Until the Lion Has Its Historian, the Hunter Will Always Be the Hero

MustainH2013

Heather M.

Let me begin by sharing that I am a licensed social worker and also an ordained Baptist minister. As you will no doubt discover in this blog post, the complexities of how I identify myself are many.

For me personally – and this may not be for all church social workers – I identify within the church as a minister, and outside the church as a social worker simply because these are the titles that are recognized by each sector respectively. At times this dual identity is complicated, yet it remains beautiful to me and is essential to my call.

Every minister has his or her “thing,” you know, something that minister refers to time and time again that after a while begins to sounds like a broken record. You can almost predict that each time this minister opens his/her mouth, this “thing” will make an appearance. Sometimes we don’t mind as much because some ministers’ “things” seem easy enough to do – or so we think: “love God,” “love others,” or “be kind.”

But other “things” are more difficult: “be generous,” or “love as I have loved you.”  I have learned a few of my own pastor’s “things,” many of which I have grown to love. When praying over newly dedicated babies, our pastor prays that God “will not give them an easy life, but a good life.”  Placing his finger, sticky with salt, over the lips of a newly raised body from the baptismal waters, he proclaims, “you are the salt of the earth.” He then sends them out of the water with a candle proclaiming that they are also now “the light of the world.”

These “things” are no longer just euphemisms, but have become a part of our congregation’s shared story. My “thing,” for now anyways, is “story.” We each have one. However, we often miss how our stories connect with each other: how your story influences my story, and my story influences yours. We belong to one another and it is through sharing our stories that we come to realize this important truth.

The greatest story of all tells us that each of us are made in the likeness of God and that we are, in fact, our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. Jesus liked stories, so much so that he taught through story. In fact, our written Scriptures were shared orally through story decades before they was formally written down.

I hope you will be kind and allow me to share one story that has influenced me a great deal, and that I hope will send you searching for your own stories of influence and deep connection. For the last four years I have traveled to Ghana, West Africa, with Baylor University. So many stories have been shared and created there that Ghana feels like home to me now.

At the end of our time in Ghana each year we traveled to the Cape Coast with our friends and visit a castle, one that was once used primarily for the exportation of human beings during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Silently we walked through the museum that displays shackles used to bind the hands of men, women and children, and examined maps of boats that were strategically packed with humans for maximum capacity.

Each year we were lead first through the dungeons of the male slaves. Standing in the dark with the faint scent of mildew, vomit, and feces in our nostrils, we learned that right above us sat the church used at that time. A moment not easily forgotten, I wondered to myself how people could worship God in that church when there were others literally living in hell right below them.

But before that thought had a chance to fully settle in my heart we were off, this time to visit the dungeon that held women and children. On our way there, we walked through a tiny cell used to hold those who rebelled: women who refused to give up their babies, men who refused to lose their dignity, and children of God who refused the sexual advances of others.

Once inside the women’s and children’s dungeon, I would see a stairwell leading to the captains room, realizing these steps were strategically placed to connect the most powerful to the most vulnerable. We walked through the living quarters of the Dutch or Portuguese or English, and look out the window to an ocean so blue, so beautiful, so calming, wondering how could this all be. Finally we made our way back down to the lower level and went through a door labeled “The Door of No Return,” so named because for all who left through this door, none ever made it back.

Each year while visiting this castle I would rediscover that my story is somehow connected with the stories of those I was learning about, even though they were written long before I was born. I would realize that their history was mine and mine theirs; it was our history, our story. Artist Micah Bourne filmed a powerful poem, “Thank God for Evolution,” on location at this same slave castle.

I share this with you because until we have moments like these, moments of deep connection with others, it’s hard to become the empathetic and loving people we are called to be. We desire to be advocates for the most vulnerable in our society but until we discover the connection that links us all we can only be sympathetic responders, which is something entirely different.

If you have read this far you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with social work and the advancement of our profession. My answer is: everything! When leaving the castle I would notice each year a photograph of what appeared to be writing on the wall, which reads, “Until the lion has it’s historian the hunter will always be the hero.”

As social workers, our profession demands that we give each person the dignity that is due to her/him, and that we seek justice where injustice thrives. We need to begin sharing each others’ stories, so that at the end of the day, it is not the hunter that wins, but it is us, all of us.

May we be a profession that strives to find an inter connectedness that heals us and binds us together. And like any good minister I close us with a hearty, “AMEN!

Heather M. is Minister of Missions at Wilshire Baptist Church in Texas. She has been a member of NACSW since 2012.

MustainH Until the Lion 0614

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Resiliency in Christ

Rhonda Harrison

Rhonda Harrison

Jesus Christ developed my resilience, allowing me to remain an ethical professional who puts my students’ first.  Jesus Christ built my resilience by telling me who I am, who I work for, what my responsibility is to other people, and giving me a support group.

I currently work in an office with other MSWs.  For most of my career, though, I’ve been the only social worker on site, working with colleagues who don’t understand social work. Laypersons sometimes believe social workers are able to fix any and all problems quickly, are able to change negative and longstanding behaviors overnight, and have unlimited availability and tolerance.  Whenever I fell short in any of these areas, both my clients and colleagues would become critical, in ways both obvious and subtle, undermining my professional self-confidence and making a difficult job burdensome.  When I remember that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), those burdens lift.

God made me, and promises to ease my burdens (Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:29).  When facing an impossible deadline at work, I’ve often told God that He had to help me get the work done, and He did.  One day, I gained the ability to decide to be peaceful, after considering what God has done for me.  I was able to say to myself, “Why get all anxious when you know that at the end of the day, God will have the paperwork in on time?”

When people make unreasonable demands, I remember that ultimately, I work for God.  I work for His approval & glory, which motivates me to maintain a standard of excellence despite the challenges.  In all situations I can take my anger, doubt, needs, fear, and anxiety all to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6), which protects me from the consequences of gossip and negativity.  Having a God that will reward me for my work & settle disputes on my behalf allows me to live in the present, do my work – and enjoy it  (Colossians 3:17 and Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).

When I’m too upset to keep the conversation just between me and Jesus, He’s given me a safe space to tell my side of the story – the church.  Not the whole church, but the intimate group of friends that I’ve been with in Bible Study and prayer over the years.  They’ve rejoiced and cried with me as I’ve gone through my ups and downs at work.  Thank God, right now my work life is on the upside.

Both Marilyn Lammert and Christena Cleveland, social worker & social psychologist, respectively, wrote articles that I believe are related to resiliency (see the links below). Marilyn writes from a secular perspective, and Christina takes a Christian viewpoint.   Both mention the value of community.  Although it might be natural to want to isolate during stressful times, it’s not always the best idea.

Rhonda E. Harrison has been a social worker for 16 years and a member of NACSW for 16 years. Rhonda is also an Advisor, Educator and Abolitionist who writes a personal blog, “If I Knew then What I Know Now.” 

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Self-Care for Social Workers…And Everyone!

Laurel S.

Laurel S.

Social Workers are well aware of the importance of self-care. In fact, it is something that everyone should pay attention to. Ensuring that our own needs are met, relaxing and spending time with whom and what we enjoy, and making sure that we recharge our batteries are all important aspects of self-care. In that vein, over the past few months, I have spent most of my Sundays doing something I am not really used to doing. But I have found it so helpful for my own self-care!

Resting

As in, sleeping. After church and lunch, I have been climbing into my bed, tucked nice and warm under a heated blanket (cold weather has lingered far too long) and sleeping all afternoon. Allowing my body and mind to catch up on the sleep I so desperately need but don’t always get. Going into a deep slumber away from the busyness and the chaos that is the life I love, but need a break from sometimes. In fact, just knowing that I will have this time for myself helps me breathe easier during the stressful weeks.

When I first started taking these naps, I felt guilty. I questioned myself for not being productive during that time. I wondered if my time would be better spent doing something else. After all, who doesn’t have a never ending “to do” list? But, then, God reminded me of something. A very  simple truth from the first pages of the Old Testament.

God rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done. (Paraphrased from Genesis 2:2).

Exodus 20:8-11 tells us to keep the Sabbath day holy, and again reminds us that God Himself rested on the 7th day.  Fellow social workers, if God Himself rested…shouldn’t we? He had a plan for this rest and I believe we should honor that. Thankfully, I came to the realization that I was being productive during these naps. They are just what I need to help re-energize for another busy week to come. And we all know that in order to help care for others, we have to take care of ourselves.

Perhaps not everyone needs the extra sleep, but there are different ways to rest. Maybe you make sure Sundays are spent with family and friends. Maybe you make sure you don’t work on Sundays (unless it’s really necessary). Maybe you take a break from your computer and phone. There are lots of ways to take a break to rest. I am thankful for rest. It’s the self-care I need to recharge. I hope you also rest. May I suggest you go take a nap?

Dr. Laurel Shaler is a licensed social worker in South Carolina and Virginia with a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. She is an Assistant Professor at Liberty University where she serves as director of the Human Services Counseling Program. Laurel has been a member of NACSW since 2011.  Read more of her writing on her blog, “Lessons From Laurel.”  You can also connect with her on Facebook  or on twitter via @DrLaurelShaler.

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Love Requires Equanimity

Paul A.Social work is a humble profession.  It lacks the prestige, status, and rewards of law or medicine.  Yet in order for social workers actually to do all we claim to be able to do, we would have to be God.  Law claims justice as its essence and medicine claims health.  According to The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (and NASW’s formulation is similar), “The purpose of the social work profession is to promote human and community well-being.”  That is pretty much how Aristotle defines happiness or human flourishing.  Law and medicine, by contrast, claim only a small segment of social work’s domain.

In the absence of a more narrowly defined sphere within which we claim expertise, we face a strong temptation to seek to control the lives of those we serve. As professional helpers, we think we know (and sometimes may in fact know) what is best for them. We may sometimes or even habitually use our power and influence to coerce our clients into following the path we lay down for them.

It’s a temptation that works both at macro level, seeking to impose a kind of soft or progressive totalitarianism in the name of our own vision of what is best, and at the micro level of individuals and families.  It is the temptation that Roger Scruton calls “unscrupulous optimism” and Thomas Sowell an “unconstrained vision” of social reality.  It’s a delusion about the extent to which we enlightened ones can or should impose our will on the backward masses. It looks to expand the reach of the regulative state.

To the extent that it succeeds, this approach squeezes out the space between individual and state that we call variously civil society, intermediary groups, or mediating structures (family, church, markets, voluntary associations, formal and informal groups and networks) – the sphere in which as social animals we live out most of our lives in all their richness and density.  It is the sphere that totalitarian regimes and movements, of left and right, seek to suppress, either in the name of the collective or of the individual (whom the state must protect against family, church, market, etc.).

At the micro level, the temptation is strong, since so much practice is with people set on a path of self-destruction. Except in certain areas of sexual morality, we rightly reject the view of self-determination or empowerment that reduces the practitioner to a cipher or robot, approving, providing, or colluding in whatever the client wants as long as it is legal.  As Christians, we understand that Christian charity, caritas, or love, willing the good of the other as other, is at the heart of our calling. In social work, this necessarily involves using our professional judgment about what serves the other’s good and what, in a world pervaded by sin, is destructive of it.

Such judgments cannot be evaded responsibly. But they do not warrant becoming a client’s or family’s boss or puppeteer. Love requires equanimity, restraint in the face of temptation to take control of the lives of others for their own good. We do our best for the client and want the best for her. What happens, though, depends not on our will but at least in part on what she freely chooses to do, whether we like it or not.  That is as it should be.  We do our part and leave the rest to God.

Paul  is a recently retired professor of social policy from The University of Hawaii. He has been a member of NACSW for 3 years.

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3 Ways to Keep the Joy and Energy in Our Work

Jonathan Clark

Jonathan C.

I have been a Christian in the social work field for over 20 years now and have had the opportunity to work in churches, non-profits, government agencies, and Christian educational institutions. During this time I have seen many people in our profession “burn out” from jobs which they love because they do not take out time for rest or to reflect on what their passion truly is.

I am a strong advocate in the belief that God has a special place in His heart for people who are poor, orphans, widows, and immigrants, as shown by the countless passages in the Bible that address these issues. The question is: how do we advocate for these populations and keep the joy and energy in what we do?

A few years ago, I spoke to a Christian BSW student group about the social work profession. I would like to share the thoughts I offered to them about three ways to be the social workers God has created us to be:

1. Have a passion and a purpose. Passion can be thought of as boundless enthusiasm, with purpose being the object for which we strive. Mary O’Connor once said that “It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted” (O’Conner in J. & W Lazear, 1993, p. 15). Know why you are doing what you are doing. Find what your gifting is and use it. We are in a field that is making a difference in the world and speaking up for those who may not always have a voice.  Whether you are doing community organizing or counseling, working at a large or small agency, or in a faith based or secular setting, give it all you have and dream big! As EM Foster says, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested” (Foster in Mortensen, K.W., 2011, p. 13).  We can have a passion to let God use us in whatever capacity He wants to as an agent of change. Be THANKFUL for that opportunity. When difficult times come (which they will), our purpose will help us press on.

2. Prepare and have a plan.  A plan is a scheme, program or method worked out beforehand for the accomplishment of an objective. We can have passion and purpose for something, but it is good to learn organizational skills in order to be able to follow through on what we feel compelled to do. If you are not strong in this area, find people around you who can complement your vision with solid planning skills. Know what area(s) you are interested in and ask questions, volunteer, find mentors, and work hard at it! Just as writing a good paper or doing a great presentation for a class takes preparation, so does being a top tier social worker. As Alan Lakein says, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now” (Lakein in Burka and Yuen, 2008, p. 195).

3. Have priorities and keep perspective on all you do. A priority is something given specified attention. For me, that is my relationship with God and my family. Learn to enjoy the journey and the twists and turns it may take you on, but don’t forget about the things that should give you perspective. I give my all as a social worker, and my wife and kids see that, but I also have to give my all as a husband and father. This means creating boundaries and spending time in pouring my life into them. Also, have outside interests and activities that keep you going. Find things that help bring you balance. As a Christian, you will never stop caring about people even when you are “off the clock,” but there has to be activities that help you stay healthy, and that help you when there is stress on the job.

May the Lord give us all strength as we fulfill our passions, stay prepared, and keep our priorities.

Jon C. is an adoptions social worker for a governmental agency in Southern California, and an adjunct instructor at Azusa Pacific University. He is currently working on a Doctorate of Social Work, and moderates the NACSW-CA Facebook page. Jon has been a member of NACSW since 2005.

References

  • Burka, J.B. & Yuen, L.M. (2008). Procrastination: Why you do it, what to do about it now.  Cambridge, MA: Dacapo Press.
  • Lazear, J. & W. (1993). Meditations for parents who do too much.  New York, NY: Fireside/Parkside.
  • Mortensen, K.W. (2011).  The laws of charisma: How to captivate, inspire, and influence for maximum success. New York, NY: AMACOM.
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