Pursuing Religious Freedom

by Rev. Shelly M. Mohnkern

Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.
C.G. Jung

This country’s exploration of the ideas of religious freedom has been on my mind a great deal over the last couple weeks, and different states struggle with what it means to allow the freedom of religion, in balance with legally excusing discrimination. The states will make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them, just as we in our pursuit of knowledge and learning seek to understand our own, and those of our predecessors. I am simply grateful that here, at least, the students and professors seem to get something that lawmakers still fail at.

Over the last two years that I have been in attendance here at Loyola, I have had many opportunities to express myself and my faith, my beliefs and my personal gnosis, this blog being one of them. As a pagan, I am in the minority here, in a sea of more traditional faith-paths, and yet I feel as valued and respected as any of my more traditional colleagues. It is the truest form of religious freedom, to be able to study how to bring Pastoral Counseling skills to a faith that does not have the centuries of established centers of learning and seminary enjoyed by more established churches. I enjoy this religious freedom. I revel in it every day as I attend classes, have discussions with my peers, and challenge the boundaries of established understandings of the universe and traditional views of our place within it. This is truly religious freedom done right.

It is my feeling that it is the atmosphere here at Loyola that America’s forefathers had in mind when they established a new country where faith was not mandated by the government, but was instead the freedom of every individual to keep to and live by as they saw fit. I hope that all of us here at Loyola will remember that when we step out of this world and into the larger one, so that through our practices we can spread our tolerance, acceptance and love to the larger world outside these doors, and let this country see what religious freedom truly means.

You readers may not realize that you are providing this grace to your fellow students, but believe that we have noticed receiving it, and are grateful.

 

What’s Happening – March 2014

Happy Friday Meaning Making Readers!

Starting this month Meaning Making will have a monthly summary of events from the last month and a list of events coming up for the next month.  If you have something you would like included for next month’s addition, please let us know!  Enjoy and thanks for reading!

What you missed last month:

Dinesh Braganza SJ facilitated a workshop in a technique called Core Transformation as developed by Connirae Andreas. It provides a way to resolve inner conflicts and bring oneself to experience inner harmony and alignment.  I found the steps simple, but focusing on the body and getting out of my head challenging.  After the two day training, I felt competent to practice the technique on myself.  I have continued to practice the techniques, each time learning something new about myself.  Since the workshop I seem, without any great effort, to appreciate and value myself more.  This in turn has transformed how I interpret my world.

-By Nicole Snyder

Joanne Miller had her final dissertation defense.  Her dissertation is titled: “Counselor and Theological Identity Formation and the Ethic of Inclusion for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients”.  Using interpretative phenomenological analysis she examined how Christian counselors-in-training engaged their theological beliefs about sexual orientation in relation to the ACA Code of Ethics.  She found that the process of the participants accepting their ability to counsel lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients was facilitated by seeing the client as Jesus would and/or an increasing awareness of the counselor’s limitations and control.

-By Nicole Snyder

Drs. Mickey Fenzel and Tom Rodgerson spoke at the “Chat with the Chair” event.  Topics included the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care successfully being reaccredited by the AAPC and CACREP, the launch of a community advisory board on how to improve the programs offered, and how the new computer program LiveText will benefit faculty and students.  Additionally, an announcement was made regarding the opening of three full-time visiting faculty positions in the department.  The remaining time was used to facilitate a discussion regarding the names of the department as well as the names of the degrees offered.

-By Nicole Snyder

Upcoming Events:

March 8: God Forgot Where I Was: Using Spiritual/Religious Issues in Therapy with the Traumatized at Timonium (http://www.examassure.com/) 2pm-5pm

March 13: Celebrate Diversity Day in Columbia Campus, Loyola (Questions: drlasurebryant@loyola.edu) Noon – 3pm

March 15: LGMFT discussing Autism: Counseling and Education at John Hopkins University Montgomery Campus (RSVP sgardn14@jhu.edu)  9am-Noon

March 18: Gathering of the M.A. Community at Room 304 Columbia Campus, Loyola University (RSVP rhmozeak@loyola.edu) Current students & Alumni Welcome  12:15pm – 1:15pm

March 20-23: Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington, DC (http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/symposium/2014/)

March 25: Using Eastern Forms of Spirituality and Prayer to Become Wholesome Persons of the Healing at Room 360 Columbia Campus, Loyola University Process (Questions: jfox1@loyola.edu)  Noon – 1pm

 

The Capacity for Greatness

 

By Nicole Snyder

The winter Olympics are now here.  Watching the amazing athletes perform, I marvel at the capacity of the human body.  The Olympics remind me how far talent, dedication and hard work can take an individual.  The Olympics, however noble the accomplishment, celebrate the achievement of the one.  It is an achievement in competition, with just a few winning, and most not reaching the podium.

This month also marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If the Olympics excite the imagination of the individual’s capacity, Dr. King excited the imagination of the nation’s capacity.  In his “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, Dr. King, calls his listeners to be dissatisfied.

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.  Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.  Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.”

I worked in social services for seven years because I believe all individuals are marvelously and wondrously made.  I toiled and worked for next to nothing because I believe in the capacity of the individual to rise above their circumstances.  I have also come to see the necessity of national/cultural transformation.  If society places arbitrary limits on the individual, then the individual’s capacity cannot be fully realized.

Dr. King faced the complexity of how to inspire a culture steeped in its tradition to reexamine itself and realize its greater potential.  We no longer have legal discrimination, but I would dare to say we as a nation are still far removed from the America Dr. King dreamed of.  I see myself as a Pastoral Counselor with a unique opportunity to work at the individual level and also collaborate with others to continuously improve the greater community in order to give each client the space to become their best.

As I reflect on what the Olympics and Dr. King’s life means to me, I am reminded by his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

Walking with the Ancestors

by Rev. Shelly Mohnkern

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

-The 13th Warrior

As the year slips into cooler weather and the earth into dormancy, we enter in a time of reflection amidst our academic learning. This is the time where our thoughts divide between school and the upcoming season of celebrations, family, and light. It is a natural part of the waning of the year. We are reminded that, like the year itself, life is a cycle, carried on after us by our children or the children we know, and perpetuated before us by the ancestors.

The crisp smell in the air always puts me in the mindset of remembrance. This is the time of year when we remember those who went before us, and honor their journeys both in life and afterwards. We cleanse our sacred spaces, we light candles, we care for graves and spaces of memory and we gather together and share our histories. We celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia De Los Muertes, and All Souls Day. For some this is a solitary time, and for others, a time of community.

Honoring our ancestors cultivates a sense of kinship, family loyalty and lineage. It celebrates the great Mystery of who we are, where we come from, and where we go when the familiarities of living leave us. It deepens our sense of history and how it has shaped us. Honoring ancestors is a tradition that is found world-wide, in almost every culture, class, political system and technical stage of advancement. Even those who have never known their genetic ancestors can find ancestral connection through those that raised them, those that taught and shaped them, and the society that surrounds them.

My ancestors have led me here, to pastoral counseling, and to Loyola. The lessons given to me by my parents, my grandparents, my family history, the tales I have heard from my loved ones about their families, and everything my community brought me up to believe in, to feel and to seek, have culminated in this path, at this time, in this place. I open my ears, my heart, and my spirit, and I walk with them for a time, giving thanks and reconnecting and finding myself at the heart of it.

 

Can We “Rule-Out” the Dream?

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” –
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

 

To be extremely transparent, this has probably been the hardest blog post for me to write. I have started, stopped, reconsidered, rewrote, and second-guessed almost every word. The topic is so sensitive, and the possibility of being misunderstood is so great, even attempting to grasp it with one blog entry seems impossible.

To say nothing would be negligent with the Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict just a few weeks in the past and the commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington and the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King literally days away. Can we definitely say one way or the other that as a society we judge people by the “content of their character and not the color of their skin”? I think there can be some consensus that we are not in that place yet.

Can we “rule-out” that the dream that Dr. King talked about will ever come to fruition? I don’t have enough information to make that diagnosis. I am hopeful that in the future months and years, our nation will take strides to listen to each other and not make the erroneous assumption that we have arrived in a “post-racial” utopia that does not presently exist.

It starts with less talking and more listening. It continues with people being less concerned with being right and more concerned about being compassionate. It is realizing that I can’t really put myself “in your shoes.” I have to listen to you and hear you when you tell me what wearing your shoes is like. It starts with something as simple as looking at each and every person and giving them the respect of being an individual regardless of their differences.

In less than a month, we will be back in classrooms with our fellow classmates. I encourage you to have the tough conversations and ask, respectfully, the questions that may be sensitive. That is how we will grow as individuals and as a society.

Why should this even be a concern for counselors? It is a consideration because the client sitting across from you or in your counseling group or your colleague or friend has a dream, too.  That dream may be a part of the American Dream, a part of the dream of equality or another dream entirely. Listening to, respecting, and even advocating for their dream may be the help that they need from you.

 

Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius

In pastoral counseling at Loyola, students invest long hours preparing for the
diversity of clients who we will counsel during our clinical internship and afterwards in the “real” world. We learn to identify and treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. We learn how humans become who they are and the dynamics of family life. We investigate the insidious disease of addiction and avenues of therapy. We choose our theoretical approach to practice and how to integrate psychology and spirituality. When I took a class in career counseling, however, I puzzled about its usefulness in pastoral care.

Then, America found itself in a recession. Suddenly, my internship was full of clients who were unemployed and looking for more than self-esteem boosters. They knew why they felt bad and what would help them feel better: a job. I turned to Loyola affiliate faculty, Deb Rollison, Ph.D., who teaches career development, for some guidance.

The people who were having the hardest time finding employment were in their late 50’s and early 60’s. For these clients, Dr. Rollison recommends:

  • Do not put dates of graduation on resumes
  • Summarize work experience that is ten years or older
  • Reframe what older means by exploring advantages: experience, loyalty, fewer sick days, wisdom, and perspective
  • Think in terms of accomplishments, including volunteer experience; list 6 to 8 PAR key accomplishment statements that show:
    • Problem – what did you face?
    • Action – what did you do?
    • Results – what happened specifically and measurably?

Exploring your clients’ accomplishments, what they enjoy, and how they effectively managed difficult times in the past is key to helping people develop self-reliance and coping skills. I encourage and coach unemployed clients to talk about what they have done and why it mattered. This helps them sell themselves both to prospective employers and to themselves. It is a constant reminder of their self-worth.

AARP’s job hunting web page is a good resource for older Americans. America’s Career InfoNet is a gateway available to everyone to explore careers, State job banks, occupation and industry information, and much more.

The longer unemployment goes on, the more strain there will be on relationships, finances, and families. If you are counseling a person with a history of substance abuse, unemployment may be a trigger or a slippery place. I have helped clients with social services, fill out forms, identify their current assets and budgets, and find the closest AA meetings.

Deb Rollison put it very clearly: Career is not just a job but a whole life – it is leisure, priorities, and purpose. In helping others define their careers and make their lives whole, my career and life as a pastoral counselor become whole.

 

 

 

Hearing my Heart for the First Time: When faith is challenged

            Friday’s Human Development class began with the question, “On what is my heart set?”  My initial answer is Christ although my actions don’t always point to that.  Where does my faith truly lie?  Is it in the Catholic Church where I grew up?  Is it possible God is leading me to a different faith tradition?  He has shown me parts of Himself in each religion I’ve encountered.  This question had posed itself before and each time I have pushed it aside, feeling guilty for even considering it.  Friday night I was surrounded by people who had faced that question, answered it, and ultimately found peace.  Their acceptance, openness, and honesty made all the difference.  I felt no guilt in considering the question and shortly I had the answer.  My heart is set on Christ, my HusbandMy marriage to Him is the most important thing in my life.  Our union is that for which I live and will die.  Since the Catholic Church is the only institution that honors our marriage, I will stay.  My anger at current leadership remains.  So now what?

            We discussed Fowler’s stages of faith.  During stage IV, a person’s faith is challenged.  Something happens that contradicts what she believes to be true and she is then forced to question:  Do I continue to follow blindly?  Do I leave behind that which I once knew to be true in order to follow new truth?  Do I reconcile the two – and if yes, how?  Certain events have happened that are challenging my faith.  I question the character of God – not doubting Him, but to better understand Him – and I am seeking advice from every wise man, not despising any useful counsel (Tobit 4:18).  With the religious diversity at Loyola, wise men and women are abundant.

We learn faith from those around us.  I’m sure some would argue the opposite because many leave the faith tradition they grew up in, either finding a different one or abandoning organized religion altogether.  But the bottom line is this:  faith is what drives you, it is that on which you have set your heart. I live by faith.  I question my faith but that is necessary – if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  I am discovering that my Husband, though Jewish when He walked the earth, is not necessarily Jewish.  Or Catholic.  Or Muslim.  Or Hindu.  Or Buddhist.  But He is certainly present in all these traditions.  We are a people who, as Dr. McGinnis says, have written on our hearts to seek God.  I am reminded of a phrase in Slumdog Millionaire, spoken by Jamal to the girl he loves, Latika.  Tragic events transpire in their lives yet he persists in looking for her.  She asks why and he responds, “We are meant to be together.  It is written.”  It was written on his heart.  It was his faith in a love so profound that he could not imagine a life without her in it.  Whatever transpired to that point was unimportant.  As Victor Frankl said, “A person who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

It is my love for my Husband – and my desire for our union – that drives my life trajectory.  It is my anchor through the storm, keeping me grounded in my faith in the Eucharist even as my faith in those consecrating it is deeply shaken.  I will continue to search for those ways in which I can reconcile my faith to my religion.  Why?  Because it is written.

Is “Diversity” really about Differences?

Quote

I am a person who doesn’t like to be around people who are like me, but instead different.  I have always sought out friendships and experiences that expand my understanding and love for people, and I’m often marveled at how our heavenly Father beautifully crafted us together.  So when I first began Loyola University’s career development class, I felt like a fawn frolicking amongst a meadow of diversity.  My class represented a variety of religious beliefs, nationalities, sex, ethnicity, professions and talents.    But as the class came to an end, I found myself less amazed by our differences, and more in tune with our commonalities – our personhood – the very life, breath, and heart of God’s creation.

Our final assignment was a demonstration from each student expressing his/her personal life path and addressing the question of identity, “Who am I?”  Sharing of the “self” is not easy or comfortable for many.  However, each student was given the creative liberty to demonstrate meaningful moments, persons, or experiences that have helped shape their identity.   In my personal journey, for example, I’ve come to realize that my life isn’t really about “who am I?”  For me it’s about, “knowing who He is – knowing Jesus.”  Instead of what I know or do, it’s about Who I know and what He does.  It has especially been through my struggles and weaknesses that God has proven faithful and strong.

My peers expressed themselves through drama, sand art, music, poetry, pottery, film, media, and scrapbooks.  It was a beautiful moment of how sharing of the “self” causes all other differences to become less definitive of “who we are.”  As my classmates grew increasingly comfortable sharing their stories with one another, I witnessed a group of people become “one” — I believe just as God describes in 1 Cor. 12:12-14.  It wasn’t our stories of success, achievement, or credentials that united us, but it was our openness about life’s failures, hurts, and mistakes.  To be open and allow others to see “you” — each one a masterpiece, yet also so human, fragile, and dependent on Christ — unveils all differences.  We are what I like to call, “commonly different.”

It was as though God intentionally pulled pieces from his human fabric – my peers — from across the globe to weave together one majestic tapestry.  Each thread so unique and exquisite, yet when hidden or separated, unable to fulfill God’s common purpose and good.

As counselors, I believe it’s so very important that we embrace diversity and extend compassion to people from all walks of life.  But, beyond diversity, are hearts and souls … the highest calling for Pastoral Counselors.

“Forgive my ignorance, but I have never heard of Baha’i before: An introduction to the Bahai’i Faith

by Karla Wynn

One of the things that struck me as a new student in the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department at Loyola was the welcome that I received from the faculty, staff, and students. However, upon embarking on my first semester here at Loyola, aside from my professor of Human Development, Frank Richardson, Jr. Ph.D., few of my professors and the vast majority of my academic colleagues never heard of Bahá’u'lláh, the Bahá’í Faith or Its Teachings. Most of the time, when introducing myself as a Bahá’í, the usual responses received are blank stares, or “forgive my ignorance, but I have never heard of this before. How do Ba-what did you say, yes, Bahá’ís feel about Jesus?”

Here is my short description: the Bahá’í Faith (www.bahai.org; www.bahai.us) is the latest chapter in the Eternal Book of God’s Revelation, and was founded by Bahá’u'lláh (1817-1892). As Bahá’ís, we believe that He is the Mouthpiece of God for the time in which we live and that He is the Return of Christ, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth come in the Glory of the Father (John 16:7, John, 16:13, Mt, 25:31, KJV). Hence, Bahá’u'lláh, is one of the many Divine Messengers, Teachers, and Manifestations of the God that include Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad.

Our core beliefs are that there is One God, that there is One Eternal Faith of God, and that Humanity shares One Common Ancestry. Bahá’u'lláh teaches that humanity is in its turbulent adolescence and is in the process of entering a stage of adulthood that includes the unification of the entire human race under one spiritual umbrella. However, in order to achieve unity of the entire human race, the Bahá’í Faith promotes these principles – which we wholeheartedly believe are spiritual principles: the abandonment of all forms of prejudice; the assurance to women of full equality of opportunity with men; the recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth; the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the realization of universal education; the responsibility of each person to independently search for truth; the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations; and the recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge (http://info.bahai.org, 2010).

My personal encounter with the Bahá’í Faith happened in 1976 when I was 12, and a neighbor in my native Brooklyn, New York neighborhood, introduced my mother, younger sister and me to the Teachings of Bahá’u'lláh at a dinner meeting that was held at her home. There, we met some people whom I thought were a “new brand of Puerto Ricans who ate green rice.” Since that night, we began attending Sunday Public Meetings at the New York City Bahá’í Center in Manhattan, and eventually my mother joined the Faith. I followed suit on the eve of my 17th birthday in June of 1981. My sister did the same in 1985.

What attracted me to the Faith, initially were not the teachings – per se, but the early history of the Faith itself through the pages of a book called The Dawn Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, 1887-1888, (Trans. from the Original Persian and Edited by Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL). Following that, my interest in the Bahá’í Teachings remained alive by the principles of the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the eradication of racism, the equality of women with men, and the need for universal education for everyone regardless of socio-economic class, ethnicity, gender or the like – all spiritual teachings in the Bahá’í Faith that others consider to be “social justice issues.” Incidentally, the Bahá’ís in Iran where the Faith was born, are being denied basic human rights and I wish to direct your attention to the documentary entitled “Education Under Fire” at http://educationunderfire.com/.

Inasmuch as there is limited space elaborate on the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the following websites for more information: www.bahai.org, www.bahai.us, http://bahhai.org, and a recent CBS News broadcast “What they Believe: Zoroastrians, Hindus and Bahá’ís” at:  http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7405258n&tag=api.

Lessons from the semester: Patience, Presence, Trust, and Wisdom

Mario ConliffeDuring a recent stroll, I observed some children playing merrily and freely in the warmth of the sun. Some splashed about in the community’s pool, while others, barebacked, competed exuberantly in a game of basketball, while others still rode their bicycles. Excitement is in the air; it’s the joy of summer! Can you tell?  I feel refreshed and blessed for I too, am in celebration mode – I just completed my first semester at Loyola.

Whew!

This past semester at Loyola has been richly rewarding. The lively discussions in class, at times, were nail-biters. Passion and compassion fueled many a conversation. I vividly recall in my Counseling Theory and Practice class, a highly emotional discussion on the controversial, sensitive, and much publicized killing of Trayvon Martin. There was great contention on whether or not Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling Community had an obligation to address the issue. Also, what were some of the issues we would need to address, and how would we counsel both families? It further sparked debates about counseling the perpetrators of violence and abuse – Can we truly put aside our personal feelings in order to do so?

At other times, students simply shared their personal life stories. I walked away from each class with a greater spirit of acceptance. I felt honored to be a part of a group of people who feel strongly about justice and healing in our world, but also, people who are desirous of making a great contribution.  For the first time in my academic career, I felt excited about going to EVERY class, and about what I was researching and learning in those classes.

No, my experience at Loyola this semester was not all “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.” There were intervals, when frustration, a lack of understanding, and my insatiable hunger to “know it all” overwhelmed me, but kudos to my lecturers. They were always encouraging, patient, willing to listen, and would point me in the right direction.

When all is said and done, I have discovered that impatience in the learning process only lengthens the purgatory of the wilderness. So I conclude this semester with these lessons:

  1. Patience: Be Patient. Learning cannot be rushed; there will be moments of rush and moments of calm.
  2. Presence: Be present in the sacred of learning.
  3. Trust: Trust that the learning will come.
  4. Wisdom: Invite wisdom each day.