Most of the courses I taught at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work were focused on helping smaller social systems: individuals, families and small groups, make changes in their lives (micro). I also continued a private practice, mainly to keep my skills up to date and relevant to what I was teaching. Although I only brought religion/spirituality into my work with clients if they presented it as something they wanted assistance with, I always felt that my work with clients on a one-to-one basis, with small groups or families, was my way of following Jesus’ admonition and example of showing compassion for those in need. Whether it was a person suffering from a chemical addiction; a couple struggling to keep their marriage together; stepparents, whose unrealistic expectations were rupturing the new family, or a group of teenagers who were going though the pains of adolescence, I had the opportunity and obligation to bring them Jesus’ healing love, without even mentioning Jesus.
At the same time, I was also working to effect change on those larger systems, that were impinging on people’ rights. Whether it was the welfare system that was ignoring the needs of the poor or elderly; the mental health system that was not providing services for people who were suffering from mental illnesses; businesses who were discriminating because of workers’ race or gender, these were the people that Jesus wanted us to help, the disenfranchised, (macro). Just as the early Christian communities based their communal lives on the teachings of Jesus by living lives of justice, nonviolence, generosity and hope, I believe that we who follow Jesus need to incorporate these virtues in our daily lives in the twenty-first century, by helping to create compassionate communities.
I will discuss macro change and a combination of micro and macro models on other web-pages on social change, but for now I want to focus on micro social change as a model for our following Jesus. I’m not suggesting everyone should become a social worker but that there is a wealth of ways that social work practices can be translated into our lives as followers of Jesus.
Let me start by suggesting a website that I think embodies what Jesus expects of us. (http://followingjesus.org) When you open the website you’ll find a beautiful musical presentation that spells out what Jesus taught before his death and expects of his followers. The rest of the website traces the historical development of Christianity from the very beginning to the present time, and also examines both the underlying rational for faith and beliefs and suggests ways for how we can become better followers of Jesus. I will be referring back to this website throughout other web-pages. For the time being, I’ll just focus on the initial musical presentation. When I have my Blog up and running, I’d appreciate your thoughts on this and other issues that I or others bring up. My hope is that this will be an interactive experience that we all can learn from. My personal philosophy as a professor was, “There are no teachers, there are only learners.”.
Social Change and Action and Small System As I mentioned earlier I see Jesus as a change agent, along with his other roles. What I intend to do now is to translate social change at the micro level from the social work model to how it can apply to our following Jesus the change agent. I’m not suggesting this is the only way to look at social change but is the one that I found most helpful.
Micro Social Work practice emphasizes change on small-social systems. The emphasis is on theories, methods, and techniques of practice within the contexts of individuals, families, and small social networks. When we look back at Jesus’ life during his three years of social ministry, there are a number of instances that come to mind where he healed individuals, e.g., when he healed the deaf or blind; with families e.g., when he came at the request of Lazarus’ family when they were grieving his death and he answered their pleas by bringing Lazarus back to life; with his apostles when he saved them from a storm at sea. Not that we are expected to physically heal the deaf and blind or bring someone back to life, but there are other signs of his compassion that are less dramatic. We show Jesus’ compassion in our daily lives e.g., by volunteering in agencies that feed the hungry; being involved in providing housing for the homeless, or taking advantage of so many opportunities to show our love for our neighbor, e.g. when a loved one dies by comforting those who mourn. We don’t have to be psychotherapists to show Jesus’ compassion. Nor do the followers of Jesus have the corner of the market on these virtues, but our motivation is the recognition that God is in all of us. “The Reign of God is within us”. (Luke 7:21) Or, “Namaste,” a Hindu greeting translated as: The God/Goddess Spirit within me recognizes and honors the God/Goddess Spirit within you.
Suggested Readings on Social Change
- To put social change in perspective, here is a statement of US Conference of Catholic Bishops: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus [PDF], it addresses the macro and micro social issues and emphasizes the need to work at both levels. Based on catholic social teaching, it provides a model that differentiates Charity and Justice. Charity focusing on the needs of people, while justice focuses on the inalienable rights of individuals and what they can expect from their government and religious organizations.
- The social teaching of the Catholic Church is embedded in the encyclicals of the popes beginning with Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers. For the next 100 years Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI all wrote encyclicals on social issues and John Paul II, wrote three encyclicals on the similar topics, his last social encyclical was , Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum in 1991.
- Religion and Social Justice in America, by Austin Cline—The author of this article acknowledges the role that religion has played in social justice, which generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights and recognizes the dignity and worth of every human being, while contemporary fundamentalists’ “…focus on private sexual morality to the exclusion of almost all else.” The article gives a different view of the traditional positions on the role of the Catholic Church described in the two previous articles.
- “Why Self-compassion Trumps Self-esteem“—Article by Kristin Neff, in Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. This website offers views from science on how a meaningful life would be described, and achieved. It also includes responses from readers.
- Social Institutions: The Family—For those who are interested in a more sociological perspective on the family this website offers basic and advanced information on various aspects of the family, an institution that many sociologists think is a miniature replica of the society in itself. Its importance of lies in the fact, that it cements a nation together by providing it a past, a present and a future.
- Fausel, D. (1998), Collaborative Conversations for Change: A Solution Focused Approach to Family Centered Practice, Family Preservation Journal, 3,1, 59-74—Over the years, I took training and taught many types of therapy. I don’t believe one type of therapy fits every situation. As I continued to practice, I became more eclectic in my use of different models of therapy. I chose this article on solution focused brief therapy because I believe it is appropriate for multiple problems and deals with the “here and now” rather than the “there and then”. It doesn’t give prescriptions to those we wish to help, like many other forms of therapy, it asks questions about what is going well in their life or what they are doing differently when things are going well. I believe its principles can be adapted for non-therapists to use in helping others, not as therapists but as friends helping neighbors.
- Here is Module I of a training program I wrote for non-therapists, volunteers, or paraprofessionals , that adapts Collaborative Conversation for Change to working with families, which can also be used in our interactions with others, to help them with the day to day problems they are facing. Again, it’s not meant to make the reader a therapist, but to be a better communicator with those we meet, who have problems that we can help them with as a friend, as as a compassionate neighbor.
Here’s an example of person I remember working with, who was very depressed: After listening for a while about how depressed he was, I asked him to “Tell me about those times when you aren’t depressed.” His immediate reaction was to respond, “I’m always depressed.” I followed-up with another question, “If you weren’t depressed, how would your life be different?” He thought for a few minutes and went on to tell me how much he enjoys classical music, and what a comfort it had been to him before all this depression. After exploring this a little, I asked, “Between now and the next time we meet would you be willing to spend some time listening to the music that you enjoy?” He agreed. The next time he came to see me he was feeling less depressed and willing to try some other suggestions, that were based on things he told me were what he enjoyed but had given up.
I’m not suggesting that this type of interaction is magic and can ipso facto change the person over night. But it can put him/her on a different path. The thinking behind it is if something works, do more of it. If I just talked about a person’s depression with them, they would more likely than not leave more depressed and I probably would be more depressed too.
- Here is Module II of that same training.
- National Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect provides information on one of our major social problems, child abuse and neglect. In Luke (17:2), Jesus had some very harsh words for anyone who harmed a child. He suggested that they would be better off if a millstone were tied around their neck and were thrown into the sea. Working to protect children is one way of being a follower of Jesus. If you need convincing of the extent of this problem, this website should convince you. It also provides resources for agencies that deal with abuse and neglect.
- Worksops—Over the years I’ve offered a number of workshops for folks with problems that clients of mine were experiencing. The workshops gave the participants and me, the opportunity to interact with others who were struggling with the same problems as they were, and gave me an opportunity to learn more about the problems clients were dealing with.They say, “You teach what you need to learn” and looking back, I realized it also gave me the opportunity to choose topics that I was dealing with in my own life at that time. For example, the workshop, “Angry is as Angry Does”, as the title indicates, we (I) needed to recognize the fact that it’s not the anger that’s the problem, but how we deal with the anger that’s the problem. Once we realize that, we can begin to deal with our anger without feeling guilty. At that time in my life I was dealing with my own anger and needed to learn better ways to handle anger myself.Here’s one other example—In writing the workshop, “Be ye Perfect, Mission Impossible,” I realized that the biblical admonition, “Be ye Perfect,” often had been misunderstood and even abused. To strive for excellence, to achieve, to be successful, differs from an unhealthy perfectionism. The more I looked at myself and my background, which taught me that I needed to be the perfect person, the more I listened to others with similar backgrounds, the more I realized that perfectionism is at the root of many harmful messages many of us received as children, which carry over into our adult lives, producing guilt, anger, low self-esteem, addictions etc. The goal of the workshop was to help the participants, including me, to recover from those toxic, shaming messages we grew up with and carried into our adult lives.
- This webpage from the Self Help Magazine, covers “13 Signs of Anger and How to Deal with them in Sobriety.”
- This is an Anger Toolkit, in the website, “Anger Management.” Some of the topics it has are: Measure your Anger; Coping with Your Boss; Four Techniques for Managing Anger; Coping with Grief and Loss.
- An article from the Child Development Institute, entitled “Dealing with the Angry Child”.
- If you’ve read my book, you already know that I was a congenital codependent. In the 12 step programs they have a saying that we codependents were sicker that the addicted person in their lives. Here are several website that deal with codependency.
In case you’re wondering what codependency or anger management has to do with following Jesus, let me try to give my rationale again. I believe the more knowledge we have from the social sciences or life experiences about problems that affect our relationships or out ability to help our neighbors in need, not necessarily as psychotherapists, the more we are putting into action what Jesus preached during his lifetime.
To use codependency as an example: one definition of a codependent is someone who’s drowning and going down for the third time and someone else’s life passes before their eyes. Obviously that’s not an academic definition but an attempt by some creative person to help codependents realize that spending too much time dealing with other people’s problems and ignoring their own issues, isn’t that helpful. As I congenital codependent, for years I was the “great enabler”.
A codependent is basically a person who enables. Applying this to addictions, an enabler is a person, who by their actions makes it easier for addicts to continue their self destructive behaviors, by consistently rescuing the addictive person in their lives. Often the behavior of the enabler satisfies a need that they have, and prolongs the problem of the person they might think they’re helping. The codependent person often doesn’t realize that their action satisfy their need to control and tends to keep the other person in a dependent relationship. The codependent then feels needed. They might think they have the other person’s best interest at heart, but they are actually meeting a need they have to be needed. If we really want to help our neighbor we need to know ourselves. For me it took regular meetings in Al-anon, to realize how my “good intentions” were not helping, they were prolonging the dysfunctional behavior of a loved one.
- The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, located at Columbia University, offers a wide variety of topics related to both resources, treatment programs, culture content, economic data and statistics.
- Hazelden is a comprehensive treatment center, founded in 1949 in Minnesota. http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/about_hazelden.page . It is one of the pioneers in helping individuals, families, and communities struggling with alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and drug addiction transform their lives. They have locations across the United States, where they help people at all stages of the treatment and recovery process, supporting them with our Twelve Step-based model that is the modern standard for addiction treatment and recovery services. Their programs include:
- Substance abuse treatment and alcohol rehab
- Recovery support services
- Professional education
- Addiction research
- Prevention curriculum development
- Addiction awareness and public policy advocacy
- The family that many of us remember from the ’50s and ’60s is no longer the norm: Ossie and Harriet, sons David and Ricky, and dog Spot, are only fond memories of my youth. Surprisingly, according to the most recent statistics from the Census report of 2008, overall 7 out of 10 children live with two parents. Not necessarily biological parents, or married parents, but parents, never-the-less. There are an increasing number of step-parents or blended families as they are also known as (some 65% of remarriages include children). Here is a website with more statistics from an article in The New York Times.
- This resource is from a website called Family Corner. It provides information on different family structures: nuclear, step, single etc Each of which presents is own joys and sorrows and often needs healing and one called Help Guide that focuses more on blended families.By the way, it always bothers me when step families are called blended families. I understand that they want to get away from the bad image that the “wicked stepmother” has, but in real life, it would be more than awkward to introduce your step mother or father as my blended mother and father. Or, “Hi, I’d like you to meet my blended sister.”
Articles and presentations by Don Fausel, as well as resources from other links will be added in in the near future. Topics to be covered will be more on addictions, anger, parenting, step parenting, end of life issues etc.