Alex was the first to talk to me about Martin Buber as we sat outside one of Portland’s better brew pubs on a summer night in 2013 talking about my upcoming inaugural term at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Ostensibly, my intention was to study with Dr. Dan Allender, the founder of the small, almost anonymous school on the shores of Elliot Bay. Allender’s books were already formational in my thinking about pastoral care.
As we broke bread together, Alex talked about other professors who would impact my life and thinking. Foremost among them was a man named Roy Barsness. Alex was unable to talk about Roy without mentioning Martin Buber, whose name I knew, but nothing more. Alex told me I’d soon know Buber well and prophesied that he would become seminal to my thinking. He was right.
When I started school in the fall of 2013, the Seattle School created cohorts of students who entered and traversed together a semester of classes that every student, no matter their degree program was required to pass. The course rotation was rigorous: Dan’s “Faith, Hope & Love,” created a grid for us to view our calling in the Kingdom of God, Dwight Friesen’s, “Hermeneutics,” helped us think about our interpretation of, not only the Word of God but all of life. This is important because the Seattle School endeavors to live at the intersection of “Text Soul & Culture,” and Dwight’s class made us carefully and thoughtfully explore the ramifications of when, where and how “text, soul, & culture” meet. Finally, my cohort met Roy, the creator of a provocative deconstructionistic class entitled, “Interpersonal Foundations.” In our first class, Roy asked us what we believed about God, people and sin, declaring that our answers would shape our approach to our work as therapists. So, the rest of the term we worked on those topics together.
It is perhaps that simple prolegomenon that sets the Seattle School apart from other schools. Everything we studied for the next three years caused us to wrestle with answers to these questions. They became the prolegomenon of our understanding about therapy.
Buber is important because of his emphasis on “I-Thou” relationships. This brilliant, Jewish philosopher taught me more about the importance of the Trinity than all my seminary professors. Buber’s understanding of the I-Thou is a Trinitarian understanding of relationships. For what Buber calls his readers to consider is that our very identities — The Imago Dei — are formed as we relate to others and God.
I define sin as “anything that violates a relationship.” This statement is true, in part because anything that harms relationship, in reality, violates the very nature of the triune God. A sin is a sin because it is the anthesis of God’s nature.
It is not hard to see how these core beliefs about the nature of God and who he made us to be and how we become who we are supposed to be, affect our work as therapists. Our endeavor is to live into the Trinitarian image in all our work and all our relationships. We are truly children of our seminary. We think that holding onto this Trinitarian truth throughout the counseling process sets us apart, and calls us to a new kind of relational holiness that increases the fullness of our lives and our clients’ lives and makes God laugh with delight.