has been devalued and begin to learn how our messages are received, terrorism will continue to be a problem in the world. As that dialogue begins, however, we will enter into a world that may be awkward at first but closer to a reality of multicultural cooperation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Things are coming together

I have been very nervous about a number of things for some time now. Will I get any participants for my dissertation? Will I get any job interview? Will I get my client hours before my internship ends? Will we have enough money to make it until I finish everything? WILL I BE ABLE TO FINISH ANYTHING???

Although many of those questions are persisting, I am beginning to feel better about many of them. For one thing, I'm beginning to get some response to my dissertation. I have one firm interview scheduled and a couple more should be scheduled soon. I've also plugged in to the Michigan Association for Play Therapy and a few social workers in the area (thanks, Rob!). I also will be conducting a mock interview session this weekend, thanks to some friends of ours (thanks Brett and Sarah!). Although I still have a long way to go in order to get the number of participants I need (I'm shooting for 10-14), I'm starting to feel much better than I did a month ago.

On the job search front, I'm feeling a little better too. I've gotten two definite rejections, and I still don't have interviews scheduled for the other positions (for good reasons), but I have five applications still out to potential employers, and I continue to learn about how I can promote myself and make the best case for hiring me. (For the record, I don't like to mention specific employers/institutions because the names and numbers seem to change frequently.)

On the clinical front, my practice is booming. I was really struggling for clients around Christmas. I was wondering whether I would get all of my hours by August or not. Since then, as always happens in therapy, I have gotten many new clients, and I am almost completely full, which is saying something since I have many potential slots for clients. If this continues, I might have to start a waiting list, which I have never done, although I've only had the ability to do that since I started my internship.

So overall, I'm feeling much better about my professional life, certainly much better than I did even a couple of weeks ago, despite the continued presence of many questions. This whole wacky Ph.D. experiment might actually work out after all!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The nature of evil

This morning in Kari's class at church, they were discussing the nature of evil spirits. After church, Kari asked me for my opinion, which of course I readily gave. The question was about whether evil spirits, such as those driven out by Jesus in the Gospels, actually exist.

I prefaced my explanation by saying, first, I think it is a matter of perception: the perception of evil spirits make them even more real to the person experiencing them. It's a philosophical assertion, but one that I believe to be true. For me, the notion of "evil spirits" goes back to the nature of evil itself. How is evil manifested? It's usually, if not always, manifested through the decisions, actions, and behaviors of humanity. Therefore, it makes sense to me that evil and all things evil (including Satan and demons) are creations of humanity.

Now, hear me out. I know I haven't fully fleshed this idea out, and I'm still working through exactly what it means both scripturally and profanely. I know that there are bound to be faults of logic, and I know that it is not the typical Christian view (although I find it hard to believe that I'm the first Christian to have thought of this), but I believe that Satan is nothing more than a spiritual manifestation of selfishness, callousness, and mortality of humanity. The Bible constantly emphasizes that good will ultimately triumph over evil and Christ will and has conquered the Devil. I don't think that's simply Christian optimism or some cryptic prediction of the future. It is the reasonable conclusion about the nature of evil. It is based in humanity, which is doomed through death. Good lives on through eternal life with God. Therefore, good triumphs over evil by necessity.

So, what are the logical conclusions of such a statement? First, what about Satan? I believe this means that Satan is a creation of humanity. More precisely, Satan is a creation of the free will that God has imparted to humanity. Just as we have the free will to choose good, we also have the free will to choose evil. We and everyone else, therefore, must live with the consequences of those decisions. So when Adam and Eve committed the first sin, it was a temptation from within, not something from without, that caused them to sin. It was the selfishness and arrogance of Adam and Eve (i.e. the Devil) that caused them to reject the wisdom of God. It is the same temptations that continue to tempt us today. Perhaps even the temptations of Christ in the desert came from the human urges within (he was fully human, after all). Second, what does that mean about demons? Perhaps demons are the physical manifestations of the evil perpetuated. (Although, I also suspect that some of the demonic possessions in the Bible may have been disorders now known as autism, MS, Tourette's, Bi-polar, schizophrenia, or some other disease or mental health disorder.) Demonic possession happens when our selfish desires and personal agendas replace those of God. We are "possessed" when we begin to believe that our wisdom is wiser than God's wisdom.

Third, what does that mean for the nature of Hell? I've believed for some time now that Hell may be better conceptualized as being in a continuous state of complete separation from God. While alive, we are at least connected to God through the constant opportunity to turn our lives around to do what is right. Heaven, therefore, is the complete absence of evil and the perpetual presence of good. Fourth, what does that mean about disease and natural disasters? I actually do not believe that question is relevant because it is related more to the mortality of humanity, rather than the evil within. When a hurricane or cancer strikes, it's not because of some evil force. Rather, I believe that it is simply a result of being mortal. We are not meant to live forever, so death and destruction is a natural, inevitable consequence of that mortality, but I do not see the connection there with evil.

For me, this helps answer the question of why bad things happen to good people. It also helps reconcile the logical inferences of observation with some of the seemingly contradictory Biblical descriptions of good and evil. It also shows me the great responsibility I have to always do what is right. This means devoting myself to living the good and perfect life that God has called me to live, rather than the tempting yet inherently flawed life of selfishness and excess I may desire. I must devote myself to just causes. God wants us to care for every individual sheep, not simply the majority. I must help feed the hungry, provide comfort for the destitute, take care of the environment, and stand up for justice for those who are marginalized or voiceless. I must not simply accept the majority as being right. Justice and liberty mean that even the most minor of minorities should be cared for.

Again, I understand that there are certainly gaps of logic and theology that I have neglected. I understand that not everything can be so neatly defined, least of all complex subjects such as heaven/Hell, good/evil, and God. I fully expect to come to question this belief eventually, perhaps very soon. But until then, this helps me understand a little more about my God, my world, and my responsibility.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Let's all come together

Hello everyone! It's good to be back. As you can tell, I took quite the hiatus from blogging, having posted absolutely nothing for 4 months. At first it was just that I fell out of the habit and didn't feel like posting anyway. Then I just felt inexplicably embarrassed for nothing having posted for so long. My two existing blogs were not adequate anymore for posting what I wanted to discuss. I found them too constricting, but I didn't want to eliminate them.

So today, I took the initiative during lunch to consolidate the blogs and start anew with a new look, new title, and new address. I now understand why most personal blogs are very general in nature. It's just too difficult and constricting to continue blogging on a particular topic. So, here I am! Let's see if I stay with it a little longer this time.

I've also begun The Martin Family Podcast, which is a collection of video clips and audio episodes featuring primarily Aidan and Regan. The technical quality isn't the best, but I hope to improve it with future episodes using the new camera, set to arrive this weekend. It may not always be quality entertainment, but I expect some episodes to be an absolute trip. There are subscription links on at the podcast homepage.

Additionally, I finally decided to enter the Flickr community to provide an easier way to store and share photos. I only have about 20 photos up now, but that will increase as I have time to upload more. If you're interested in getting prints of any photo I've uploaded, you can do so from the web site, but you need a Flickr account, and I think I have to approve you as a friend/family.