Friday, May 12, 2017

Holy Mother’s Day: How do YOU Honor Her?

I’ve had some time to think about honoring mothers on Mother’s Day. My mother lived until she was 93. And my wife has been a mother and grandmother for some years (I'm being careful here).

I’ve written about Mother’s Day before (20142015) but this year I have been asked to talk about Ephesians 6 the week after the US Mother’s Day so I’ve been thinking about Mother’s Day from the perspective of this text about honor.

One of the interesting things about this well-known phrase, “Honor your father and your mother” is that it appears eight times in the Bible (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4 & 19:19; Mark 7:10 & 10:19; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2). Apparently, it was important to repeat this command. People over a span of centuries needed reminders. Maybe we do too.

Here are my thoughts on this ancient text codified into a cultural norm for several decades.

Words Aren’t Good Enough

Christian honor required children to use their resources to care for their parents. The lack of government social programs for the elderly meant mothers and fathers were left without assistance when they were no longer able to care for themselves. In Pauline morality, the church ought to care for widows unless they had a relative (1 Timothy 5).

In western cultures, there are social programs but nothing replaces the loving care adult children can provide to their parents. Parents vary in needs as children vary in resources, so the application of loving care will vary. Some will benefit from a visit. Other’s need a ride. Some will enjoy a time to share old stories. Others need financial support. The principle of honor is carried out in loving and caring relationships.

You May Reap What You Sow

Grace is in need of support in caring for her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. She is elderly and busy 24/7. Fortunately, her children take turns stopping by to lend a hand. I like to think her children are honoring her and their father because these elderly parents set such a caring example during their years as parents and grandparents. This is a real story but her name is not Grace.

My point is, each of us sets an example of how to honor parents by what we do as parents and grandparents. Adult parents provide examples to their children by the way they honor their elderly parents and relatives. One can always hope that a positive parent example will inspire their own children to be loving and caring when another generation reaches old age.

Mother’s Day Ought to be Personal

If you go to church on Mother’s Day you’ve probably heard all the common sermons and advice. In the US, mothers may receive a flower or some trinket. Some church leaders fret about leaving out women who are not mothers. There’s no easy way to avoid offending women who are mothers and resent the dilution of Mother’s Day into “Women’s Day” or hurting all those women who wanted to be mothers but for various reasons are not mothers. And of course, there are people who are biological mothers but have not been nurturing and loving toward their children. People hurt in different ways. Mother’s Day is not always a happy day.

My thought—church leaders ought to encourage people to honor their own mothers and to make a special effort to honor those mothers who do not have children around to honor them. A meaningful Mother’s Day ought to be personal and relational—between mother and child or children—not between an organization and a mother or a woman.

If Possible, Avoid Materialism

I don’t like the fact that corporations have hijacked Mother’s Day and Father’s Day creating a demand by shaming poor families into showering mothers with exorbitantly priced cards, flowers, dinners, and so forth. I realize that many will not have an easy way out of this commercial trap without feeling like they are not doing enough to honor their mothers. And mothers are not immune to the culture in what they expect as a minimum of honor.

I think it better to follow the cultural norm if possible unless all parties agree to bypass excessive commercialism in favor of a more personal honor. People have different values. I’m not opposed to enjoying the good things in life. I just don’t like to see people feeling trapped by social expectations designed to drain excess family resources in support of high paid CEOs. Of course, situations are so different in terms of resources, work demands, distance, and so on. We must all use wisdom.

Whether nearby or far away, a clear and loving expression from a child to a mother on Mother's Day goes a long way to maintaining or re-creating a strong relationship.

The Mother-Child Relationship is of Critical Importance

The quality of the relationship between a mother and a child is a building block for personal and family identity and well-being. Quality relationships are the building blocks of society as well. There are many good reasons to honor one’s mother. In addition to loving and caring for her, we bless ourselves and our society. A family structure built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good home. And a society built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good place to live.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Insecure Love of God and Christian Morality

Christians are commanded to love God with all their being. Psychological scientists interested in religious studies have examined the idea of loving God in several ways, including measures of attachment.

Attachment researchers have long examined the relationship between parents and children. Two components of the relationship are security and closeness or their opposites- anxious insecurity and distance or avoidance. These same dimensions have been found in the relationship between religious adults and God- especially when God is viewed as a person as in Christianity.

Understanding attachment to God is one important aspect of Spiritual identity. And it is also related to morality. In this post I look at a study by Thomas Fergus and WadeRowatt at Baylor University.

Morality and scrupulosity

Some people experience extreme concerns about their sinfulness and have a strong sense of urgency to do something to rid themselves of their sin. This particular pattern of obsessions and compulsions is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD known as scrupulosity. 

It appears that some people perform ritual behaviors to heal what they perceive as an impaired relationship with God.

Common distressing thoughts include blasphemies, impure thoughts, committing sin, and worries about going to hell.

Prayer has been specifically identified as a compulsive behavior in some persons attempting to rid themselves of intrusive and stressful thoughts. Other actions include frequent confessions, seeking assurance from clergy and other leaders, cleansing and purifying rituals, making deals with God, re-reading or repeating scripture verses.

The study sample

The investigators obtained responses from 450 adults using the internet. On average, they were age 34. Most were women (59%). Most identified themselves as Caucasian (79%). A few religious groups were represented:

 “In terms of a current religious affiliation, 20.7% of the sample self-identified as Protestant, 16.5% as Catholic, 1.6% as Jewish, 1.6% as Buddhist, 1.6% as Hindu, 0.2% as Muslim, and 14.9% as “other” religious affiliation. Approximately 41.9% of the sample reported having no current religious affiliation.”

Key finding

There was a strong relationship between high levels of anxious attachment and high levels of scrupulosity.

My Thoughts

1. The key finding makes sense. The distress experienced by people experiencing scrupulosity is an anxious condition thus we can expect religious people to experience an associated anxiety about their relationship with God.

2. The authors appear quite familiar with attachment research, including studies involving attachment to God. You have to read footnote 3 to understand the significant relationship between avoidance of God and scrupulosity. The authors note that when they controlled for religiosity, there was no significant relationship between avoidance attachment and scrupulosity. High avoidance attachment is linked to low levels of religiosity.

3. The authors appropriately acknowledge the problems of self-report measures and the sample. In my view, it would be more valuable to examine the issue in specific religious groups such as Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and so forth.

4. In the research and in clinical experience, scrupulosity is difficulty to treat. Mental health professionals follow treament approaches that follow guidelines for other OCD conditions. These include identifying and attempting to correct disturbing thoughts while being sensitive to a person's faith. Treatment may include limiting repetitive actions through response prevention strategies. The use of medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) also helps some people. See also Webmd.

Related Post

Research reference

Fergus, T. A., & Rowatt, W. C. (2014). Examining a purported association between attachment to God and scrupulosity. Psychology Of Religion And Spirituality, 6(3), 230-236. doi:10.1037/a0036345 Link to Abstract 

Read more about Moral Psychology and Christian Cultures