Saturday, December 28, 2013

Marriage & Relationship Quiz

Marriage & Relationship Quiz
For 2013

See the post from December 27 for a review of marriage and relationship changes in 2013 along with links to news and research sources.
(Answers Below)

1. According to the Rand Corporation, about what percentage of white females entered a cohabiting relationship in the U.S. by age 23?
2. On average, what is the age when women first marry in the U.S.?
3. In the U.S., at what young age can people commonly marry with parental approval?
4. In the U.S., divorce rates remained stable at about what percent of marriages?
5. In a split decision, the U. S. Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in June. How many judges decided against DOMA?
6. In the U.S., remarriage has declined by what percent in the past 20 years?
7. Same-sex marriage is legal in how many U. S. States?
8. According to the Pew Forum, how many countries permit same-sex marriage?
9. According to the Independent, at least how many countries recognize polygamous marriages?
10. In the U.S. Muslims and fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy. What is the limit of the number of wives permitted to a Muslim husband?


1. According to the Rand Corporation, about what percentage of white females entered a cohabiting relationship in the U.S. by age 23?
1: About half or 50%.

2. On average, what is the age when women first marry in the U.S.?
2: Close to age 27.

3. In the U.S., at what young age can people commonly marry with parental approval?
3: Many states allow 16 year olds to marry with parental approval.

4. In the U.S., divorce rates remained stable at about what percent of marriages?
4: About half of marriages survive and half end in divorce.

5. In a split decision, the U. S. Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in June. How many judges decided against DOMA?
5:  The ruling was a 5 to 4 split decision.

6. In the U.S., remarriage has declined by what percent in the past 20 years?
6. 40 % decline in remarriage

7. Same-sex marriage is legal in how many U. S. States?
7: According to the Boston Globe, the current count is 17 states plus D.C.

8. According to the Pew Forum, how many countries permit same-sex marriage?
8: 16 countries

9. According to the Independent, at least how many countries recognize polygamous marriages?
9: More than 40 countries recognize polygamous marriages.

10. In the U.S. Muslims and fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy. What is the limit of the number of wives permitted to a Muslim husband?
10 : Four wives

See Marriage in Review for more
details and sources.

Follow on twitter @GeoffWSutton 

If you find an error or additional sources, please provide the information in a comment.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Marriage in review 2013


The large world religions offer direction about moral relationships and offer ceremonies to celebrate the beginning of a marriage. Religions generally frown on or prohibit divorce. Adultery is perhaps the most commonly accepted reason for divorce. Monogamy is the norm in most religions but polygamy is widespread in Asia and Africa and Muslims are permitted to have up to four wives (Qur'an 4:2-3).

The legal status of relationships changed for many couples in 2013; however, the fact that same sex couples could legally marry in many parts of the world does not indicate whether there were changes in the number of same-sex couples who lived together. Given the moral stance of most religions against same-sex marriage, one would expect same-sex couples will have to wed outside of places of worship. Will they be welcomed into holy places? Time will tell? For example, in the UK, England and Wales allow same-sex marriage but those marriages will not take place in the Church of England.

JANUARY 1. Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill passed in 2012. It became effective January 1, 2013.

MARCH 27, UNITED STATES.  The case of the UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR was argued before the US Supreme Court. The case of Hollingsworth v. Perry was argued the same day and both were later decided on June 26.
APRIL 17. New Zealand passed a law legalizing same sex-marriage effective in August. The law includes a provision to permit the adoption of children.
MAY 3, Uruguay. President José Mujica signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. The country had approved same sex unions in 2008 and couples were allowed to adopt since 2009. (Pew Forum).

MAY 7."Polygamy, USA" premiered on the National Geographic television channel. In addition to polygamy, the program included a look at fundamentalist rituals of prayer, Sunday services, baptisms, and funerals.

MAY 14. Nearly half of the 27 jurisdictions in Brazil allow same-sex marriage. On May 14th the National Council of Justice ruled same-sex couples should not be denied marriage licenses. The decision was appealed (Pew Forum).

MAY 18. A French law legalizing same-sex marriage was signed into law by President Francois Hollande. (Pew Forum)
The Rand Corporation ( published a report on cohabitation.

“Half of the white females have entered a cohabitation by age 23, while for black and Hispanic women the comparable age is 25. By age 25, only 40% of ‘other’ women (primarily Asian) have cohabited. Males enter cohabiting unions at a slower pace than females. Black males experience cohabitation more rapidly than other race/ethnicity groups, with half having entered a cohabitation by age 24. Half of white males have entered a cohabitation by age 25, while only 40% of Hispanic and ‘other’ males have cohabited by age 24.” (Page 7)

JUNE 20. Alan Chambers formerly of Exodus International, apologized to the LGBT community. The organization was associated with efforts to help gay persons become "ex-gays." See the story at  

JUNE 26, 2013. The US Supreme court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The legal marriage of a same-sex couple in the State of New York would be recognized in terms of the benefits due the spouse of the deceased.

JUNE 26, 2013. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the U S Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the decision of the Ninth Circuit is vacated and remanded. Proposition 8, which would have ended same-sex marriage in California, was no longer the law. The effect of the Court's action was a return to marriage equality in California.


‘If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, 
who am I to judge him?’
Pope Francis

The Catholic Pope’s words to reporters garnered much attention when he said them in July and were often quoted throughout the year. Pope Francis appears to focus on restoring the Catholic Church in society as a place where all people are welcome. Interestingly, the Church has not changed its teaching regarding marriage or same-sex relationships. Read more in TIME.

JULY 1 was the effective date of Delaware’s law making same-sex marriage legal.

JULY 17. Queen Elizabeth II assented to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The law prohibits same-sex weddings within the Church of England, which limits marriage to one man and one woman. Although most Scots support same-sex marriage, the Scottish Parliament has not voted to legalize it. (See

JULY 18. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University issues a report on marriage. The US marriage rate was found to be the lowest in more than a century. The recent rate for which data are available is about 31 per 1,000 married women compared to a rate of 92.3 in 1920.


AUGUST 1. The legislatures of Minnesota and Rhode Island passed laws making same-sex marriages legal on August 1.

AUGUST 5. Jamie Dettmer wrote about the increase in multiple marriages within the UK's Muslim communities. Although plural marriages were outlawed in 1604, ceremonies take place in nikah ceremonies. High estimates place the number of men with multiple wives at 30,000. What makes the increase noteworthy is the growing popularity among younger and well educated women.

AUGUST 25. The penalty for adultery is death in some parts of the world. Jessica Donati of Reuters reported proposed changes in Afghan law that would establish stoning as the punishment for adultery. Following a public outcry, the government backed away from the plan.
"We are working on the draft of a sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning," said Rohullah Qarizada, who is part of the sharia Islamic law committee working on the draft and head of the Afghan Independent Bar Association.

SEPTEMBER 12. Sharon Jayson of USA Today summarized reports of a decline in remarriages.
“The remarriage rate in the USA has dropped 40% over the past 20 years
Cohabitation is more accepted, and couples are older at first marriage
37% of cohabiters have been married before…” 
Some sources linked the decline in remarriages to the cohabitation option. Jayson reports research results and comments on recent studies by university scientists. 


OCTOBER 21. New Jersey court ruling resulted in legal same-sex marriage. New Jersey Governor ended efforts to appeal the decision. He has repeated his position that marriage is between one man and one woman, which would please Republicans supporters but he signed a bill that made gay conversion therapy illegal. NY Times story.


NOVEMBER 5. Illinois passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage effective June 1, 2014.


Time magazine announced its person of the year as Pope Francis, which was no surprise. But what was surprising was the same honor bestowed on him by TheAdvocate.

DECEMBER 2. Hawaii’s legislature passed a law 13 November legalizing same-sex marriage on December 2.

DECEMBER 13, Utah. Judge Clark Waddoups ofthe U S District Court ruled against the State’s law prohibiting cohabitation in a case brought by Kody Brown Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan. The Judge referred to religious beliefs in his ruling. The family are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church. The judge let stand the State’s law against bigamy. Here's a quote from pages 9-10 of the ruling.
This decision is fraught with both religious and historical significance for the State of Utah because it deals with the question of polygamy, an issue that played a central role in the State’s development and that of its dominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “LDS Church” or “Mormon Church”).  The Brown Plaintiffs are not members of the LDS Church, but do adhere to the beliefs of a fundamentalist church that shares its historical
roots with Mormonism

DECEMBER 16. Peggy Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune ( reported that the LDS Church published an essay on its website providing a history of their practice of polygamy. The full text is at

Amidst the news about gay marriage and polygamy, Phil Robertson of A&E’s Duck Dynasty offered firestorm-inducing comments about sexual relationships (among other things) in an interview with GQ. The A&E network announced a suspension of the show and the media went into overdrive as did fans of the show.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” Phil Robertson
DECEMBER 19. New Mexico’s Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (NPR)

DECEMBER 20. Federal Judge, Robert J. Shelby ruled in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert. The ruling overturns Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. Following the ruling, couples were in line to obtain marriage licenses. TIME magazine

Summary of Marriage and Relationships in 2013

United States
The news headlines suggest that the major marital changes in 2013 were about the legalization of same-sex marriages. As of 21 December, 17 states and D.C. allow same-sex marriages, 5 states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships, and 28 states have a constitutional ban prohibiting same-sex marriage. (Boston Globe).

US data through 2010, indicated the median age for first marriage has risen in recent decades after hitting bottom around 1950. On average (median) women are age 27 when they first marry. Pew data indicate about half of US adults were married in 2010 (

In the US, all states except Nebraska require a couple be age 18 to legally marry without parental consent. In some cases, a couple may marry with court approval if the woman is pregnant. The legal age in Nebraska is 19. Most states set a lower limit of age 16 even with parental consent but a few allow younger persons to marry with court approval (

Divorce laws appear to have changed little and are not highly contested. Divorce rates appear little changed in recent years. Approximately half of marriages are likely to end in divorce. Remarriage rates appears to have declined and cohabitation may be a factor in lower remarriage rates.

By the end of the year, polygamy made the news with the ruling in Utah suggesting that plural marriage-like cohabiting relationships were no longer forbidden by law. It is not known how many plural marriages or plural marriage-like relationships exist in the US. The focus on polygamy by news sources is usually on members of groups that split from the official LDS church. But according to a 2008 NPR report, some 50,000 to 100,000 Muslims live in polygamous relationships.

According to the Pew Forum, 16 countries allow same-sex marriage and two countries (Mexico, USA) permit same-sex marriage in some jurisdictions.

The age at which people marry varies with the country. About 20% of women are married by age 18 in 39 countries. In 20 countries, 10% of women are married by age 15. (, November 22, 2013). Overall, the age of first marriage is rising around the world.

Although divorce is limited by the teaching of different religious groups, protests about divorce and legal efforts to impose stricter guidelines are not making news. I only found evidence that divorce remains illegal in the Philippines and the Vatican.

According to the Independent, a UK newspaper, more than 40 countries recognize polygamous marriages. These are mostly in Asia and Africa. (, Sunday 08 December, 2013).

Previous posts on marriage and relationships
Healthy marriages

Marriage under reconstruction Part 1

Marriage under reconstruction Part 2

Note on polygamy and related terminology. I find reports on plural marriage vary in the terminology used. Some use the general term polygamy to refer to both official polygamous marriages and unofficial marriage-like plural unions involving more than two persons. Most polygamous relationships appear as one man and a few wives (polygyny) but some cultures practice polyandry (one woman and a few husbands). Polyamory denotes multiple simultaneous loving relationships. The people in a polyamorous relationship may or may not be married.

Other sources
National Conference of State Legislatures Link to same-sex marriage summary
Pew Forum ( (map for ages of first marriage around the world based on UN data)
RAND report ( (Working paper on cohabitation and marriage)
United Nations World Marriage Data 2012 at

It is possible I have made an error in this summary. Please share your corrections or suggestion in a constructive comment.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Story revised

What's the Christmas Story about?

Jesús Born Reports Lucas

Back in the day, Cesar Augusto said everyone should have healthcare. The deadline to sign up was 24 December. This happened when politicians did not get along. And everyone went online to register for healthcare.

José and María, his pregnant fiancé who needed healthcare, could not even afford internet service. Anyway they bundled up and began their taxing trip into town to use cousin David’s line. David was out. Exhausted, they decided to stay at the Holly Day Inn, where they could get online. “Sorry guys, we’re full,” said Clark. José noticed a sign on an office door and asked if they could use that room. The kindhearted Clark nodded his head. Then María exclaimed, “omg, I’m like having a baby.” So Clark called 911. And María gave birth. She wrapped him in Holly Day Inn towels and put him on the floor of the Manager’s office.

Exhausted but joyful, María and José tweeted the good news. Angela retweeted it and began texting her pastor and friends (fortunately she signed up for sms). “Where?” They replied. “Mangers place, Holly Day Inn, near David’s house.” 

Soon a flash mob appeared. Everyone was saying, “omg.” Gloria, a large angelic woman was married to Gabe. They both gave a shout out to God and called for peace. When the twittersphere calmed down, everyone said let’s go check it out. 

So they raced to the Manager and found María and José and their baby. Everyone pulled out their small screens and spread the good news.

The story of the poor family spread round the world. The wealthy Maji family decided to visit and bring special gifts. Meanwhile, the local government, frustrated with Cesar, devised their own plan to round up illegal immigrants and deport them. The Maji had some problems with the TSA but after questioning and giving detailed personal information, they found their way to the family home. They brought gold cards and other special gifts. But in the night they got a message that they were under NSA surveillance so they left early and used a different route. 

Meanwhile, María and José decided to take Jesús and leave the country. Technically they were illegals. Although they had relatives in the area, they did not want to be separated from their newborn baby who brought such joy to them and all their family and friends.

Merry Christmas!

Geoff W. Sutton

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013





 Joy to the World is a powerful anthem. Bells ring. Choirs sing. And people gather round trees, open presents, and gorge on meats and sweets.

Joy seems to abound this time of year. Even news media seem keen on adding a dollop of good  news to their daily buffet of badness. Of course, the Christmas story is full of good news.

Joy is an advent theme. In the Christmas story, Joy comes as a child. We know that joy. I recall the
ultrasound picture of my first granddaughter. Marvelous. A happy moment for all. And of course you naturally want to celebrate by giving presents. So the joy spreads from inside to others. Especially the children who can barely wait to peak beneath the tree and ornament decorated swaddling paper wrapped lovingly around a precious gift.

JOY has an effect.  Psychologist Barbara Frederickson has looked at the effects of positive emotions like joy and negative emotions like fear. In one study of five emotions (joy, contentment, neutral, fear, anger), she found that people who experienced joy and contentment generated significantly more ideas about future activities than those who were angry or fearful—or even neutral. Positive emotions build us up. Negative emotions drag us down. And what’s happening affects our mood-- songs, movies, stories.

Joyful people are more playful. When children play, they increase creativity and brain development. Joyfulness and happiness appear to lead to an upward spiral. Acting in joyful ways frees people to be more creative and leads to more joy and more creativity.

Barbara Frederickson summarizes some of her research on YouTube. Even something as simple as candy can lead to better test scores. Positive emotions lead to seeing more possibilities, becoming more creative, and responding better to life challenges (resilience research).

Barbara Frederickson Video

It turns out our joy and happiness can be manufactured. We naturally respond to real life events like a new baby, a new relationship, a new job, or a fantastic gift. Earlier this year my wife and I were truly surprised by a huge party put on by our son and his wife and her family in honor of our 40th wedding anniversary. What a happy moment. And it still makes me smile. 

We don't only respond to real experiences. We also anticipate how we will feel when faced with choices. When truly given a choice, we pick one we think we will like. And we justify our choices—sometimes in pretty creative ways that make others skeptical. How could you be happy with that car that’s always in the repair shop? How could you live with that (man/woman)? But the research shows that this synthetic or manufactured happiness really affects our mood.

 We have the power to evaluate life events and alter our moods.

Here’s an excerpt from a talk by Dan Gilbert.

Here's two different futures that I invite you to contemplate, and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic. So, just give it a moment of thought. You probably don't feel like you need a moment of thought. 
…the fact is that a year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.

Dan Gilbert Video on Happiness

If you want to learn more about joy and happiness, I've included a few references at the bottom of this post. I don't receive any funds from these recommendations.

To close, here's a link to one version of a famous song of Joy.

Joy To The World

May you have a joyful holiday!

Read more
Gilbert, D. (2005). Stumbling on happiness. New York: Vintage.

Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis. New York: Basic Books.

Snyder, C. R., Lopez, S.J., & Pedrotti, J.T. (2011). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths (Second edition). Washington, DC, Sage.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

LOVE is a master motive


An Advent Reflection

I saw the writing on the wall. I was listed as a target person to talk about one of the virtues of advent. As a grandfather with a two-year old and a 6-month old granddaughter, it’s pretty easy to see the Christmas story as a love story.

Babies come to us so vulnerable. We want to gather round and offer presents, hold them, and make them feel wanted, safe, and happy. Above all, we want them to feel loved. Their parents are delighted to share stories and pictures. Their grandparents cannot get enough face-time. It doesn’t take long to get attached to children.

As children mature, the affectionate attachment grows. There are many delightful moments. Times to be proud they share the same name. They are part of us. But there are those moments that strain the relationship. Families fuss about rules, fairness, loyalty, authority, respect, freedom, the usual stuff.

And the family of faith is no exception; because all the faithful are human and shaped by human parents and divine inspiration. Love binds us together. And when families get close at Christmas time it’s easier to see the imperfections of our kin. And if we are willing, to see our own as well.

There is a love that transcends the imperfect in everyone. Hugging a precious bundled baby is no challenging task. But hugging people with a visible disease, helping the poor, forgiving the same person 7-times (who can think of 70 x 7?), embracing those who disagree with us, caring for the ungrateful, learning humility, managing anger, pursuing peace… these are the challenges that test love. The love that Jesus shared was wide open. He welcomed all. He embraced the unloved.

I'm going to hell
Rihanna worried, “I’m going to hell.” Something she heard at church, I learned. I sat and listened. Clinically, she appeared to be an 11 year old African American girl but I thought I was listening to an adult. Her face was sad with little affect. But the content of speech revealed a tortured anxiety. She was genuinely worried. No wonder the school counselor referred her. Christian spirituality- so out of place here at an Elementary school. And I, a psychologist, dealing with spirituality and depression and anxiety...Why do some Christians feel the need to scare children?
  Some faiths offer anxious love

Going home for Christmas?
Sometimes it seems harder to love a family member than a stranger. In fact, some feel more like strangers with family than with co-workers or neighbors. Love is an awkward complexity packed with feelings, memories, and arms outstretched, ready to embrace. Jealous love smothers and snuffs out creative growth. Healthy love longs to be with the other and see them grow and develop. Jealous love forces blind obedience. Healthy love finds the Sabbath made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Jealous love wants my traditions honored. Healthy love sees that new wine needs new wineskins.

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Honour your mother!
Rules of love
I had followed my mother’s progress following an emergency hip repair, through the hospital, and on to rehab. She fought hard against the rules. At age 93 she hadn’t been in hospital since giving birth…more than 60 years ago. There she sat in her favourite chair looking as if all was ok. It wasn’t. It was December-- two years ago. She’s gone now. No more pain. We had one of those distant relationships. The kind where an aging parent wants to be independent. And doesn’t want to move near family. Why am I here? I asked. “Because the Bible says to honour your father and your mother,” she replied. I blurted out, “No! I’m here because I love you.”

Rules are good. People need rules. But rules can drive love into a corner. And love can temper rules. 

Some Christians offer conditional love. Some Christians offer conditional love with a side of hate. Some Christians strive to offer unconditional love, which makes them vulnerable to be hurt and suffer pain.

As I wrote before (August 29), love is more than an emotion, it is more like an attitude that draws upon all we are. Love involves our feelings plus our thoughts, actions, spiritual focus, and physical energy. And love costs us time.  Love is a master motive in Christian living. Love drives compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Love drives peace efforts. And love negates fear.
After school programme, South Africa

The third time he said to him,
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him
the third time, “Do you love me?”He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 
John 21:17 NIV

Perhaps you would enjoy a few songs? Suggest your favorite love songs-- Romantic, Oldies, Wedding, Religious...and of course, Christmas

You Light Up My Life, Debbie Boone 1977

I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston, 1999

Just The Way You Are, Bruno Mars

All I Really Want for Christmas, Steven Curtis Chapman, 2005

For more on love click here.

Saturday, December 7, 2013



"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God."
Matthew 5:9

During advent we witness peace represented as a baby. Evangelical preachers often speak of the power of God. But when I see a baby I think of a fragile and vulnerable life. New life needs protection and nurturance.

Peace is like a baby. Peace is fragile and vulnerable to disruptions from many sources. Nurturing people affirm peace. Peacemakers nurture peace through gifts of time and talent. Like an infant, newly formed peace requires devotion. To survive, peace must be fed and clothed. People keep peace alive. People let peace die. Some people seek to destroy peace.

When the Prince of Peace became a man, he made serious demands of his followers. When the light of Peace shone in the darkness, Peace was attacked and Peace surrendered. Peace died as did the hope of his followers. But then came life. Peace lived on in the hearts of his followers who shared the peace with others.

Peace and Human Behavior

Peace psychology is a worldwide endeavor studied by psychological scientists and pursued by activists. In the US, Peace Psychology is division 48 of the American Psychological Association.  Peace psychology is both about the strengthening of peace and positive social relationships as well as the reduction of violence and conflict. Peace psychology attempts to understand existing peacemaking and violence within an historical and cultural context. The psychology of peace includes the study of variables of interest to Christians such as effective apologies between groups, forgiveness between groups, reconciliation between groups previously in conflict, and ways to ameliorate the effects of violence -- pain and suffering. (Click to see the current issue of the Peace Psychology Newsletter for more.)

Peace and violence

Peace is contextualized by violence. Like many aspects of life, we often know one thing by its contrast with another. Recently in the USA, documentaries and films have looked back 150 years and 50 years to times when the violence of slavery led to a bloody conflict and slavery-like discrimination laws kept African-Americans from enjoying the same privileges and benefits as those from European descent.

Groups identified by different ethnic and religious traditions are in conflict around the world. Within many cultures, women and children are targets of violence. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation are international concerns. Peacekeeping forces are needed to rescue the abused, protect the abused residing in conflict zones, and shield targeted people from would be attackers. 

The pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus also evoke thoughts of wanted and unwanted pregnancies. Abortion remains a controversial issue—some focus on the violence done to women when their pregnancies are linked to rape and sexual abuse or linked to pain, suffering, or even the risk of the mother’s life. Others are concerned about both the woman who is pregnant as well as the violence done to the unborn child and to the families and community linked to the expectant mother and her unborn child. Even among people sharing the same religious faith, opinions clash. And sometimes peace is lost to physical violence.

Peace is costly  

People invest heavily in arms to destroy others. And where the violence is less physical, people invest heavily in lawsuits, which destroy the resources of those who cannot afford to continue the legal struggle. Peace requires time and effort. Like a baby, peace must be nurtured and protected. Ironically, peace sometimes comes at the cost of one's life.

Sometimes people arise to resist evil in a peaceful manner. There are peacemakers who forgive rather than pursue revenge. There are peacemakers who prefer reconciliation rather than insist on justice. It is fitting to remember Nelson Mandela, as an example of a peacemaker. Whatever his human imperfections, his government did not seek to punish the white minority when he assumed the presidency of South Africa. Peacemakers are real people with strengths and weaknesses.

Taking action

1. Promote peace by emphasizing the good rather than the harm.
2. Resist the urge to characterize all of a person's life based on a few or even many failings.
3. Consider mercy when justice is required.
4. Take a stand against violence and protect the vulnerable.
5. Consider the possibility that people can be transformed rather than assume people will never change.
6. Learn conflict management skills.
7. Seek support when dealing with difficult people.

Violence and hatred will persist. Peacemakers are not blind to evil. Peacemakers are people on a quest for conciliation.

Related posts


Effective apologies

Nelson Mandela (and Truth & Reconciliation)

Saturday, November 30, 2013



“May integrity and uprightness protect me, 
because my hope,
 is in you.
        Psalm 25: 21 NIV

Social media sites are full of pictures of parents and grandparents beaming as they hold new babies. Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist declared his hope in God. It is fitting that Jesus comes as a baby. Hope is a forward looking activity. What better way to hope in the future than to see a newborn full of possibilities? Of course, at the time of his birth few foresaw what would unfold for Jesus in the next few decades. Yet some came with hope-- there were shepherds and wise men. Christmas is a time to reflect on hope.

To nurture the possibilities within any child, parents must devote considerable time and energy and personal resources. Parents are often tired and seek assistance from family and friends. Nurturing hope is an investment in the future. And for Christians, hope lives on beyond the lifespan.

In some cultures, the emphasis is on individuals and what they can accomplish if they work hard. Other cultures emphasize group effort and teamwork. In Christian culture, the metaphors are often about family. A family that includes God. Hope is bound up in joint efforts to pursue kingdom goals. Christians are known by their love, which is often expressed in meeting the needs of the poor and ministering to those who are ill. Christians are quick to forgive and encourage those who feel hopeless.

As I write, many people in the Philippines have suffered great losses. In my current hometown, an agency motivated to help people in need is aptly named Convoy of Hope. It was encouraging to see that they were on the move when Typhoon Haiyan hit. On their web page they have a motivating phrase, "A Driving Passion to Feed the World." It takes a great team of staff, volunteers, and donors to offer hope to others.

Hope in Two Parts

Hopeful people focus on goals

The late C. R. Snyder studied hope for years. Hope seems to have twin dimensions. He called the first hope dimension, pathways thinking. Hopeful people focus on goals. And goals can be short-term or long-term. People with a high level of hope generate new ways to reach goals when a particular pathway is blocked. Hopeful people sometimes join with others in the pursuit of common aims. Hopeful people persist in the face of adversity.

Hopeful people are motivated

The second dimension of hope is agency thinking. Agency thinking is about motivation. Hopeful people feel empowered to accomplish their goals. Hopeful people can say with Paul, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).

Hopeful people are usually happy and joyful. Hopeful people are more forgiving and compassionate. The barriers in life become challenges to overcome. Hope works like an inner cycle that propels us forward. Hopeful thinking links to positive feelings and action. Accomplishments encourage us to do more and increase our sense of hope.

Parents help children become hopeful when they help children see the connection between hard work and positive outcomes. Snyder believed that for children to become hopeful they needed a strong attachment to their parents. Attachment is a significant part of what it means to love another.

It’s not surprising that the advent themes of hope, joy, love, and peace are bound together and presented to us in the form of a baby who holds out the promise of hope for the future. It is also fitting that in our calendar, the common goal-setting that occurs at the New Year is only a few weeks away. Advent is a great time to enjoy the present and consider what lies ahead with a sense of hope-- God is with us. Immanuel.

My hope is, in You Lord

All the day long

I won't be shaken by drought or storm

peace that passes understanding 

And I sing

My hope is in You, Lord

Aaron Shust- My Hope Is In You

Aaron Shust sings My Hope Is In You

C. R. Snyder held a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. He was a psychological scientist at the University of Kansas until his death in 2006. He published on many topics including hope and forgiveness. You can find a list of books and articles about hope on the linked web page.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanks! Grateful Living

12 Facts About

Grateful People

The American Holiday of Thanksgiving is a good time to focus on gratitude. Gratitude is a common human emotion and a virtue among adherents of many religions.

Christians are encouraged to count their blessings and offer thanks each day.

In psychology, gratitude is a positive emotion expressed toward those who have given some gift or benefit. In the case of religious people, the gift can come from God.

It’s no surprise that there is a positive correlation between religiosity or spirituality and gratitude.

The Grateful Living
12 --What’s true about grateful people—
compared to those who are low on gratefulness?

1.  Higher positive feelings
2.  Higher life satisfaction
3.  More vitality
4.  More optimism
5.  More generous
6.  More helpful
7.  More likely to attend religious services
8.  More likely to practice their faith
9.  Less interested in material goods
10. Less likely to judge success in terms of
11. Less envious of others
12. More likely to share

Research Notes

Gratitude journals work. People who kept a weekly gratitude journal felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, reported fewer physical symptoms and exercise more than those in other groups who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

Making a gratitude list helps personal goal attainment.

Young adults who performed daily gratitude exercises had increased alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to people in other research groups—people who focused on hassles or comparing themselves to others who had less.

Writing letters of gratitude increased happiness and life satisfaction and decreased depressive symptoms.

A four-week gratitude program resulted in higher life satisfaction and self-esteem compared to people in a control condition.

Both gratitude and forgiveness were linked to well-being in a sample of people receiving psychotherapy.

Women appear to gain more from gratitude than men do. Compared to women, men were less likely to feel and express gratitude. Men were more critical when evaluating gratitude and overall benefited less than women did.

Women who were breast cancer patients benefited from gratitude when they were open to others. Gratitude promotes high-quality relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Algoe, S.B. & Stanton, A.L. (2012). Gratitude when it is needed most: Social functions of gratitude in women with metastatic breast cancer. Emotion, 12, 163-168. DOI: 10.1037/a0024024

Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.

Emmons, R. A., & Kneezel, T. T.(2005). Giving thanks: Spiritual and religious correlates of gratitude. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 24, 140-148. 
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Froh, J. J., Bono, G., & Emmons, R. A. (2010). Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motivation and Emotion, 34, 144-157.
Froh, J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being.  Journal of School  Psychology, 46, 213-233.

Kashdan, T.B., Mishra, A., Breen, W. E., & Froh, J.J. (2009). Gender differences in gratitude: Examining appraisals, narratives, the willingness to express emotions, and changes in psychological needs. Journal of Personality, 77, 691-730. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00562.x

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82-112-127. 
Rash, J.A., Matsuba, M.K., & Prkachin, K.M. (2011). Gratitude and well-being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? Applied psychology: Health and well-being, 3, 350-369. DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

Toepfer, S.M., Cichy, K., & Peters, P. (2012). Letters of gratitude: Further evidence for author benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 187-201. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-011-9257-7

Toussaint, L. & Friedman, P. (2009). Forgiveness, gratitude, and well-geing: The mediating role of affect and beliefs. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 635-654. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-008-9111-8

Tsang, J., Ashleigh, S., & Carlisle, R.D. (2012). An experimental test of the relationship between religion and gratitude. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 4, 40-55.  DOI: 10.1037/a0025632

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How God works: A Sunday short

How God 
Oral Roberts 1958, UPI
and helps

“God spared my life for a reason,” Dave testified following a close brush with death by a tornado.*

“My husband’s not expected to live; please pray,” pleaded Becky as she posted from her husband’s hospital room.*

            Christians have long believed in the power of prayer. Perhaps it is better theology to say many Christians believe in the power of God to cause a change in people or in the natural world in response to prayer. Beliefs about prayer and how God works can make a difference; as I suggested in a previous post.

All God beliefs
In classical Pentecostal traditions, believers claimed divine healing as a right. Something guaranteed by God to those who believed. As a boy, I went to a tent meeting put on by Oral Roberts not far from my home in Southern New Jersey. I recall lines of people waiting for a miracle. Throughout history, some people seemed to have a spiritual gift of healing. Naturally, people rejoice when their pain and discomfort disappear. People toss crutches and get out of wheelchairs. Dramatic to say the least. But people who were not healed were made to feel horrible. Perhaps there was unconfessed sin in their life. Maybe they did not have enough faith. Rarely did people consider it wasn’t God’s will. And sadly, some died.

All nature beliefs.
Some Christians believe the miracles reported in the Bible were just for a special time or purpose. We live in a natural world governed by the laws of nature that God set to work thousands or millions of years ago. People should still pray that God’s will be done on earth. But there is no place for personal prayer that God would do a miracle in one’s life.

God and nature.
In more recent years, Christians pray for healing but they also pray that God would guide the hands of surgeons or give wisdom to physicians so they can make the correct diagnosis or recommend the best treatment. When people get well, God gets the glory. People rejoice and are thankful. When people continue to do poorly or die, some feel betrayed by God. Some are deeply saddened but eventually learn to accept, what happens is God’s will. In this view, Christians do not see God and science as incompatible. God is present and heals in different ways.

On Tuesday, 12th November, I illustrated these approaches for a class I teach by using a table. In the left column are three common attributions people make about the cause of healing or protection from death—was the healing by God, by nature, or by God and natural means? In the other three columns are labels for correct or erroneous beliefs. Each conclusion of correct or error is based on a combination of a theological belief about how God really acts and personal beliefs (attributions) about how people were healed. Of course, we may wonder how does anyone really know what God did?

God acted alone
God acted through
God did not act
by God
by nature
by God+ nature

I suspect these ideas might apply to other faiths as well but I think it best for those in other faith traditions to offer their contributions to understanding how people view healing and God.

Mental health is different.
On Thursday, 14th November, I spoke with a psychologist colleague, Matt Stanford, of Baylor University. At a local forum, he presented some of his research and ideas about how Christians take different views of mental health compared to general health. I was reminded of one friend who said Christians need to get over the idea that we are different above the neck than below the neck. Mental health is different for many Christians. Conditions like depression and anxiety are not illnesses. Instead they are the results of personal sin or spiritual failure. The cure is prayer and bible study.

            I actually addressed some of these issues in a previous post about religion and health. Matt Stanford reminded me of the statistics. I reported a study from LifeWay on 18th September when Rick and Kay Warren spoke about their son’s suicide in an interview with Piers Morgan. Almost half of all conservative Christians (born again, evangelical, fundamentalist) agree that Bible study and prayer ALONE can help people with a serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Anecdotal evidence indicates many have been advised to stop taking their medication or stop seeing a psychologist or counselor.

Some concluding thoughts
  • Understanding the official theology of a particular Christian faith may not help understand how individual Christians believe and act.
  • Christians have different beliefs about how God acts.
  • Christians who depend on God for all their needs can come across as super-spiritual-- sometimes revered as saints and sometimes viewed as nuts.
  • Christians who view God as having set up the universe but not active in daily affairs are not viewed as true Christians by evangelicals unless they make efforts to quote scripture to support their beliefs.
  • If you have a mental illness, your odds are about 50% that a conservative American Christian will believe you only need prayer and Bible study to get well.

I see no compelling reason to find beliefs in God are incompatible with scientific evidence. As I have posted before, I view people in a holistic manner having five interactive dimensions, which includes the spiritual dimension. And we live and act in a social environment. It may be helpful for some to include God as a part of their total social environment. One who is present through time and across settings.

* Fictitious characters created for illustration only.