Trauma Informed Practice for Followers of Jesus
Sat 11:00am - 11:50am
Venue: Convo 12
At 19, Mark was still a high school student – compassionate and articulate -- trying hard to be a good father to his toddler. Although he had previously entered a treatment program and stayed sober for several months, Mark had slipped and started using again when his mother kicked him out of the house. One day, while we were talking at a neighborhood park, Mark confided that he had been thinking he should go to a church. His father, who lived far away, was going to a church and had turned his life around. Mark figured that he should go, too, since it worked for his Dad. It made my heart sing that this young man and I had crossed paths. After all, I had worked on church staffs for years. I knew a lot of churches in the area. Surely, I could help him. My problem? I knew a lot of churches. I was well aware that my beloved church can be, well…. disappointing in nurturing the Marks of this world. To which church could I introduce Mark? Which church family would understand him? See, it has been my experience, over and over, that churches want to reach out to Mark. They want to welcome him into their church family. They probably can even accept his nose ring, tattoos, unconventional hair and cigarette habit. Many of my conservative and progressive friends would jump at the chance to embrace Mark. Where progressive and conservative followers are equally yoked is that while both want to help, both have trouble maintaining a relationship with the Marks of the world. Church folks want to let Mark know that God loves him. They also want to give Mark the support he needs. Churches mean well. Many have participated in book studies, outreach workshops and poverty simulations. Many understand the need to enable folks to make their own decisions, giving them agency. Many can walk with Mark. Yet, when things do not go as planned, when Mark does something the church cannot understand – like not showing up for his after school job because his uncle called and wants Mark to travel to the next state for a visit, and Mark just goes without telling anyone – they think Mark does not want help. Or maybe he is not “ready,” or the church does not want to “enable” his poor decision-making, or the church folks feel they are wasting their time when others would be grateful for the same support. It is so clear to church folks: The way to Mark’s better life is straight-forward and simple. To Mark it is not. Why? Trauma. Mark grew up in foster care. He lived with 8 families and had been exposed to abuse, drugs and alcohol. This is traumatic for a child. Today we know that traumatic experiences affect the brain. We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) follow a child well into adulthood. Trauma affects us psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It causes illness depression and much more. What if churches understood that trauma affects the brain? What if they understood that when Mark left to go visit his uncle, he didn’t foresee that being gone would be a setback? What if churches understood that Mark’s brain was re-wired by trauma and he is going to think and respond differently? If churches can gain an understanding of the effects of trauma at any stage of life, maybe church folks can walk with our friends and establish caring, Christ-centered relationships that last. This session will help us learn a new way. No more reward and punishment, often called accountability, when working with our siblings who live on the margins. We’ll discover a new kind of accountability. One that actually helps people. No more assuming we know what the person was thinking when they did something we do not understand. No more judgement, or acting like we know what is best. We will recognize and embrace the fact that this journey will be messy, that each Mark is a child of God and therefore worthy of a relationship and worthy of having Christians not give up on him. We will move from, “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” What will happen if the church understands this fundamental difference and learns about trauma, anxiety and loss? We just might see the world through Jesus’ eyes, and Matthew 25 will become more than a lofty ideal. It will be a way of life. I hope you will give this a try.