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Positive Psychology

July 12, 2018

What makes an individual psychologically healthy? You may have some difficulty answering this question. As a matter of fact, you will likely have difficulty answering an even broader question, what makes people healthy in general? One of the reasons for this is due to our contemporary conceptualization of health and well-being. Pervasive in both medicine and psychology is the biomedical model. The biomedical model of health does an excellent job at helping us understand disorders, disease, and pathology; however, it falls flat in helping us identify similar measurables for health and well-being.

In fact, the typical indicators for identifying healthy individuals is the absence of pathology and problems. The truth is; however, the absence of problems does not equate health. Just because you’re not depressed, does not mean you are happy and content. Just because you’re not in a highly conflictual relationship, does not mean you’re happily married. Fortunately, the fields of medicine and psychology have been steadily shifting for the past two decades and now more attention is being placed on the other end of the bell curve. Scientists and scholars have worked to identify what makes people happy and healthy and practitioners have supplemented their interventions to help people improve well-being and not just focusing on decreasing symptoms of a problem.

The first step along the path of improving well-being is to identify your core signature strengths. Cross-cultural research has identified 24 character strengths in the areas of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Some examples can include a love for learning, honesty, kindness, leadership, or even hope. By understanding and deliberately utilizing our core strengths on the different life tasks in positive psychology, we can find joy and meaning in life in a way that feels compatible with our personality and who we are.  To take a free character strengths test, please visit: www.viacharacter.org.

What are these life tasks in positive psychology? Research in socio-emotional well-being has found five areas that are highly correlated with feeling content with one’s life:

  1. Positive Emotion

If I were to ask you how satisfied you are with your life right now, your answer would likely be heavily influenced by the mood you’re in. Experiencing positive emotions improves our outlook on life, whether it is positively reflecting on our past or looking towards the future with hope. We need to experience positive feelings. Research in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has taught us there is an inherent relationship between our thoughts, actions, and mood. Thus, there is truly value in exploring ways to be generous in our interpretation of ourselves and others. If you look for the bad in life, you will find it. However, the same goes for the positive and the reasons for which you are grateful. Training our brains to scan the world for positivity can only help our experience of positive feelings.

  1. Engagement

Are there activities that you can “lose” yourself in? The idea of “flow” or engagement is that we each have the capacity to engage in activities in which we experience a state of utter, blissful immersion in the present moment. Utilizing our highest strengths to meet our highest challenges can often be a path to engagement. There is a plethora of possibilities, including working, creating something, sports, or even playing some games. These activities suspend our feelings and our sense of time. They bring us to the here and now and make us feel valuable, confident, and productive. Regularly engaging in “flow-like” activities is a path to well-being.

  1. Relationships

The research is very clear that connection is everything. We are hard-wired to connect with others. Disconnection causes a number of difficulties for us emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. Therefore, utilizing our core strengths to help us build strong, deep, and vulnerable connections with others where we feel like we are seen and accepted for who we are is the path to happiness. Relationships are complicated, they can be messy. However, the way forward with respect to well-being is always in the company of others.

  1. Purpose and Meaning

Another facet of well-being as you reflect on your life is your overall sense that your life has meaning and purpose. Research in positive psychology defines this as dedicating our time and resources to something greater than ourselves. Utilizing our core strengths will ensure that we are also engaged in this work.

  1. Achievement and Accomplishment

For our overall well-being, we need to have hope and confidence in our abilities and capacities. This is best attained by reflecting on our past successes. When we succeed in the past, we are more likely to be encouraged and motivated for future challenges. What is neat about this task is that accomplishment is a bit subjective. What matters is that you are able to look back on your life with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Utilization of core strengths and progress in these individual tasks are the themes that positive psychologists have found when researching the happiest people around the world. Part of hope of the positive psychology movement is that by learning through tasks early on, we can chart a course for ourselves so that we can also reflect kindly and fondly on our lives as we grow older. 

For more information on positive psychology, please visit: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

Louis V. Haynes is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Clinical Director for Counseling Center of the North Shore, a nonprofit community mental health center. To learn more about Dr. Louis V. Haynes, please visit www.ccns.org or reach out to him directly at: lhaynes@ccns.org

 

Signs of Addiction in Teens: When to Get Your Teen Help

May 17, 2018

More than 40 percent of American teens have tried some type of alcohol, tobacco or illicit drug, which is half of those who were presented with the opportunity — this is a staggering statistic. Rosecrance wants you to understand the signs of teen addiction, so you can seek help before it’s too late.

Rosecrance has a long and successful history of treating adolescent substance abuse. It is our mission to change these statistics — one life at a time. People in need seek our help so they can break addiction habits, develop coping skills and new healthy behaviors and restore their sense of hope and purpose.

When teenagers develop drug dependency, it can disrupt their brain chemistry, often leading to unhealthy and sometimes dangerous behavior. It’s important to understand the signs of addiction and seek help as quickly as possible to stop these self-harming and potentially life-threatening behaviors.

We have a unique approach to treating teens suffering from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. We not only treat the substance abuse and any underlying mental health issues through a variety of experiential therapies (including, art, recreation, horticulture, drumming and mindful meditation), but we are dedicated to educating and helping young people realize their full potential. In fact, everything we do at Rosecrance is about restoring hope and giving our clients a chance to start a new life filled with purpose and passion.

While it’s be difficult to diagnose drug abuse in teens (because many of the signs are similar to typical teenage behavior), you should keep a watchful eye for sudden or severe changes in your teen’s behavior.

 

5 warning signs of drug abuse in teens

  • Changes in behavior and mannerisms

 This is one of the earliest warning signs of drug abuse in teens and may include a sudden change in friends, withdrawal from social interactions and disinterest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed.

  • Mood changes

 Watch for sudden irrational or dramatic actions, these may indicate it’s time to intervene. Teens suffering from drug abuse may be more irritable, verbally abusive or even violent with friends and family.

  • Changes in personality

This is another early indicator; if you notice marked changes in their personality (e.g., poor morale, low productivity, lack of self-control, aggression, low test scores), don’t ignore it and seek immediate help.

  • Physical changes

Drug use and abuse has a host of physical signs like bloodshot eyes, sudden changes in weight, frequent nosebleeds, tremors, drowsiness and red, flushed cheeks.

  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Don’t be afraid to snoop. Possessing things like weight scales, bongs, cigarette lighters, needles, balloons and vials are the most definitive signs that your teen is abusing drugs.

Recognizing the warning signs of drug abuse in teenagers isn’t easy, so the best thing you can do is talk to your teen first to find out if they need help. Rosecrance offers the best opportunity for lasting recovery. If you still feel uneasy about their mental and physical health and well-being, please contact us for an immediate assessment at 888-928-5278. We offer a variety of effective treatment programs to help your teen address their substance abuse — and live a happy, fulfilling and sober life.

This article is published by the Rosecrance Health Network: www.rosecrance.org

A Role UVC Can Play in our Society

September 30, 2017

When I think of the role that United Voices for Children can play in our society and to those of us associated with this organization as child advocates, I believe we are here to focus on those values that can help children realize their potential as they grow toward adulthood. Hopefully, this focus should be experienced at all levels of life in our communities– personal, family, and neighborhoods, as well as through the broader governmental entities that shape our communities and personal lives.

As a prison chaplain in an all-male institution, I found the most meaningful experiences in my ministry to these young offenders were the group meetings I held during the week. In these group meetings, I would invite 6-8 of these juvenile offenders to come to my office where we would have frank discussions on what they could do to change their behaviors when released from the institution.

In one meeting I remember we were discussing the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” I asked the group, “How would you describe a good father?” One young man said, “A good father is one that would take me to a Sox ball game and buy me a beer.” Some talked about the fact that they never knew their father, but the person they respected most was the guy down the street with good looking clothes standing by his brand-new Cadillac that he had just stolen.

Because these young men lived on the streets in such a “raw” environment, it was hard for them to understand the meaning of love and respect for their families, their neighborhoods, or even respect for themselves. This is why when one of these young men was ready for parole, I would try to find the neighborhood where he would be living after leaving the institution. I would then contact a pastor from that neighborhood (quite often United Methodist) and ask that person to get to know the young man being paroled and to help him prepare for a job, or pursue educational opportunities that would take him away from continued criminal activities.

This is why the work of child advocacy can be so relevant when it focuses its efforts toward motivating communities, churches, schools, legislators, and businesses in our neighborhoods to develop programs that support these young men (and young women parolees) in their attempts to live productive lives. Congregations in our communities can encourage businesses to find ways to train and hire these parolees, so they can gain money through their employment rather than by stealing. Pastors and church members through mentoring these young men and women can help them to function more positively in their relationships with others.

Those of us associated with United Voices for Children have two important challenges–(1) motivating church folk to take to the streets to work with vulnerable youth and children, inviting them into the warmth of your congregations, and (2) working with your legislators and community leaders to see that resources become available through prevention-oriented programs that will motivate these youth in becoming upstanding men and women in their communities.

The Rev. Mason Scholl is a Lifetime Honorary Board Member of United Voices for Children & a retired institutional chaplain. 

 

Who is my neighbor? Easy answer.

September 13, 2017

My neighbor is the friendly family on either side of our yard. He is the guy who takes in my mail when I am on vacation. He is the kid who shovels my driveway in an emergency and pushes me out of a ditch when I do a doofus slide into one. I do the same for them. We look out for each other.

Homeless Jesus status, Washington, D.C.

A poet once said good fences make good neighbors. Not sure what he meant, but I suspect he meant something other than a privacy fence. My hunch is a good fence makes for good neighborliness especially in the spring after winter’s stormy blasts have damaged the posts and stones built up and around them. 

Here are a few lines from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” He is the one who first said it—twice. I have taken the liberty to mess with it a little bit—not to change or add to it but dis-include a few lines so it makes sense—for our purposes here.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn’t it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’  I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Frost is not so certain either that a wall between neighbors is a good thing. His neighbor is. Broken fences offer an opportunity in the spring of the year to work together on a broken wall. His father taught him good fences make good neighbors. They bring us together from the coze and comfort of our homes to work together, perchance to speak to one another, and one could only hope to understand, know and learn to love each other, too. My neighbor is the one next door. He is someone I am comfortable with, someone I trust with my spare keys. It’s all about conviviality and being there for one another during times of need or even during times of storm and stress. That’s my neighbor.

Along comes Jesus—you knew he would—to spoil cushy assumptions. Neighbors are not always likeable or easy to love. Neighbors can bring the best out in you, but a lousy neighbor can bring out the beast. A child got killed not too long ago because a neighbor on neighborhood watch was allegedly doing his job watching for invasive thugs on the prowl who were there to deal drugs and such. You remember the story. Assumptions were made. Violence happened. All in the name of being a good neighbor. Robert Frost and Jesus are anachronisms. I tease my wife now that we have moved to an apartment near the Chicago Loop. I tell her I have learned to hunch my shoulders, do a little slithering down an alleyway and make certain to look this way and then that. Before I moved to the city, I would push a button in my car to open the garage door and then push it once again so it would close the moment I entered. Safe and sound. Home. No bad guys or unwanted neighbors to disturb my peace.

Along comes Jesus to push my button—my other button—the one attached to my soul, the one who alerts me to my other neighbor, the one who is not so pleasant to be around such as that homeless fellow sleeping on a park bench. I can overlook that other neighbor because he is merely a child or an adolescent who just can’t seem to get his life off crack and on track. Just the other day, I walked by a few of them along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. It was as easy as pie to unfriend them on the facebook of my soul. I’m not comfortable with that neighbor. Good fences and sensors keep strangers away. You see, I don’t always get Jesus “in here,” in my heart of hearts. Jesus doesn’t buy into a merely defense-minded soul-set. He has no time for people who have no time for the least and the lost—the child he wants to come to him, put his arms around and be with.

I love Jesus, but sometimes, I do not know whereof I speak. Jesus lives and dies for neighbors I don’t want to hang with. I may share a common communion cup with them or open a soup kitchen on their behalf. I will even support a treatment center for God’s sake or my safety’s sake, so they can kick a habit. But don’t ask me to love them. Let them be mission projects. But pals, friends, good neighbors who go down to the property line during the spring to repair a fence together? No way. Come to think of it, I guess that is a picture of hell— lots of fences to keep the “other” out of my back yard and out of my heart as well. Both Frost and Jesus would ask us to gather around those fences in the spring of the year to mend whatever divides us. Let us come together because like a good neighbor, Jesus is there—for all of us. He is the all-inclusive Lord and Savior of us all.

The Rev. Dr. William Lenters is the Church Relations Coordinator for Rosecrance.

 

Skin In the Game: Why Being Racial Competent Is Critical to Ministering to Children of Color

July 17, 2017

Register here for Skin in the Game: Equipping Congregations to Address Racism on August 19th

Whether we want to admit it or not, race matters, especially in America.  Whether we want to admit it or not, systematic racism affects children of color, in particular, black and brown children, emotionally, spiritually, physically and often socio-economically. Particularly harmful is the form of colorblind racism which denies, dishonors and devalues students of color culture and God-given physical attributes.   To be colorblind – to not see race, is to refuse to see the beauty of God’s creation in students of color and to assimilate them into our own ideas of normalcy.  It is also to be unaware and/or unwilling to contend with the reaction that the wider society has towards children of color that is often detrimental, not only to their physical, mental and spiritual well-being; but also affects their ability to thrive educationally and socio-economically.

Several recent studies highlight the effects of racism on children of color, especially poor black and brown children.  Studies show that for many children of color, especially those who are from low income homes, racism affects their physical, emotional and mental well-being even while they are still in their mothers wombs.[1]  Once birthed, racism still continues to take its toll on children of color.  A May 2017 devastating study entitled The Detrimental Influence of Racial Discrimination in the United States cited that accounting for socio-economic differences, children who were discriminated against had twice the rate of anxiety and depression as their white counterparts; and four times as much to have ADHD.[2]

In addition to study that provide ample evidence of the devastating effects of racism on children of color in terms of their physical, emotional and mental well-being, others cite that young black and brown children are often perceived to be much older than their white counterparts.  Consequently, young black males are perceived to be more violent and young black females less innocent which often results in not only their dehumanization by law enforcement and school enforcement, but also harsher treatment and punishment.[3]  In fact, a July 2016 U.S. Department of Education study found Black students are disproportionately suspended from class as early as preschool, citing that preschool Black boys are suspended 3.6 times more than their white counterparts.[4]   These disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates of students of color has led some to refer to its effects as the “school to prison” pipeline.[5]  

Lest we think that these statistics are simply “behavioral” issues in that black and brown children need to learn how to “behave respectfully” a 2016 study by Vanderbilt University School of Education Professors Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding found that regardless of their socio-economic status,  students of color, in particular Black students, were least likely to be recommended for gifted programs, even when high grades and test scores would indicate otherwise, especially when their teacher was white.[6]

As heartbreaking as these studies are, my interest in helping those who minister to children understand the devastating effects of racial discrimination practiced by those outside and within the Christian community had to do with my commitments as a Christian;  as a United Methodist who holds the tenets of John and Charles Wesley dear; a pastor and a scholar.

First and foremost, as a Christian, I formed by Scripture that clearly demonstrates that the fruit of our love of God is demonstrated by acts of charity and justice – not only attending to persons immediate needs for food, clothing, shelter and community; but also contending with the powers and principalities that created the unjust situations in which they find themselves.  Second, as I have grown in my understanding of the founders of the Methodist movement, namely John and Charles Wesley, I am convinced and convicted that what made Methodism the religiously and socially reforming force of its day was due to the insistence of John Wesley that Methodists understand the social issues of the day, especially as they pertained to the poor and people of color through developing relationships; and work to dismantle systems that oppressed them. 

As a pastor, I understand that my responsibility is to not only equip the laity with regard to public and private worship, what Wesley called the “works of piety” that helped us grow in love of God.  As a Unite Methodist pastor, I am also called equip the laity with regard to those acts of charity and advocacy that lead to the dismantling of oppressive systems.  In fact, it is this aspect of being willing to engage in advocacy and in joining with the oppressed for their liberation that has led A.M.E. historian and Vanderbilt University professor Dennis Dickerson to maintain that Methodist Christians can be found at the heart of most American liberation movements.

As a scholar, I know that to not enter into the “existential” existence of children of color by maintaining colorblind racism that seeks to assimilate them into American culture and society is to fundamentally deny the incarnation, miss the ability of evangelism to heal us of our own “isms,” question God’s sovereignty regarding creation, and to deny the Spirit’s ability to maintain diversity-in-unity which is fundamental to our understanding of the church.  First and foremost, Phil. 2: 5 – 8, reminds us that Jesus exchanged the glory of heaven and took on human flesh, specifically Jewish, male and oppressed human flesh.  Jesus enters into our very existence so we can better relate to him and be lifted up.  In the same way, this passage argues that we should have the same mindset towards others, especially those who we deem lower than ourselves.  Second, to not engage the culture of those different from us and recognize the systemic impact of cultural oppression on them is to deny the healing nature of evangelism to deliver us from our “isms.”   This is easily demonstrated in the encounter between Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10.  While many Bibles describe this encounter as the conversion of Cornelius, I would argue that it is the apostle Peter and the church that is in need of conversion.  Peter and the Jewish Christian Church have an underlying race issue that God must confront if the gospel is to be spread beyond its Jewish boundaries with any effectiveness.  Third, to say that we “simply don’t see color,” is to lie and to deny the beauty of God’s creation and God’s sovereignty in creating humans as God sees fit.   God creates humans, all humans, in God’s image. Period.  Finally, to assimilate or attempt to assimilate persons into a dominant culture strikes at the very heart of God’s design for the church.  In 1 Corinthians 11 – 12, the apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthian church that to fracture the church based on cultural expectations is to eat at the table of Holy Communion unworthily.  He especially reminds them that diversity, especially diversity-in-unity is God’s idea and God’s gift hinted at Pentecost.

Finally, I am encouraged as a former seminary professor who has seen first-hand the impact on ministry when predominantly white students work hard to understand the devastating effects of racism on communities of color and the larger society.  Using a wide variety of tools from videos to student participation exercises, I have seen white students, especially those from more liberal backgrounds and/or those who truly believed that our society was post-racial, discover the hidden reality and destruction of colorblind racism on all aspects of society, and their own, often unconscious participation in forms of systemic racism.  Once they face the demonic aspects of it, many of these students went on to develop creative ministry projects within their own, often predominantly white congregations, which brought about holistic and healthy ministry for the congregation and the communities in which they ministered with.   In fact, taking time to understand racism and its effects in the 21st century positioned students to better affirm the culture and contribution of communities of color. 

Rather than understanding ministry as something we do “to persons,” they were better able to see ministry as with persons who had been gifted by God to be part of the solution.  The end result was to disengage in relationship with communities of color as patron-clients; but rather as brothers and sisters, together the family of God.  Not so surprisingly, scholars have discovered that when children of color are affirmed as being of equal worth and are affirmed of the value of their cultural experiences, they not only survive but thrive.[7]

[1] Jyesha Wren Serbin and Elizabeth Donnelly, “The Impact of Racism and Midwifery’s Lack of Racial Diversity: A Literature Review;” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health; Nov/Dec2016, Vol. 61 Issue 6, 694.

[2] American Association of Pediatrics, “Study Finds Exposure to Racism Harms Children’s Health,” AAP News; May 4, 2017; http://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/05/04/PASRacism050417, accessed July 5, 2017.

[3] Phillip Attiba Goff, et al., “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology; Apr2014, Vol. 106 Issue 4, http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0035663.pdf, accessed July 5, 2017.

[4] Casey Quinlan, “New Data Shows The School-To-Prison Pipeline Starts As Early As Preschool;”  Think Progress, https://thinkprogress.org/new-data-shows-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-starts-as-early-as-preschool-80fc1c3e85b, accessed July 5, 2017.

[5] Matthew Lynch, “ Black Boys in Crisis: The School To Prison Pipeline;” Education Week Blogspot, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2016/08/black_boys_in_crisis_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.html, accessed July 5, 2017.

[6] Alia Wong, “Why Are There So Few Black Children in Gifted Programs?” The Atlantic, January 19, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/why-are-there-so-few-black-children-in-gifted-and-talented-programs/424707/ accessed July 5, 2016. Also see, Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding, Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs, January 18, 2016, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2332858415622175, accessed July 5, 2017.

[7] Adriana Umaña-Taylor, “A Post-Racial Society in Which Ethnic-Racial Discrimination Still Exists and Has Significant Consequences for Youths’ Adjustment,“ Current Directions in Psychological Science; Apr2016, Vol. 25 Issue 2, 111.

The Rev. Felicia Howell LaBoy, MDiv., MBA, Ph.D. is often described as someone who moves “from the seminary to the street, from the pulpit to the pavement.” An Elder in full connection in the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church, she has 14 years of urban and multicultural pastoral ministry. She currently serves St. John’s UMC in Oak Park. 

Intertwining Our Lives

July 5, 2017

“You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.” Psalm 139: 13-15 (CEB)

The stand-alone Sequoia Redwood trees have a natural way that it forms relationships by nature joining them together. Birds build nests among their branches. The heat rays embrace the branches; gentle breezes caress them; and the friendships of the unseen, small underground universe of lively creatures encourages them. Sequoias have large tap roots that on the surface appear to stand alone, yet actually they have countless outward growing roots which interwine with their neighboring sequoias, forming  soul mates, a security connection with a foundation of safety, belonging and love. And they hold each other up even in the fiercest of storms.

At some time in our lives we experience loneliness. It’s normal and necessary. It should be appreciated not feared. During seasons of loneliness, the dis-eased soul can discover the greatest of cure with time, prayer and surrender —God’s constant presence. We are never truly alone no more than the stand-alone Sequoia Redwood tree.

Prayer: O God, let us always remember to pray for one another and be alert to opportunities to lend our support to others who are suffering. As we interwine our roots, our spiritual lives,  to help hold each other up, we will remain secure in the fiercest storms. We know without Your instruction, we can loose direction.  In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

The Rev. Henry Williams served over a decade as Lead Pastor in The United Methodist Church. In 2014 he started HDW Counseling Services, a private counselor practice, and also serves as On-Site Pastoral Care Counselor for Hope UMC in Southfield, Michigan.

 

Deus ex Machina

May 23, 2017

“Tell me how you and God are getting on these days.” I often ask this of our adolescent clients during spirituality sessions.

They know Rosecrance is a church-affiliated agency of the United Methodist Church. They see the cross and candles in the stained glass chapel. Then they meet the chaplain—or “Spiritual Bill”—the name dropped on me after working at Rosecrance for 15 years. They are not dumb. Still, they are wary and on guard when it comes to religious language.  Why so guarded?

Most of our kids are somewhat acquainted with “god talk.” They may not know the stories. Adam and Eve? Yes. Cain and Abel? Never heard of them. But most of our clients have been taught that prayer for help to the God of their understanding is important. They know they should be praying for their well-being. Few do. Or, when they do, it is a bailout prayer. It is the little red lever on the wall: “Pull in case of emergency!”

Many of them have suffered disappointment with God: “Where was God when my friend died from an overdose?” No answer. No help. No miracle. Disappointment with God makes them wary.

They have learned God is primarily a Deus ex Machina.

We know the origin of the Latin phrase, meaning “a god from a machine or a device”—some scaffolding, some magic, or some marvelous other-worldly contraption or contrivance. Greek poets squabbled over the propriety of using the device to resolve an imminent tragedy. Horace was one of those poetic professors who instructed his students to never resort to a god from a machine to resolve a plot “unless a difficulty worthy of a god’s unraveling should happen.”

Many of our kids have read William Golding’s classic, The Lord of the Flies, which is a literary version of the Deus ex Machina. Golding employs a passing naval officer to show up on a deserted island just in time to rescue a gang of naughty school boys who were annihilating one another.

We have not totally recovered from our habit of using magical thinking to rescue us from our defects, our brokenness, our diseases, our depravity—and especially our addictions. The grease of both literary and theological genius keeps the old “deus ex machina” running smoothly, if not grinding away at our good sense.

How? We keep praying for divine interventions to save us from a messy life. We turn to God as a genie in a bottle. God is not going to inject fossil fuels into the ground so we can burn up still more fuel or scrub the air clean from our carbon dioxide poisoning of the atmosphere. God is not going to jump off a scaffold or spring from a trap door to rescue us from our foibles. We know that.

But we still want it to happen. We hope God will show up to heal us from our diseases. We want God to clean up our messes as a Cosmic Mr. Clean with gleaming pate, toothy smile and muscular physique. And I know as well as you do, only responsible choices, quick wittedness, good common sense, and hard work are going to make the difference in the holy living and work we do on behalf of peace and healing.

The choices we make—moral, amoral or immoral; rational, arational or irrational are up to us. No one will stop us from our stupidity, our gluttony, our lust, our insensitivity and our hostility. No one but us. The devil doesn’t make us practice evil and neglect. And God does not stop it from happening. It’s on us. The Lord may well inspire us—through 1001 ways from David’s psalms to Mozart’s music. But after the reading is over and the concerto is done, we need to do the work.  

During one dark and stormy Tuesday, there was a blackout in our neighborhood. I ran for the shelter of our storage room passageway—a shortcut to an outside stairway. I opened the door to the storage room and the door shut behind me as I entered. Outer darkness. I immediately became disoriented and dizzy. I hugged the wall, slithered alongside of it and proceeded to get lost in a room with which I was familiar! Five minutes of stumbling and groping. Finally, after a moment of sheer panic and a foxhole prayer to boot, I made it. Afterwards, my wife asked if I had thought to use the light from my smart phone to find my way to the door. Answer: “No, I was not smart enough to do that.”

God won’t help us out of a dark place or even the dark night of the soul. But a flashlight will. Thoughtful reflection of how much we matter to God and praying to Him might help us through desperate times. But when we pray, we should pray— not for the deus ex machina to drop down out of the sky but pray for the constancy of God’s presence and voice.

Recovery at Rosecrance is about getting a tool kit and learning the discipline to use the tools. Holiness, the good life, and a good clean earth come about because we are knee deep into doing the work God called us to do. The job we were hired on to do in Eden is still ours to do. We haven’t been fired or retired. It’s on us. Imagine—no more addiction. It takes work.

The Rev. Dr. William Lenters is the Church Relations Coordinator for Rosecrance.

Relational Meetings

May 9, 2017

One of the most helpful tools in my ministry toolbox is the relational meeting (or one on one). Meeting with visitors, church members and community leaders, usually over coffee, helps me to get to know them. More importantly, it helps me to build a powerful network of people who are share similar motivations. In my role in local church, relational meetings have helped me to build engaged teams of people who lead our children’s and youth ministries.

In my work with United Voices for Children, I am connected with a growing group of people who are passionate about the same things I am: helping all children live healthy, happy lives. Children in our communities face a variety of complex challenges to their social, emotional, physical, and spiritual development.

Relational meetings are one of the tools United Voices for Children is using to build our advocacy base to address the complex problems children in the Chicago area face. UVC is a coalition of congregations, agencies, groups and individuals in the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church that speaks and acts on behalf of children, youth and families in need. The UVC board is in the process of growing our network to become an even more powerful voice for children.

Perhaps you are part of a church ministry serving children. Perhaps you work with a community organization. Perhaps you are an elected official.  Perhaps you know you want to help but don’t know how. Whatever your role, if you share our passion for advocating on behalf of children and youth in need, we want to connect with you!  Please contact one of our board members to have a conversation unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com.

Christine Hides is the Director of Ministries with Children and Youth at Northbrook UMC in Northbrook, IL. She is an active member of United Voices for Children and Christians Engaged in Faith Formation. She blogs at ChristineVHides.com.

Greetings from MYSI

April 8, 2017

Resilient, Strong, Steadfast, Passionate and Caring are a few of the adjectives that describe how MYSI operated in 2016. As we embrace 2017, the Board of Directors is proud of what MYSI completed and accomplished in 2016 and how we are positioning ourselves for an exhilarating future. It has been and is a privilege and an honor to be trusted to care of so many.  Our amazing staff and Board are passionate about serving the community and providing a bright future to the constituents that we serve. We all are reenergized, and committed to continue the legacy of MYSI and its mission, we hope that you will join us in our mission as we strive to change lives.

MYSI Program Services include: 

1. Transitional Living Program (TLP)

MYSI operates six Transitional Living Programs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year. These programs provide housing and supportive case management services to young adults between the ages of 17 and 21 who are under the guardianship of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The TLP sites are located on the north and south side of Chicago and in the south suburbs. These programs make every effort to teach the young adults to become self-reliant while transitioning to Independent Living by teaching them the basics of cooking, budgeting, employment, academics and housekeeping as well as developing their social skills, while addressing their spiritual and legal needs. Young adults may reside in a congregate setting, single or double apartments. All young adults who reside in a TLP environment receive 24-hour supervision along with a multitude of case management services to prepare them to live independently after transitioning from the child welfare system, by attaining academic, employment and housing success.

2. Independent Living Option Program (ILO)

MYSI Independent Living Program serves females and males that are parenting and non-parenting between the ages of 19 and 21. MYSI ILO advocacy staff provides a wide range of supportive case management services to young adults who were raised in the foster care system. Our program services assist them with maintaining their independence and to move from dependency on State care to becoming self-reliant. The young adults in this program reside in individual community apartments within various communities and they are taught how to maintain their individuality. Services offered include but are not limited to: supplementary case management services; clinical services provided by clinical social workers, nurses and certified tutors; life skills educational training; employment services, such as job readiness classes, resume writing, mock interviewing; household management, such as furnishing and the upkeep of their apartments; and parenting skills for pregnant and parenting young adults including training and guidance to ensure they have appropriate parenting skills to properly care for their child.

3. Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) Program

MYSI CILA provides 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year housing, life skills and clinical case management services to empower adults with developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible.

Adults with a developmental disability, who meets the eligibility requirements, may reside within our CILA until they gain the necessary skills for the next step of independent living. Living in a CILA long-term is possible. CILA resident’s rent is determined by the Illinois Department of Human Services.  Our CILA is located in the south suburbs of Illinois and offers an array of community-based service options, which promotes independence with 24 hour support and care for up to five adults in a family-like home environment.

Our CILA housing program and clinical case management services assist the residents with maintaining their independence, while providing the opportunity for them to develop: personal living skills; a deeper understanding of economic  self-sufficiency; increased community integration; social and recreational opportunities; educational life skills; and support to live more independently

4. Community Mental Health Services Programs (CMH)

MYSI CMH services are coordinated through Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health (DMH) for the community. Our CMH program provides Medicaid-funded community health services for all eligible children, youth, families and seniors between the ages of 2- 65 who are in need of mental and/or behavioral health services.

5. Senior 2 Success

MYSI Senior services in conjunction with the city of Chicago provides in home intensive advocacy case management and referral services to assist seniors who resides within the county of Cook to enhance the quality of their lives by improving the seniors’ ability to live autonomously and to participate in community resources. These program services are designed to keep aging citizens from being isolated, while motivating them to remain active within their own communities.

6. Parenting Assessment Team

MYSI Parenting Assessment Team (PAT) provides comprehensive clinical assessments that assist workers and supervisors in assessing risk and exploring permanency issues for children with mentally ill parents. To be eligible for PAT services the child or family must have an active DCFS cases. The assessments provided by the team are non-adversarial, non-biased and multi-disciplinary in nature. The focus of the assessment is directed by questions regarding child- custody, treatment, and services, and other concerns related to parenting ability. An independent evaluation with recommendations is provided to assist the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services and the Cook County Juvenile Court in making permanency decisions.

7. Continuity of Care Center

MYSI Continuity of Care Center (CCC) in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services provides psychiatric consultation and case management services to assure continuity of psychiatric consultation/treatment and mental health care jointly evaluates the child, youth or parents in a manner designed to promote permanency by maintaining, strengthening and safeguarding the functioning of families to: prevent substitute care placement; promote family reunification; stabilize foster care placements; facilitate youth development; and ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children and families.

MYSI is affiliated with the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church.  The Executive Director Toleda Hart serves as an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors of United Voices for Children.

Like, Repost, Tag: Ministry in a Digital World

March 17, 2017

I am so grateful for technology as I am sitting on the train halfway between the two unique and lively Chicago congregations I serve. While listening to an insightful lectionary podcast I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, and catching up with students, parents, and colleagues alike. Liking posts and commenting with encouragement or fun emojis. Between my calendar, my email, texts, Facebook and a host of other apps- let’s just say, my phone and I are tight. I have that in common with many of my students. (Phone break after cooking and serving a great community meal.)

Of course there are times when the main focus of my attention is with the people I am with. Relationship building is at the core of all effective ministry. Technology is a tool we can use to strengthen and extend those relationships in amazing ways not available just a few years ago. Yet all tools can be weapons when not used as they were designed. Therefore I try and revisit how my use of technology is effective and safe by researching, talking with colleagues, and connecting with the young people in my life.

My name is Erin Simmons. Known to many in my life as Deacon Erin and I serve at the Chicago Temple as the Minister of Children, Youth, and Families as well as serving at United Church in Rogers Park working with After School and Summer Kids Camp over the last 5 years. These two unique congregations each have their own wow factors as well as their own challenges. I love them both dearly. Just check my camera roll…

Here are some of our best practices, born from intense trips, not so flattering pictures, tons of laughter, and a lot of grace and love.

1 – If you can’t do it safely, you shouldn’t do it.

No joke- safety first. I function online as I do in the church- as @DeaconErin, which comes with responsibility and authority. Yearly we look over our Safe Sanctuary policy and update it. We keep track of photo and video releases and renew them yearly. I love using photos with our folks, especially over stock photos, so we talk with the kids and families. A big rule for us is no names with faces- not even first names. We find most families appreciate the clear emphasis on safety.

2 – My Grandma Rule

My grandmas all have their own cool traits- and I had one who has always been up to date on technology. My rule is – if I wouldn’t want my grandma to see it, I shouldn’t post it. I talk candidly with the young people- high school and middle/elementary students about respect, privacy, and the permanence of the internet. We can be silly and be bold! There is still a line of what is okay though.

3 – Beware of the 1 on 1

Technology is of course evolving faster than safe policies with minors- so the best we have is our Safe Sanctuary policy. If we can’t be one on one with a student at church, we need to be careful about being 1 on 1 through a screen. For everyone’s protection, I often text two youth who are friends to check in or ask about who’s coming to an event. For more serious conversations, I have trusted, trained, background checked adults who are ready to be added into a group chat. Being upfront with students helps them have trust in the faith community.

4 – Be honest and consistent – online and off

Social media can be a great way to build relationship and get to know others better. So it’s important to be honest, not perfect. I show my students and anyone my cooking successes and failures, my struggle with weight, as well as how I live out my faith. I have to be the same person or it’s not really getting to know me.

5 – Engage

Comment. Reply with a thanks to those who follow you. Like. Tag others in pictures. Take tons of pictures and video. Use consistent hashtags with your ministry. It’s great fun. Oh- and engage with colleagues, speakers, other organizations you like! 

6 – Know your platform

  • Facebook is where the parent type people are. They like pictures, videos, relevant articles.
    Twitter is for conversation, especially about trending topics. Living tweeting = great sermon notes. A great way to talk to important people. \
  • Snapchat is silly. Oh the filters. 😆
  • Instagram is all about the pictures. And hashtags.
  • Pinterest is great for planning and sharing boards together! So many awesome things to do!

You should share your content (blogs, announcements, highlights from events, links to your website) over all the plate forms you use- just create slightly different posts! It can be a lot, check out Hootsuite or Buffer to plan it all out. 

7 – Let them come to you.

All my students know that I use these platforms, because I talk about them. I also make it very clear that it is always their choice if they want to friend/follow me. I never request a minor as a friend. If they follow me, I’ll follow them. We talk at the beginning of the year especially about agency, and I feel very strongly that their engagement should be their choice.

These are the cornerstones to how I use social media as a way of investing in relationships across my ministry. I am in touch with volunteers from summer camp, high school students at my church who might disappear for a while, some of my younger After School students, and more. I can encourage them personally, model taking a stand for justice issues, and just share some fun and love in the world. Connection and relationship are at the core of our trinitarian God, and what it means for us to be human. Technology helps me maintain and build that connection and therefore the kingdom of God.

From one millennial disciple to the world–may God’s peace be with you and yours.

Erin M. Simmons, Minister of Children, Youth and Families at First UMC Chicago Temple also serves United Church of Rogers Park. She is joining the board of directors of United Voices for Children.