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December 10, 2020 37 min

Dan Allender, PhD - is a pioneer of a unique approach to trauma and abuse therapy that has brought healing and transformation by bridging the story of the gospel and the stories of trauma and abuse. He helped found the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in 1997 as well as the Allender Center in 2011 to train leaders and mental health professionals to courageously engage others’ stories of harm.

Rachael Clinton-Chen, MDiv is a trauma practitioner, speaker (preacher), and pastoral leader. She serves as the Director of Teaching and Care for The Allender Center at The Seattle School.

Together Dan and Rachael host a weekly podcast for the Allender Center which you can find  here: 
The Allender Center Podcast. You can follow the Allender Center on instagram @theallendercenter

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Checking in with Dan and Rachael about how they are doing under COVID. Rachael says she’s doing surprisingly well in the midst of it all but definitely feels the fragmentation and the exhaustion; moments of despair and moments of joy that almost feel wrong because they expose the disparity between the two. She and her husband Michael are trying to tend to the small as if it is one of the most sacred and powerful things that they can do while also holding the larger reality of what’s playing out in the world as the larger cultural context. She said she is really ready for a pause, which she believes Christmas in a pandemic will offer. 

Dan just wanted to say “ditto” to everything Rachael said. He says this time is crazy and none of us know how to live but we’re living. We’re all dislocated; at home but exiled. With the prospect of goodness in the New Year and the possibility of a vaccine, the coming hope actually makes our struggle today that much harder not easier.

Danielle feels that deeply and asks are we ready to sprint to the finish or do we still have to pace ourselves for more ahead? 

Maggie wonders how do we engage Advent and the Christmas season as we both live in and feel the push and pull between hope/joy and grief/sorrow right now?

Dan holds no nostalgia for this season--Christmas was not a particularly happy holiday for him growing up; his father was a baker which meant Thanksgiving through the New Year he was usually working as early as the age of 8. It was tense and intense as his family’s ability to make a living largely depended on this season. He didn’t look forward to this time of year. 

He also says that the assumption that this is a joyous season on the basis of Scripture is ridiculous; this is a season in which Joseph and Mary are being sent back to Bethlehem for governmental purposes in order to raise taxes. This is a season of tension, exhaustion and fear. It is one of wild, crazy unpredictability. As a therapist also this is not a season he looks forward to because it is a time of deep familial tensions and people between their expectations.

“I enter this season pretty regularly with a sense of exhaustion and despair much like I believe the coming of Jesus is meant to be.” Dan believes that most of us ruin Christmas in part in order to have a sense of similitude between what the moment was that the God man arrived on this earth. 

Rachael thinks Advent has been co-opted by Hallmark, even down to the words we use when we talk about this season. “Hope,” “joy,” “peace” and “love” in a biblical sense are held with tension. They are more complex and robust than we often use today. There is a sense of waiting in exile for God to arrive with a deeper awareness of our need. These words then are the heart cry of what we long for as we live in the juxtaposition of what does not feel or is not true of our Christmas. 

For Rachael, Christmas has been a season that has held the robust tension between deep sorrow and deep delight. Growing up in a big Italian family they’d roll meatballs, make homemade sauce… They were together in a way that brought so much delight; to be in the midst of 50 people with all the noise, the fights, the chaos and the laughter. It was the passion of people being together. And it is a season that holds the stories of the stresses of life, including financial stress. 

She says this year feels more akin to the biblical story of the context of Jesus breaking into the world. She believes we have an opportunity to let the ache of advent permeate us more truthfully. Our joy is in the one who comes to be with us; no one can take that away even in a global pandemic, even as police brutality continues, even as socio-economic disparities are heightened, loved ones are lost… There is so much heartache at this moment in time. And yet, there is something inside her that says, “May we encounter something of God who comes to be with us even in the brutality and the heartache.” A God that says, “I am with you and there is something redemptive about your humanity that I am willing to enter in to make a way for you.” 

Danielle says it feels like Jesus was born with an ache. “What took you so long to get here? Can’t you see how bad it is?” And then to think, “How long is it going to take for you to make a difference?” 

Danielle mentions the song O Holy Night. She said it isn’t a sad song when you read the words but it was written in a key and in a frame that she listens to it, it makes her want to collapse and cry, to grieve. 

Dan says this is a season where we are invited to hold a level of extremity that is the very gospel itself: both incredible grief and joy. Jesus’ birth is the victorious beginning… But what is the weapon against the kingdom of darkness? A baby. Really?! 

He makes reference to a story in 2 Chronicles 20 where in the midst of being assailed by enemies, God tells them to send in the choir … “You’ve got to be kidding me? This is staggeringly ridiculous!” In a sense, it is the same with the gospel story: the incarnation and the humility of God to disrupt the universe on the basis of the absurd, the ridiculous, the compelling and the beautiful all held together. 

“I think we are literally in the kind of soil of this year that’s closest to Gospel arrival than any we’ve ever been.” He says, "I’m really anticipating what these days will be while simultaneously having to address it is one of the hardest seasons to not be able to be with family" and loved ones. How do we hold the complexity and not take a side? How do we not spend our time in indulgence or rage?

Maggie talked about how this time of year normally is so packed full with things that distract us from being present. And even with those activities and events being stripped away, we are still finding ways to distract ourselves and keep ourselves out of our bodies because the discomfort and disruption of life right now is so unbearable.

There is such tension in the grief around hope -- the fact that like Dan said, the greatest weapon against evil is this baby Jesus. So even with hope coming, it still feels like there is more waiting, both in this season at Christmas and in COVID. 

Dan says, “There is just a fundamental hatred of having to wait.” The reality of waiting triggers in us deep fear and entitlement. The ache and tension of advent is “He’s come!” and “When are you going to put all things right again? How much longer?”

He says we have seen that for centuries, thousands of years if we look at Hebrews 11, that we are in a long line of people that can say we have waited, but now the way feels more excruciating. So much has been toppled and yet so much has the prospect of being toppled even more. You cannot find a strong hard place to stand and say “We’re okay here.” The waiting has an intensity and it drives us to ask, "How much do I actually believe the gospel?" What comfort does my belief bring? How much longer do I want to labor?

What came up for Danielle is around her kids -- "When I have doubts and battles with myself around the gospel, I know my kids are picking up on that, so how do I lead them through this when I’m trying to lead myself?"

Dan asks what characters tend to land for you in the [advent] story? He imagines that Mary plays an important role for us as women when we reflect on this season. Dan says he thinks a lot about Joseph and the kinds of doubts  that he must have felt. Joseph’s experience was one of trusting in confusion. It is an "I believe!" but also a "help me in the places where I am unbelieving." 

Will I wait or distract myself? “If you don’t wait, the arrival doesn’t have much meaning.”

Rachael never understood people who opened their Christmas presents early. She said “What’s the point? You’re ruining the whole thing. You just released the tension and everything we’ve been building is game over.”  But she asks, "Is there permission in the waiting to seek comfort?" What’s the difference between distraction, numbing, and dissociation and actual comfort and presence that isn’t a denial of the grief and sorrow of this present reality?  Even in the waiting and the agony, you are not bound to cruelty. 

Dan suggests that her holding the packages and pondering what’s in them is the intersection of arousal, anticipation and self-soothing. It was a source of comfort.

Maggie adds on to what Rachael said about ruining Christmas by opening presents early. She says in some cases the anticipation could be better than what’s actually inside. She wonders what could be a comfort right now because letting the kids open their presents early doesn’t actually feel like a comfort. How are we building anticipation without all the activities and events that we would normally do as a family that lead up to Christmas? 

Danielle says sometimes it’s baking cookies and leaving all the mess in the kitchen.  "It’s odd the things we find comfort in and what soothes ourselves or helps us to soothe one another." 

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Rachael is reading: 

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes) by Sabaa Tahir

Rachael is listening to: 

Christmas Jazz, and she will not apologize for it. 

80s Power Ballads

Rachael is inspired by:

When she encounters acts of kindness by people in December 2020.  Offering goodness right now and showing her what we are still capable of. 

Dan is reading: 

A new book he is writing with Cathy Loerzel.

The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology by Raphael Patai 

Dan is listening to: 

Lake Street Dive by Rachel Price

Dan is inspired by:

Being known and delighted in by his grandkids

You can listen to them on The Allender Center Podcast

Follow the Allender Center on Instagram @theallendercenter

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