Sunday, September 25, 2011

How serious is serious?

September 25, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

Have you ever wondered how the adjective “serious” ever became attached to the noun “relationship” as in “serious relationship”? Can a “serious relationship” be distinguished reliably from an “un-serious relationship,” or whatever the proper form of the antonym might be? What makes us say “serious relationship” when we think we sight this phenomena in the everydayness of ordinary life?

And then, further complication, are all “good” relationships by definition “serious” relationships?

I use “good” to define a relationship in which the well-being of all participants is respected and nourished. When I say “serious relationship,” I mean a good relationship to which an element of covenant has been consciously deliberately added by consensus of the participants. What do you mean when you use these common phrases when talking about relationships, your own and those of others you observe?

It seems to me that this “seriousness” business leads inevitably to an odd but logical question that we rarely face straight on: do I really want to be taken seriously enough by another individual that my well-being becomes the object of that person’s on-going respect and investment?

It is, of course, human nature to be quite pleased when our wants and needs become the object of another’s attention and we consequently become the recipient of their resources. But it becomes quite another matter when it is I, the other self, that becomes the entity of value, and my well-being as the "valuable other" becomes the primary focus in the relationship.

It can be quite disconcerting to discover that without conscious awareness I have arrived at a place in a relationship in which at times nourishing my well-being assumes greater important to my partner than indulging my wants.

Thinking with you about the absurdity of our humanness in which we say: please, please give me what I want—but, in doing so, don’t, for pity’s sake, take me seriously enough to consider if what I want leads to my well-being.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Music Makes Reality?

September 18, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

In recent weeks I have been thinking with you about the way our culture teaches us to evaluate relationships. I object to a popular idea that the culture promotes, the idea that a relationship is “good” to the degree to which the relationship satisfies our wants/needs (or—perhaps more accurately—we believe that the relationship satisfies our wants/needs). You know by now that I think this idea causes no end of difficulty and contributes in a powerful way to human unhappiness.

Some of you noted, however, that in illustrating the attitude of the culture I cited lyrics from popular music 1960-2000 to support my thesis. This is 2011, you pointed out. Has this idea changed?

Clearly, I am blessed by intelligent readers. It was a good question and prompted some obviously limited research.

I began by going on-line to find the popular song most frequently used at contemporary weddings. I thought that lyrics to such a song would provide a fair sample of the culture’s current conclusions about serious relationships.

The winner? “At Last”, by Etta James (and by a substantial margin).

Here are a few selected lines from the lyrics:

“At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over. .. .
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own. . . .
A thrill that I have never known. . . .
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last.”

From my viewpoint, the ideas in these lyrics are oldies simply recast in modern music fashion.

The singer presents himself/herself as inadequate alone—lonely, needing a dream, needing a thrill, and transported to heaven by possession of this person.

The bottom line (re-phrased)appears to be that you—whoever this dream-person is—make it possible for me never to be lonely again—to be in some perfect state forever (heaven?) where all wants/needs are satisfied.

We’re sure about that? And relationship gives ownership?

And if you think I chose a biased sample, compare the lyrics of “Someone Like You,” [Adele], “You and I” [Lady GaGa], “Stereo Hearts” [Gym Class Heroes], and “Without You” [David Guetta], all from the top ten of 2011.

Reconsider with me for a moment my definition of a good relationship: “. . . [a relationship] in which the well-being of both participants is respected and nourished.”

Then think about the lyrics from “At Last”:
“. . .And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last.”

There is considerable evidence that what we think is what we become.

Thinking with you about the expectations for relationships we develop when we sing lyrics like those.

See you next week,


Sunday, September 11, 2011

What shall we mark this day?

September 11, 2011

Dear friends,

This is a day of remembrance. We remember together what happened—images from that day are burned into the very marrow of our collective bones.

Some of us think too about the catastrophic distortion of human relationships that led to the destructive acts and loss of lives we grieve this day.

It is widely observed that the events of this day changed our lives forever. If our national “innocence” was lost, so was a portion of our natural optimism. A neighbor said with quiet sadness, “It is difficult to live hopefully in a world where things like this can happen.”

This morning I sat quietly on my porch drinking coffee as the early dawn light filtered through the leaves of the old cottonwood in my neighbor’s yard.

I think my neighbor is correct—hope does not come easily these days. But we must not forget that hope can survive on slim rations. We can nurture hope by remembering too the good things that in undramatic, unmarked, common rhythm carry us in a life-affirming flow. Dawn comes with an ever new palette of colors. This morning I can see a handful of yellow leaves in that old cottonwood—autumn and the silent turn of seasons goes on with implacable gentle persistence.

And love continues too. My friend’s new grandchild will be baptized today in the church in which her greatgrandfather worshipped. Life—and hope—is carried forward too in the quiet heroism of those who do not choose violence in response to fear.

William Stafford notes sadly that we are more likely to attach symbols of significance to evidences of destruction than to mark with meaning the products of peace.

At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Thinking with you of the slender hope we must nurture and of the quiet heroism of peacemakers.

See you next week,


P.S. “At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border” can be found in the following collection:
William Stafford, “At the Un-national Monument along the Canadian Border,” p. 117 in The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. Edited and with an introduction by Robert Bly. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Life Management Skills

September 4, 2011

Dear friends,

Some of you eagle-eyed readers have noticed changes in my website and have asked about the new services I am offering. So. . . a word of explanation.

This year marked a milestone birthday for me. It is time for new personal goals and restructuring my practice. My work as a therapist has been personally and professionally gratifying. However, it is time now to lay down the responsibilities that this work entails.

I have decided, however, to continue to work. I will provide direct services to clients by appointment through Life Management Services, Inc. In this new context, services will be focused on life management skills and spiritual development rather than therapy. I will continue limited teaching and speaking engagements.

I am exploring some writing opportunities. I will continue my blog, and trust that I will become more incisive and skillful in communicating with all of you.

The office telephone number will remain the same: 720-898-1948. You can continue to reach me by email at

My current interest in helping people to live effectively has emerged over the decades in which I have worked as a therapist. I am convinced that many individuals experience a significant deficit in the skills required for effective living and spiritual maturity. Lack of these skills inevitably leads to serious problems. I do not believe, however, that it is either accurate or helpful to label all these problems as mental health disorders.

“Is there a ‘spiritual’ way to change the oil in my car?” a client asked me one day, tongue-in-cheek. Despite the smile in its context, it was an edgy, on-target question: do patterns of spiritual maturity and new skills in living occur through management of the everyday affairs of common life?

I believe that they do.

The mentoring, teaching, tutoring and encouragement I plan to continue to offer through Life Management Services reflects a broadly Christian context and assistance tailored to individual needs. My goal is to assist individuals to acquire new skills for living, and to develop spiritual maturity through conscious, deliberate use of their “…sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.”

It is not possible to have a trouble free life. It is possible to have a good life, and to learn to live the life we have well.

Every day is a gift worth living well. Seeking help to live each day well is wisdom, not weakness, and a lifelong bargain in the end.

See you next week.