In the final episode of the first season of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince talks with Dr. Thema Bryant, the 2023 president of the American Psychological Association (APA): the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology with more than 120,000 members.

In this episode, Prince and Dr. Thema discuss:

  • the intersection of faith and psychology
  • how growth and despair can co-exist
  • vicarious trauma and its effect on clergy
  • emotion-focused coping and problem-solving coping
  • how churches can work to promote authentic healing


Guest bio

Dr. Thema Bryant completed her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Duke University and her post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical Center’s Victims of Violence Program. Upon graduating, she became the Coordinator of the Princeton University SHARE Program, which provides intervention and prevention programming to combat sexual assault, sexual harassment, and harassment based on sexual orientation. She is currently a tenured professor of psychology in the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University, where she directs the Culture and Trauma Research Laboratory. Her clinical and research interests center on interpersonal trauma and the societal trauma of oppression. She is a past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women and a past APA representative to the United Nations. Dr. Thema also served on the APA Committee on International Relations in Psychology and the Committee on Women in Psychology. 

The American Psychological Association honored her for Distinguished Early Career Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest in 2013. The Institute of Violence, Abuse and Trauma honored her with their media award for the film Psychology of Human Trafficking in 2016 and the Institute honored her with the Donald Fridley Memorial Award for excellence in mentoring in the field of trauma in 2018. The California Psychological Association honored her for Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology in 2015. She is the editor of the APA text Multicultural Feminist Therapy: Helping Adolescent Girls of Color to Thrive. She is one of the foundational scholars on the topic of the trauma of racism and in 2020, she gave an invited keynote address on the topic at APA. In 2020, the International Division of APA honored her for her International Contributions to the Study of Gender and Women for her work in Africa and the Diaspora. Dr. Thema has raised public awareness regarding mental health by extending the reach of psychology beyond the academy and private therapy office through community programming and media engagement, including but not limited to Headline News, National Public Radio, and CNN. 

Having earned a master’s of divinity, Dr. Thema is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She directs the mental health ministry at First AME Church in South Los Angeles. Dr. Thema also utilizes sacred dance and spoken word in therapy, community forums, and faith communities. A member of the Association of Black Psychologists, she incorporates culturally based interventions in her teaching, research, and practice. Dr. Thema is the host of the Homecoming Podcast, a mental health podcast to facilitate your journey home to your authentic self. 


Resources


Transcript

Prince Rivers: What does it mean to lead now, especially in the church, especially in this political and social climate? I’m Prince Rivers, and this is Leading and Thriving in the Church, a podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity. Our mission is to help you be the leader God has called you to be. It’s been my privilege to serve as a pastor for more than 20 years, and I absolutely love supporting people who lead congregations. It’s one of my passions. But doing ministry in the post-pandemic era has unearthed new leadership challenges, and it has led us to pay more attention to the need for thriving ministers and congregations. This podcast features conversations with some of the most innovative pastors, leaders, and authors I know. They’re going to help us do church faithfully and effectively, and in a way that is life-giving to those who lead and the people we serve. I’m so glad you’re listening. I can’t wait to introduce you to today’s guest on Leading and Thriving in the Church.

Dr. Thema Bryant is currently a tenured professor of psychology in the graduate school of education and psychology at Pepperdine University. She directs the culture and trauma research laboratory. Dr. Thema has held many distinguished leadership posts. She is a past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women, and a past APA representative to the United Nations. I should mention that she is a three-time graduate of Duke University, having completed her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees there. Currently, Dr. Thema serves as the President of the American Psychological Association, the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology with over 120,000 members. Dr. Thema Bryant, I am thrilled to welcome you to this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church.

Thema Bryant: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate the invitation.

PR: You may not know this, or maybe you may know this, but I majored in psychology, and I remember how revered the APA was to us up-and-coming psychologists back in the day. So, it is a pleasure to sit with the current president. What are you looking forward to doing during your tenure as President of the American Psychological Association?

TB: Oh, thank you so much for the question, and it is my honor to serve in this position. I am the fourth Black woman and only the second minister in our over-100-year history, and it was about 100 years ago when we had the first minister.

PR: Wow.

TB: And so my focus areas have been addressing trauma, grief, and oppression. And the way our cycle works, when I was considering the opportunity to run, we were in the midst of the pandemic as well as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, and so it was critical to me at that time for a trauma psychologist to be at the head of the Association, which was a big part of my decision to run. And so I have been looking at how we disseminate our knowledge beyond our convention and journals so that community members can actually reap the benefit of our science in terms of how we heal, and cope, and thrive. And I have also been very intentional this year about providing training for our governmental leadership around decolonial and liberation psychologies so that we not only address oppression out in the world, but within the field.

PR: That is tremendous work, and even some of the language you use, I’m seeing some of that same language in theological circles as well. So, there’s a lot of overlap here.

TB: Yes.

PR: You know, when I first met you, which just a few years ago now, we were both struggling graduate students. You were working on your Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and I was in seminary. Now, even then, your commitment to the church was evident. I recall that you were involved in student-led worship services, and I know that your faith commitment has been shaped significantly by your family’s story. So, let’s back up just a moment, and could you give the audience just a glimpse of the cloud of witnesses that have influenced and impacted your spiritual journey, because you’re not the first minister in your family, are you?

TB: That’s right. I come from a family of ministers, or griots, or storytellers, and community servants, and advocates. So, my grandfather is Bishop Harrison James Bryant. He was a Bishop in the African-Methodist Episcopal Church. And then my father, his son, became a Bishop, Bishop John Richard Bryant, who is often credited for the Pentecostal movement within the African-Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as his commitments to liberation theology. My mother, Reverend Cecelia Bryant, is a retired supervisor in the AME Church, who was very active in women’s ministries, putting on conventions nationally and globally to minister to the needs of women, and she also is an author and has written many books. One of my favorites is called I Danced With God, about womanist theology and God seeing us, and God loving us in a very real sense. And then my only brother is Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant, who pastors in Atlanta, Georgia. Initially he founded a church in Baltimore, Empowerment Temple. He’s a graduate of Duke University seminary, and then in the past couple of years moved over to Georgia. So, I was the last one in the family to say yes to my calling, and here we are.

PR: Here we are indeed. Here we are indeed. On another day we could talk about the fact that I went the opposite direction. I was supposed to, or maybe by some measures, get a doctorate degree in psychology, and ended up going into ministry, and so here we are.

TB: We traded places.

PR: That’s right. Well, you did feel this call to follow your career in psychology and eventually, as you just mentioned, you did answer your call and receive your credentials in ordained ministry. I imagine that someone is listening to this episode who may be able to identify with this: that, for them, maybe it’s not psychology. Maybe it’s engineering. Maybe it’s teaching. Maybe it’s social work. But I think it’s great that you’ve been able to work and live at the intersection of faith and psychology. So, why has it been important for you to serve in both capacities: so, academic and research side, and ordained elder in the AME Church?

TB: Yes. So, I’ll give the personal, and then for the profession or the field answer. Personally, when I was growing up, because I was clear very early that psychology was my calling, so I didn’t think anything else was possible because the way my family, and for the large part, my denomination, frames things is that if you’re really called into ministry, you need to let everything else go. And that holding onto anything else is a crutch or an excuse, or you’re not trusting God. And so there can be a lot of judgments toward pastors or ministers who are other things. So, because I knew I was going to do psychology, I didn’t consider it. That was my barrier. The second barrier was I assumed, as a minister, that you have to be willing to defend every verse. And it was liberating for me, one time, I heard Dr. Renita Weems – who is my godmother and a womanist theologian – I heard her preach, and she used the phrase “And this is a suspect text.”

PR: Wow.

TB: And I said, “Wait a minute. Can you say that?” And she started raising the questions of whose voice is centered and whose story isn’t fully told. And so seeing that example, one, and then, two, when I got older, being exposed to many more people who were bi-vocational gave me the freedom to embrace both and not feel like something was wrong in embracing both. And then the way it serves, in particular, around mental health is we need such a bridge between psychology and theology because many of our community members have been caught up in our warfare and have been made to feel they have to choose. So, there are people of faith who have said things like, “You don’t need therapy. You need to pray,” and we often point out those examples. But I want to also name and take acknowledgement that there have been people in the mental health field who have said, done, written things that are very pathologizing of people of faith out of their own ignorance, or some of them came out of church hurt, and so will frame faith in very negative ways. And who is left to pay the price? People who need both. We need our faith, we need our faith community, and many people also need mental health support.

And so there are a growing number of us in the field who are not only well-versed in both worldviews, but also actually coexist. Because it’s one thing if you’re outside of faith community telling people, “You really should get some sessions.” It’s a very other thing when we come in: “Praise the Lord everybody. Let us look at the text and why it’s okay for us to get support.” And so I believe our presence is necessary.

PR: Yes, it is. It is. We appreciate folks who are able to bring those two worlds together. You know, let’s talk about mental health. Let’s dive into that just a little bit more because you, again, have this unique position in the academy and the church. But it still seems like mental health is stigmatized in the church. Do you agree with that, and are we seeing any progress? How do we do?

TB: Yes, there is still stigma, and I definitely see progress. Many churches now will have counseling ministries, sometimes lay members who have had some kind of training. But sometimes they actually have a mental health clinic or a mental health center. I have seen and heard many more pastors addressing mental health, and not in this kind of cookie-cutter, superficial way.

One of the things that was so rewarding to me: I was previously a member of a church, Parks Chapel AME Church in Los Angeles, and just having the pastor from the pulpit name how therapy helped her removed so much stigma from people because they’re all clear. She’s super spiritual, right? She has a real prayer life. She knows God. And if she can have all of that and still need and/or benefit from therapy, then maybe it’s okay for me to get it too. So, I guess that has been one of the benefits in terms of pastors seeing that mass exodus from a lot of churches, and them looking at these Pew Research studies of what is it that people who are leaving want. And one of the things is transparency, and another one is authenticity as opposed to that old model of “it’s just me and the Lord in the upper room, and I do everything perfectly. I have no problems.” So, as opposed to the surface level change where people took transparency to say, “Oh, we want to be relatable, so we’ll all preach in a white undershirt and holey jeans”—that’s not really what people were talking about. But, of course, it’s easier to change your outfit than your mindset. But I do see progress.

TB: That’s good. That is encouraging. One of the things I think pastors can do to help normalize the conversation around mental health, in addition to all of the things you just said, is I always tell people, “You may not want to use the term ‘crazy’ in your sermons.” Just simple things, if you can change the language, because you have just shut the door to someone who may need some help.


TB: That’s right. And even most churches have health fairs. And so, to expand those so it’s not just physical health but mental health. There are groups like NAMI that will come for free. So, I think it is too much sometimes for us to assume that pastors have to be an expert on everything. And I know even going through my program, pastoral counseling training was primarily on grief and loss because everyone’s going to have to do funerals and help families. But there are so many more issues. And so, to lean into the experts, to come up with a referral list that the pastor has, the ministerial staff, the secretary has, or when people – yes, they can still see the pastor, but in addition to that, a number of people need more specifically trained services.

PR: Right. I think I know what I don’t know, and often I will say if you need more than one session, you probably need an expert.

TB: Yes. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. And for us to see it as a team, as opposed to sometimes there is a sense of competition or either/or versus working together. You go there for the encouragement, for the prayers, and that sense of community. What I often tell people is, therapists usually will give you an hour a week. If you’re in crisis, maybe twice a week. But that church family, sometimes they’ll hang out with you all times of day or night or different days of the week. It’s a community, and so that’s a blessing.

PR: That is so true. And, Thema, your work focuses a good bit on trauma, if I’m correct.

TB: Yes.

PR: So, for starters, let’s talk definitions. What is trauma, and are there different kinds of trauma?

TB: Yes. So, traumatic events are those events that overwhelm our usual capacity to cope. So, we all have daily sources of stress. You have stress related to your different roles and responsibilities, and usually we have figured out a way to juggle those different roles. But then experiences happen that actually overwhelm our nervous system that can cause us to feel powerless, or unsafe, or hopeless.

And there are different types of trauma. So, there’s interpersonal trauma where people commit acts of violence or aggression against another person. So, that can be child abuse, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, school shootings, community violence, gang violence, human trafficking. All of those are interpersonal. And then we can have medical trauma. People go through very difficult, sometimes gruesome, experiences and interventions. There’s also traumatic grief and loss, so a death as a result of violence, or a sudden death, so suicide or homicide. And then we also have accidents, car accidents, workplace accidents, natural disasters. And then one some people in the field have been hesitant to acknowledge is the trauma of oppression. And so there is collective trauma, historical trauma, what some call intergenerational trauma. So, the things that we have inherited, that we are able to document. There’s research done with survivors of the Holocaust and looking at the impact on the brain, and how that gets passed down. Our Native American siblings often call it ancestral wounds. So, all of those are some of the different types.

PR: So, I hear your definitions of trauma, and it’s so expansive. It makes me think that maybe something we’ve thought was so rare, and only applied to just a small number of people, might actually be something that more pastors need to pay attention to because this is a part of the lived experience of most people. I mean, everything you said, somebody can relate to one of those things.

TB: That’s right. That’s right. And we actually even – when the term “posttraumatic stress disorder” was first developed, the word “rare” used to be in the definition, and we had to take it out because so many of these things are not rare: you know, the number of people who have experienced molestation or child abuse, intimate partner violence. I just mentioned with veterans, war, and including those also who are active duty. So, it is pervasive. Let me also say the pandemic. All of our – not only the members have been affected, but the ministers have been affected. And this is so important for us to take in, to have compassion for ourselves and for each other.

PR: That’s very helpful. Very helpful. What do you see, from your vantage point as a therapist, as a Christian minister? What can the church do better as it relates to helping people who live with the wounds of trauma?

TB: Yes. So, I would say, one, integrating mental health in the liturgy. So, we have special programs. I think that is great, and I am a big advocate for those. But we also know most of our churches, it’s a very small percentage of people who come out beyond Sunday morning or whenever your service meets. So, in the prayers, as simple as integrating in the opening prayer or in the altar call, prayers for those who came in today who are feeling depressed, who may be watching online struggling with addiction, for those who are grieving. So, for us to name it in the prayers, and then in our preaching. It’s in the text. Right? So, it’s not even biblical, this idea we have that Christians should be joyful all the time and have perfect peace all the time. So, if you look at the disciples, you look at the prophets, you look at Jesus, there’s – all of the emotional experiences are there. The anger is there. The depression is there. The anxiety is there. So, if you preach the text, then you’ll have to preach mental health.

PR: Yeah, that is so true. So true. Now, we just talked about preaching mental health. Let’s talk about the preachers and their mental health. Ministry, for me, I would say has been rewarding, and it is hard. There’s just some hard days.

TB: Yes.

PR: So, how do you think pastors and clergy experience trauma, and maybe don’t recognize that they are experiencing it? How does that impact them?

TB: Right. So, one of the pieces of trauma that I didn’t name, so I appreciate this question, is vicarious trauma. Hearing what you hear, and for some ministers, seeing what you see. If you do those hospital visits, or you go to people’s homes, you’re going to see some things. You’re going to hear some stories that I’m sure every minister has a visual in their mind from a story someone told them that you will not forget. And it could be years ago they told it to you, but you have that visual and, whether you know it or not, when that visual comes up, your body responds, your nervous system responds. And so that’s not even including the trauma of your own lives.

So, we are not immune to overwhelming experiences, and I think, unfortunately, the model has often been that we are to suppress ours to be strong for everyone else. And people think it works, but it doesn’t. So many people are bleeding all over their congregation, so it comes out in irritability, it comes out in bullying, it comes out in being controlling, it comes out in being mean-spirited. It shows up. So, whether you’re aware of it or not, it’s there.

It also – what has been modeled is no boundaries. Right? I know a lot of ministers got pushback when they didn’t want to go to people’s homes in the pandemic because it’s like, “You’re supposed to be here. You should risk your life because I need you to come pray with me in person.” So, the learning a new way, and for that not to be deemed weakness, that our fore-parents pastored in some ways that may have felt necessary, but there was a cost. And so some of those costs we don’t have to pay anymore, and so learning to say no, learning to turn your phone off, learning to delegate.

One of the lessons I learned in seminary – which surprised me because I do focus on, try to often think of the least of these or those who are most suffering – and in one of my classes they were saying when you come into a church, you focus on the strong people first. And I was like, “What?” That didn’t make any sense. And so, yeah, if you build up those who already have potential, then they can help you with the rest. And then I said, “Ah, okay, I see that. I see that.” So, we have to learn not to try to be a one-man or one-woman army.

PR: One of the things that I have noticed – over the years I have had the very good fortune and opportunity to mentor seminarians and clergy. It takes a lot to help people not give into the urge to need to be needed because if you don’t deal with that early on…

TB: Right.

PR: …to your point, you end up with no boundaries, overextending yourself, trying to overcompensate.

TB: Yes.

PR: And you make your own trauma.

TB: That’s right. That’s right. We teach people how to treat us or what to expect to us. They can come up with their expectations from their prior pastor, but then by our response to that expectation we’re giving them a message of either, “yes, I’m going to continue to do this,” or “things are going to be different.”

PR: That is good.

So, this podcast is called Leading and Thriving in the Church. And, for someone who works at the intersection of trauma and healing, what comes to mind when you hear the word “thriving”? I heard people who love the word. Some people push back on the word. Can we even talk about thriving given the reality of trauma?

TB: Yes. So, the beautiful thing, actually, about thriving, and in the literature they call it post-traumatic growth, is that the recognition that growth and despair can coexist.

PR: Wow.

TB: So, if we think about thriving as “I have to be totally over it, I have no symptoms, and I’m just living my best life,” then that can feel both unrealistic and a harsh expectation to put on the shoulders of survivors. But, instead, when we note even though I have my bad days, even though there will be the flashbacks or triggers, even though some nights will be hard to sleep, I can still see my growth, my progress. I can still know there is purpose for me. And what I like to say is trauma affects you, but it doesn’t define you. So, it had an effect, a devastating effect. And there is still more to me than what has happened to me. So, I do think it is important to think about thriving when I am training future therapists.

I teach at Pepperdine University. I tell them the aim of therapy is not just symptom cessation, meaning I don’t want just people to stop being depressed because you may no longer feel – let’s say you’re no longer suicidal but you have no joy, or you’re no longer engaging in cutting behaviors, but you don’t have any sense of identity. So, the thriving is not just the recovery, but evolving, becoming the fullness of who you are and who you are purposed to be.

PR: That’s rich. So, if we’re going to talk about thriving, let’s also talk a little bit about coping. We’re people of the resurrection, and we know that, as you just stated, trauma does not have to be the last word. I guess, in my mind, coping is not just pushing through the pain. So, can you talk a little bit about what coping is not and maybe help us understand what healthy coping looks like?

TB: Right. Yeah. So, it’s important because the stress is going to be present. There are unhealthy coping strategies. So, sometimes we try to medicate or distract ourselves with things that may give us relief in the immediate moment but create more consequences for us later. So, let’s say I want to get my mind off it, so retail therapy. Well, if you’re wealthy and buying shoes makes you happy, go enjoy yourself. But if you don’t really have that money, now you’re creating debt and more financial stress and tension, and the shoes are also not going to address what the real core issue is. So, that can be an unhealthy coping strategy. Substance dependence can be an unhealthy coping strategy. Sometimes we go into gossip and busying ourselves in other people’s lives. Those can all be unhealthy. So, in terms of healthy coping strategies, we can think about both emotion-focused coping and problem-solving coping. So, emotion-focused coping is: What are the things that can calm you or soothe you in the moment? That might be talking to a friend. That might be going for a walk. That might be aromatherapy, drinking some jasmine tea, taking a bubble bath, going to get a massage. So, kind of self-care and community care, connecting with others. Journaling. The arts are wonderful ways of expressing ourselves. So, poetry, music, dance.

And also there is problem-solving coping, which is needing to address what’s the thing that’s stressing me out. So, if the stress is my job, then either I’m going to switch jobs, or I’m going to switch my mindset about my job, or I’m going to stay at the job but figure out how can I make it more sustainable to me. And so we want to have a balance of both. Some of us, most of us, lean in one direction. So, we either feel all the feelings but never address the problem, or we want to skip to problem-solving and never give ourselves permission to recognize that we’re hurt. And so we have to balance it.

PR: I know that clergy leaders listening to this will be able to identify with that. You’re right. We do lean one direction or the other, and we need to pay attention to the other way.

TB: Yes.

PR: So, your latest book is entitled Homecoming. Why did you write that book, and what’s the significance of the title?

TB: Yes. So, stress and trauma disconnect us from ourselves. They can cause us to lose sight of ourselves, to devalue ourselves, to question our own worthiness. And so, for me, I wrote it not only as a trauma psychologist, but also a trauma survivor of recognizing the importance of coming back to the truth of who I am, not what trauma made me feel that I am. And so I find that empowering, healing, liberating. And it was also intentional for me to want to write something that was accessible to the public, to communities. Most of my prior writing is for the academy, and there’s a need and a place for that. And, at the same time, textbooks are so expensive. I would not even mention to people outside of the academy that I have these books because they cost so much. But to literally be able to write a book that I feel anybody could understand, that’s $20, that they even, I was so grateful, let me do an audio version. So, even if there is some people who don’t want to read 200 pages, but they’ll listen to it in the car. So, then by any means, if we can get the information there, I want to do it. And it was inspired as a result of my podcast. My podcast is called Homecoming, and then the publisher reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in doing a book, and I was excited to say yes.

PR: Excellent. So, people should download and subscribe to your podcast, Homecoming. We hope they will do that. And to your point, it focuses a lot on healing, which of course, Jesus’ ministry looked a lot at healing, and he spent a lot of time opening blind eyes and making the lame to walk. And I’m thinking about the church. And we talk a lot about salvation. We talk a lot about service. We don’t talk as much about healing. And I wonder what you might have to say about that, and how can churches really work to promote authentic healing?

TB: Yes. So, I really appreciate the question because I think one of the harmful things that gets done in churches is not only the silence around healing, but this false notion that healing requires one step, and it’s forgiveness. There is so much pressure put on victims to hurry up and get over it, and most churches, through their silence or active voice, are protective of those who have done harm. They’re no steps for them. They just have to keep showing up. But victims are told they have to forgive and even submit if it’s partner abuse. Forgive and go back home. So, there is a devaluing of certain members, not only around partner abuse, around child abuse, and I would say that particularly in the Black church, it gets used as humor. People tell these horrific beating stories, and they say it with laughter. But anybody who is tuned in to humanity know there’s a lot going on under that supposed humor. And even these false notions that the beating is what kept them out of jail, which assumes that people who are incarcerated are all kids who got time out, this gentle parenting. It’s like if you talk to people who are incarcerated, that’s not it. So, I think it is our rush because of our own discomfort. So, if we can just tell people, “Get over it. Don’t talk about it. Forgive. Go home. Just pray. Just admit,” it makes our jobs easy. It’s harder to sit with people and, here it is, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Right? Can I sit with you in the valley of the shadow of death, or is it so uncomfortable for me because I had not sat in my own valley? And how do I minister to and pastor people who have done harm that is not skipping over their process? Transformation is a process, and when you don’t know what that process is, even if you think you know that a referral would be important, because people are very good at knowing what we want to hear. So, they can say some scriptures back, and you pat them on the back and send them home, and nothing has changed.

PR: You mentioned just the idea of making referrals. What would you counsel a group of pastors to know about the limits of their expertise in dealing with some of these more serious mental health challenges that are going to walk in their door any day?

TB: Yes. So, what you can provide is spiritual support. What you can provide is emotional encouragement. But there’s the art and the science of addressing mental health conditions. And those who think like “my faith equips me alone,” it’s like if you’re having a plumbing issue, you call the plumber. If you have a toothache, you don’t just pray and fast. I hope you go to the dentist. And so these are actual medical conditions and concerns, and it is no insult to you what you don’t know because we weren’t taught. I went to seminary. They never mentioned bipolar disorder. They never mentioned schizophrenia. So, you can do harm even though you’re well- intentioned. So, yes, you’re well-intentioned, you’re connected to God, you love them, they look up to you. And so in your ethical duty, it would be to encourage them to get the support in addition to the support you provide, and to just know some very, very harmful things have happened because people who were well-intentioned gave the wrong instruction.

PR: That is so helpful. We really appreciate all of the thoughts that you shared today on this podcast. Talking to you is very refreshing because mental health is front and center in every ministry that I’ve ever been involved in.

TB: Thank you.

PR: I also know that you are a poet. I want to ask you one more question before you go. Do you have a poem that you’re reading these days, or one that you’ve written that you would like to share with our audience before we sign off today?

TB: I would love to. So, this is a poem by Jaiya John. And it from the book Dear Artist: A Love Letter. And it’s untitled.

Dear One, the sun lives inside your soul, a radiance immeasurable.

Release all the stories that make you doubt this.

Illuminate your life.

Warm your heart.

Be your own sunrise.

What sun does to all living things when it rises, do this to your heart, loved one.

Sunrise yourself.

Trauma lives in your body and being as a wildfire of slow, simmering embers, and acute conflagrations.

The stories you tell yourself about this wildfire determine how the fire behaves and whether you ultimately put the fire out.

Garden your stories with care each day.

Heal your stories, and you heal your fires.

You are worthy of a beautiful life.

Is there a version of the story you tell yourself in which your heart and soul and life and relations are fulfilled beyond your dreams?

Let all your other stories go.

Feed that one.

PR: That was beautiful.

TB: Thank you.

PR: Dr. Thema Bryant, thank you for being on this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church. We wish you well in your presidency of the APA, and we look forward to seeing you again real soon.

PR: Much appreciated. I look forward to it as well. 

PR: Thank you for listening to this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church. This podcast is produced by Emily Lund and recorded in the Bryan Center Studios on the campus of Duke University. I’m your host, Prince Rivers. If you want more great leadership content, be sure to check out our website alban.org, where you can sign up for the Alban Weekly newsletter, and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on your preferred podcast platform so we can keep you informed as we release new episodes. Until next time, keep leading.


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Design a team that works

Knowing how to cultivate heal...

Ministry and mental health

When congregations are will...