FOCUSING ON FEAR
This week, the national news was buzzing with a feature about a jogger who was chased by a cougar. He accidentallyran up on her cubs. The video records as he is backing up and the cougar is loping then lunging toward him.
During the whole four minutes of footage, we see the jogger responding to every movement the cougar made. The man yelled at her, waved his arms, and never turned his back to her. Clearly, he was focusing on his fear: the cougar. But, he was also filming. It seems there were two things he wanted: 1. to survive 2. to become a viral video star. Fortunately for him, both goals were achieved.
All along the road be he was jogging, there were the rocks. Big ones! Four minutes in, the guy finally picks up a big rock and throws it at the cougar, and the cougar leaves. Four minutes! The rocks were along the path the whole time.
We are like this too. We see our fears. We ruminate on them. We watch and worry, backing away with our eyes glued on them. We anticipate the very worst, the whole time sharing our anxieties when in fact, there are rocks beneath our feet. These rocks are waiting for us to pick them up.
Now, maybe you are thinking, "Yeah, but the rock might not work. It may not scare off the threat (metaphorically speaking). Maybe it will just make the threat worse." The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7. The rocks under our feet are prayer and thanksgiving. When we make the choice to pray and praise, we actually allow God to be in control. We let go of trying to survive or trying to become whatever we hope to become, and we let God guide our steps. When we do that, we stop surviving, and we start thriving.
I long for that. Don't you? I can assure you, it's not a pipe dream. Our relationship to God in Christ Jesus really can free us from fear and anxiety. As Jesus promised us, "If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32.
So beloved, if you are feeling the fear of the future, and watching it stalk you down the path of your day, pick up the rock of your salvation and throw it with all the weight of your prayer and thanksgiving. Be free!
-- Pastor Rebecca
If you have had a Facebook profile for years, you may remember the early days. Those were the days we were joing in droves. We all wanted to reconnect with distant family and friends. We were realizing why all the teenagers had MySpace accounts.
Then came the season of dialogue. When those long lost connections began to uncover differences. Opionions and comments became long dialogues. One person expressed an opinion, another gave a rebuttal; another added a comment, and on it went. By and large, the "conversations" were respectful, careful, as earnestly persuasive as possible.
Have you noticed how that has changed? Yup, me too.
I presumed that this was the result of a shift in human behavior. I thought, we as a society were becoming more impolite. I mean, look at our president! While our manners might be deteriorating, the real explanation is the design methods of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Social media is designed to 'bait us' into giving our time so that we can be manipulated to buy. And it's not just objects they want us to consume, it's ideas.
The more abrasive the interactions, the more algorythmic attention is given. If you open Facebook news and enter a word like 'climate', what your feed will give you is contingent on where you are in the country.
The more confrontational and heated, sexy and attractive, self-centered and opinionated a post is, the more we are biologically designed to fall into the rabbit hole of engaging it.
The Social Dilemma, is a recently released documentary about this issue. Over 10 former social media executives talked about their concerns. After watching it, I decided to delete my Facebook profile. It felt like what I needed to do. I want to strongly message my 1,300 "friends" that I have real concerns about this platform. And as a Christian, you should too. I'm not saying you should also delete it all. But learn more, pray more, and make your own decision.
Jesus modeled for us a way of being together that fostered genuine inclusion. As a Jesus follower, I want to be 100% giving my time for what moves us toward what is good, true, and gracious for our world. Until social media is reformed to stop imperiling democracy, truth, and societal integrity, I want little part of it. Join me in learning more and evaluating what your faith calls you to do.
-- Pastor Rebecca
The Social Dilemma
How the Facebook Newsfeed Works (The guy featured in this FB created video is also in the documentary)
"What Facebook did to American Democracy" Atlantic Monthly Article
In an NPR interview, the chief of police of Seattle, Carmen Best, she said the following: "We all want the same thing. We want peace in our streets and we want everyone to be treated equally under the law."
Even though it we have so much in common as Americans, we have drawn lines in the sand; standing in opposition to each other. Black Lives Matter against the Police; Pro-Choice against Pro-Life; Republican against Democrat; Mask-wearing Science Advocates against Non Mask Wearers Fearing a Loss of Liberty.
Peter Marty, editor of The Christian Century, reminds us that as Christians we have some very important tools in our tool box for the polarities we perceive all around us.
He suggests we put down our defensiveness. As he puts it "claw marks don't set you free". We must open ourselves up enough that we can re-examine our personal assumptions and perspectives. If we are willing to listen and learn, we will learn - especially from those we fear or distrust. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
He also encourages us to stop being brittle and reactive. Jesus invites us to take up our cross - essentially that means, embrace the very thing that scares the hell out of you. Face it, face yourself, and allow the grace and power of God to bring resurrection -- that's God's business.
This week, we have seen so much death. We have grieved the news of protesters killed, police killed. We are a nation living under the shadow of death. But more importantly, we are members of the kingdom of God. And that hope will never be extinguished by death. We are called to be peacemakers. May we answer the call.
I WONDER HOW THEY SEE ME
by Jeff Roorda
I wonder how they see me
Behind this shiny shield.
Do they see me for the man I am
My truest self revealed?
Do they see my blemishes and warts
The things I try to hide?
Do they comprehend the evil deeds
Of man I can’t abide?
Do you think they know, with head hung low,
The things I’ve had to see?
Do they reckon I am someone else?
My God, it’s only me!
Can they hear the distant screams I hear
Each time I close my eyes?
Can they feel the warm blood on their hands
Each time someone’s child dies?
As I’m damned with praise on darkest days
Can they perceive my pain?
Do they get I’m not immune to it
Just ‘cause I don’t complain?
Do the children of the cops I love,
Curse me for standing tall?
Emotionless with a stiff, square jaw
As past me goes the pall
Of a fallen brother carted off
To final resting place.
Life taken by the hand of the last
Demon that he faced.
And I wonder how they’ll see me when
It’s me who’s carted by.
Do you think they’ll know how hard I fought?
I didn’t want to die.
Lord, I didn’t want to leave behind
My loved ones and my kids.
I just tried to serve my fellow man
That’s really all I did.
But in the end, my loving God,
I know you’re not surprised
That It only matters how I’m seen
Through Your forgiving eyes.
In honor of fallen Police Officer Tamarris Bohannon, St Louis Metropolitan Police Department, killed in the line of duty last week (shown above). Mr. Jeff Roorda is a member of St. Paul's and works with the STLMPD Police Officers Union.
Do you ever get frustrated with yourself? I do! I have a standard for being Rebecca Ragland. It formed over years of messaging and moral development, and spiritual longing. That Rebecca is a good person. Sometimes I'm her. But sometimes I'm the "Dr. Jekyl" of myself. That side that my family knows but few other people. She often falls short of the Rebecca Gold Standard.
I suspect you know exactly what I'm talking about. So how do we move into becoming our best self? The one we long to be?
Before I answer that question, based on the wisdom of others (who also fall short), let me say, let's be sure that our Gold Standard self is God's Standard self. I say that because God is much kinder to us than we are, and because God's standard leads to happiness, contentment, and abundant life. My desire to look like a super model is supremely self-defeating.
So here are some steps to move toward the "God-Standard" for our lives:
-- Pastor Rebecca
When Trauma Blocking Gets in the Way Vanessa Watson
After a traumatic experience, it is completely natural to want to forget everything that happened to you. Doing everything humanly possible to avoid pain is one of the most natural human instincts. Unless you are a first responder, if you saw a burning building right now your natural tendency would probably be to run away, not into, the building. After a traumatic experience, the emotional toll may be so heavy that people may avoid anything that might remind them of what happened. Some people’s efforts to block residual feelings of trauma may look like adapting avoidance behavior to avoid feelings of pain, also called trauma blocking.
What is Trauma blocking? Trauma blocking is an effort to block out and overwhelm residual painful feelings due to trauma. You may ask “What does trauma blocking behavior look like?
· Trauma blocking is excessive use of social media and compulsive mindless scrolling.
· Binge drinking every weekend because you are off from work.
· Excessive and mindless eating even when you are not hungry
· Compulsive exercising to reach a goal you are never satisfied with.
· Being uncomfortable being alone resulting in staying in toxic relationships long after their expiration date.
· The feeling of being uncomfortable if you have nothing to do and the need to always have projects to do.
· Compulsive online shopping for things you do not need and going into debt.
· Becoming a workaholic and having poor boundaries at work including being available 24/7
One example of this is a client I worked with named Shanta*. Shanta grew up in a household with a parent who struggled with substance abuse. She lived in multiple homes and changed schools often as a child due to her parent’s instability. She was also sexually molested by a friend of the family and never told her parents out of the fear that they would retaliate against the abuser. Shanta was Black and did not want to involve the police and was fearful her family would also try to harm the person who molested her.
What did Shanta do to cope with and dull the pain of her trauma? She turned to what was most available to her—food. Food became her comfort. Food was always there and was one of the few things in her life she had control over. Her parents allowed her to go to the store for them, and she always got extra money to buy some junk food for herself. Those trips to the store as a child evolved into compulsive eating, resulting in Shanta becoming overweight. This had an added dividend, she felt being overweight made her less visible and desirable to men.
Shanta, like many survivors, blocked her pain. Survivors often block their pain with things that are the most accessible to them. Besides food, alcohol can be a trauma blocking tool. One of the leading factors for relapse of people struggling with alcohol addiction is that as they get sober, the memories they have been using alcohol to avoid come racing back. Alcoholism becomes a solution to the trauma and over time, more alcohol is needed to dull the pain.
Trauma blocking behaviors induce calming, relaxing, and numbing that create reactions in the brain that serve as a pain reliever. For the trauma survivor, this means numbing the pain to feel free from pain. The problem is the brain will adjust and the compulsive behavior will become necessary to continue in order to avoid feeling pain.
Trauma blocking behaviors may feel like they’re working at the moment because some of the efforts can be very rewarding. The painkillers like designer bags, exotic pre-COVID-19 vacations, and luxury vehicles people acquire from receiving bonuses for crushing work goals can be great. The outcome of being a high achiever at work to avoid coping with the pain of trauma can be very rewarding … momentarily. The gratification of that achievement is only momentary because it is a coping mechanism to avoid pain. This is why many people who use work to avoid the feelings beneath the trauma often find themselves perpetually unhappy in search of the next big project or promotion.
Despite everything one may do to block the trauma, the body and mind will continue to process what has happened even with all of the attempts to block the pain. In the absence of deliberate reflections, this may look like having flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and intrusive thoughts, which is the body’s way of trying to work through and process the trauma that you are blocking.
All of this is not easy by any means. Survivors of trauma use blocking techniques to soothe long-standing pain. Awareness is the first step to addressing trauma blocking—examining the ways trauma blocking negatively impacts your life. Keeping a log to help notice what is happening before engaging in blocking activities is a helpful way to begin the path towards awareness and changed behavior. Once awareness is gained, people can create a plan involving healthier ways to self soothe.
Having a plan in advance is very important to help stop trauma blocking behaviors. One example may be, “I will listen to a guided meditation when I am tempted to respond to a non-emergency work email.” Also reflecting upon the price you may pay by continuing avoiding dealing with pain through trauma blocking long-term. Consider courageously and gently starting the path of confronting what has happened to you by finally confronting patterns of trauma blocking behavior. Because this work is not easy, consider working with a licensed therapist who uses a trauma-informed approach.
*For the purposes of maintaining confidentiality, names and identifying information have been changed. Their stories and experiences are real.
Vanessa Watson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in providing therapy to individuals and couples in New Jersey who are a part of the often-forgotten Generation X. Vanessa is a John Hartford National Leader in Aging Fellow, Clinical Supervisor, Level One Trained Gottman Method Couples Therapist, and EMDR Trauma Therapist. Vanessa is passionate about helping Gen Xers with the special challenges they face including caregiving for older relatives, parenting young children, relationship issues, and the many life transitions that occur in midlife.
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.