Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Religion of SELF

Another tragedy. Another why.

As I perused social media last night, I saw many different reactions to yet another terrorist attack in the UK.
There was heartbreak, anger, questions of why and there was blame.

Blame went in several directions. Blame is always many layered. It can never be laid at the feet of one person or idea.

I had already seen ugliness earlier in the day. It did not end up in murder, but it threatened to. A very intelligent person I follow shared the bevy of hate mail he'd received while away. Much of the hate included threats of harm to him and his family.
I was sickened by all of it. And I observed: violence begins in the heart.

Several people shared that religion is the problem. I am going to both agree and disagree, and I hope my reasoning will serve the greater good.

To lay blame of violence at the feet of religion is easy. It is true, religion has caused massive violence throughout history. But religion is also responsible for so much good in the world. How can it produce both violence and good?

I believe how we walk in this world is a layer of the problem. It was unnerving yesterday for me to see so many people so opposed to someone else's ideology, that they threatened harm. These people were not attacking based on religion. They attacked because they were "right" and he was "wrong". They shared all the violence in the heart with their words. Not in the name of religion. I posit, they share in the name of self.

I think our religion has become self. We worship our rightness. We worship our needs and wants and what we think we deserve.
 I think some people of faith ferret that out. People of all different faith systems use their faith to chisel away at the self that would consume anything or anyone in its path and allow their selves to be molded in such a way that produces love and beauty for the whole world. I believe that people of no faith, atheists and agnostics can and do the same.

And then there is the religion, of all faiths and no faith that would be right at all costs. The religion of extremism. The religion of violence toward all who disagree.

There are so many ways to react to these times that devastate and are devastating.
I do not think there is one right way to react.
I would encourage all of us though, to lay a portion of blame at our own feet. When we acknowledge our own selfish acts of aggression, we can step outside of them.
In so doing, we can become stronger. We can become a united front against the real violence that does threaten everyone. We can create a hopeful future for our children and stand united in love.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

What the peony spoke to me

I've been struggling a lot lately. And, small comfort, I see I am not alone. All the lovely blogs I read are sharing stories of the comparison game. At first I didn't think I struggle with that. I don't look at other people's lives or belongings and think I should have them. I have particular things I have always wanted from the time I was a young child, and those things have nothing to do with what other people have. Outside of that, am quite content.

Then I realized, I do compare in a much more insidious way. More than just wishing I had someone's car or house, I wish for people to see what I am capable of. And I compare that with others. And I know I am capable. And I get disappointed in how things play out.

I also know I am an oddball. I love my oddballness. But, my inability to be inauthentic sometimes leaves me outside the crowd. Sometimes I just have to zig when everyone else is zagging.

Yesterday morning, I was feeling the weight of this. I went outside to water my plants and listen to the birds and be silent.

It was the peony that spoke.

They're not supposed to grow here in my zone. I tried and failed years ago to grow peonies, and nearly gave up. But I'm trying again. I bought a plant in bloom last year. By my calculations, if it didn't come back, it was just like buying a bouquet of fresh flowers. I watched it seemingly die over winter. All the leaves fell off, leaving brown sticks. Dead. I was sure of it. But, it was tucked away in a place I could ignore, and so I did. Then, out of the blue, beneath those dead sticks, for they were dead, tendrils of green pushed through the soil. Oh hello lovely. I stopped ignoring the plant. I visit almost daily. When it's pouring down rain, I look out the window and will it to grow. I've been speaking to it, and yesterday, with one of its blooms just on the edge of bursting out of its tight bud, it spoke to me:

Hold tight. We'll bloom together.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Groundhog Easter Day

In the Christian tradition, Easter weekend is typically a time of death to life.
It's both a somber weekend and a joyous celebration.
No matter where I am in life, I always find myself a little more introspective.
To be honest, Easter has rarely been a time of joy for me. It's kind of a Groundhog Day of sorts. I know, every year, Easter is coming, but I can't live it out and step away. The dying happens over and over. It's never done. Something in me dies every day.
I am in part inspired to write this morning, because I just scrolled past yet another image of the man in the White House that engendered multiple negative feelings. I initially felt a gag reflex. Yes. True story. I gagged. You see, the image was somewhat a double entendre, and it was so suggestive, I had to gag. And then I felt an actual tangible ache, deep ache in my heart. To think that people who profess a faith in the man whose death and resurrection is observed on Easter weekend, would actually look up to and defend this man who would sooner hammer the nails himself.
And just after that photo, a photo of a Syrian family in a field. It stops me in my tracks, it's beautiful. Children in vibrant colors and yellow flowers dot the green landscape. But it's a story about people being bombed, even in their safe places. The space negotiated as safe for evacuees on both sides is bombed. And thoughts of all the Christian people I know who only want to bomb Syria from afar, but exclude them from our country. And my mind just can't comprehend.
And it's all the more palpable over Easter weekend, these thoughts and reactions. I sat there and thought about sharing the first photo and my disgust over it. And then I thought….maybe simmer down, it's Easter weekend. And then I thought about the response if I did post it. Maybe no one would even respond. But if they scrolled past, they'd be thinking: That was a long time ago. People change.
It is a weekend celebrating new life after all.

Then I thought about my own embarrassing deeds. Thankfully, (as far as I know), there's no photos. There's no grab em by the….audio. There's just stories. And times I made people feel bad. And private things. Thoughts and actions. And I realized, if I ever became a public figure, I would own it. I would wear my remorse like a badge. Because there is strength in honesty. There is life in death. Prune a rose tree and it grows back stronger and more beautiful the next year.
And then I saw the Syrian family, and I knew I wanted to say something. But what?

For some reason though, things are amplified for me around Easter. I've had some traumatic experiences. I once had someone close to me scream at the top of his lungs with wild eyes that I was a whore. Yes. A whore. On Easter. He was not a romantic partner, but had strong opinions on what makes a whore, and most of you would likely disagree. Reaching back even further in time, I had another man tell me he thought I was a prostitute. It was awkward. So awkward. He'd called me into his bedroom to tell me this whilst everyone was just outside circling up, holding hands to pray on Easter. I'm sure their eyes nervously darted around the room as the raised voice lashed out. And I was being apologized to? It didn't feel like it because it felt like I was still being called a prostitute….and then his wife came in and screamed at both of us, and that was just all the weirdness a kid could take. Side note…I was entirely a virgin at this time. So….that's a head scratcher for sure. But my cheeks got hot and I felt the shame of a thousand harlots. And a piece of me died.
A string of these kinds of stories is why I observe Easter as my own personal Groundhog Day.
Something died in me those days. Because I was not who these men accused me of being. And yet, I was also not perfect. So all the shame and guilt for the bad things I had done mingled with the shame and guilt of the things I was falsely accused of, and I was a heap.
So, you can imagine, that outside of any religious observations, Easter and I, we have a complicated relationship.
Here's the thing, I feel a deep remorse any time I realize I've caused pain to others. That badge I wear, it's not with pride. Something dies in me those days too.

I don't feel like this man in the White House feels any remorse. I think, more than anything, he regrets getting caught. He's glossed over his indiscretions and made fleeting apologies. And it's not my place to judge or speculate what is in his heart. But without comparing him to anyone else, but who his better self could be, it kills me that people professing that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, would look up to a man, defend a man, that in his public life has sounded the very antithesis of the one who died. Who stands and lives for America First? Him first? No death to any desire, but false promises of giving people what they want and not really what they need and delivering neither.
And my beef isn't with that man. Well…it is politically. But more than that, I struggle this Easter to make heads or tails of a people who make every justification for a demagogue. And while they justify the demagogue, they justify things I just cannot find in the bible.

It's funny. It seems like the evangelical Christians accuse the progressive Christians of only wanting to see Jesus and focus on love. (As if that's a bad thing?) But what I see more often than not, is the evangelicals longing for a time before the cross. A time when tribes were good or bad, in or out. And though there was no America at the time of the OT, for some reason, American Evangelicals think their tribe is in. Special blessed. When everything about Jesus tells me he wants one tribe. I think the Old Testament tribalism in post Christ times led to The Crusades. We continue these misguided Crusades even today. Both through disingenuous wars for oil or in our daily lives as people kill with their tongues, all in the name of a god who is made in man's own image.

It's nigh impossible for me to celebrate a living Jesus, when so many of his followers seem to be killing everything Jesus stood for.
And so, I grapple with the groundhog every year. Will there be a spring with new life? Or are we going to continue in this winter way? The winter of my discontent, as I connect those same traumatized feelings as a younger person, to the trauma I feel today. Right now, instead of a death and resurrection, I am struggling to see past just the death of compassion and grace and generosity and dignity. Perhaps the resurrection is in me, as I learn to die to myself, my me first attitude, and offer to bring more compassion and grace and generosity and dignity to those around me. And thankfully, I know I am not alone in doing so.

Thanks to Jen Hatmaker for sharing her own raw stories. Perhaps inspired by her, I share this.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Patriotism on the Porch

(I wrote this over a month ago. Before Patriotism and the National Anthem made headline news. Somehow it seems even more relevant.)

Dear Patriot:

You are ruining patriotism for me.
Let me explain:

I have a romanticized version of patriotism in my head. It includes 4th of July parades, honoring vets, in quaint towns sitting on verandas with flag bunting all around.
Doesn't that sound dreamy?
I love flags waving from porches.
I love living in this country.
I love the Norman Rockwell ideals of families praying around tables, and celebrating life together.

And then.
Then I get uncomfortable. A presidential candidate's platform has been to make America great again. Again? Like when? Like when black people had to use the fountain that spewed hot water on a blazing hot day? (Because I have recently learned the "white" people fountains had cooled water. Did you know that? I didn't. I just thought they were separate.) When we had our own little Indian holocaust? When we treated a whole segment of humanity as animals because their skin was darker? When, pray tell, was America great? Was it post WWII when women were hushed away and the price of being a house wife was subservience and silence? When husbands handled the money, and a woman just silently accepted philandering? When "ugly" things were hidden away, and all that was celebrated was the white nuclear family? America has actually always been great, and simultaneously needed to improve. It can be both. It is both.

I yearn for a country that is willing to look honestly at where it has been and where it is going. I yearn for a people of humility. I yearn for the definition of patriot to mean someone whose love of country includes constructive criticism. I yearn for people who can take the long view. Who can logically follow their own desires all the way through their course, and admit when their own desires trample on the desires of others. Whose love of the Constitution is balanced by a love of people, all people. So, for now, my patriotism isn't romanticized. It's gritty. It includes being really uncomfortable on so many levels.

When everyone is welcome on the veranda, that is when America will be great again.

The Complications of Protest


I've posted a lot about Colin K. I'm not sure why I get so wrapped up in these issues, (peaceful protest, respect, and the actual subject of protest,) when I could just as easily wrap myself in the flag, and not notice.

There are so many factors in this situation…and I want to approach them delicately. I share this in humility, as I am part of the problem. On both "sides" if you will. Very recently, I spent ten minutes listening to a coach share his view, and I agreed with him. Then I read a rebuttal from a professor, who gave a different perspective and I agreed with him. Every time I read a new perspective, it changes and reshapes mine.

I completely stand by CK's first amendment right to not demonstrate in symbolic action his allegiance to the flag as a protest that the flag does not currently represent all that he thinks the flag ought to represent. The moment we start requiring people to blindly make gestures of patriotism without protest, we are no longer American.

Here is what his protest is not:
It is not that he's offended by the flag.
It is not that he does not appreciate the sacrifices of service people who have gone before.

All of that said; he is young and naive.
Here is where I do take issue: As a friend pointed out, he is part of an American pastime that involves being some sort of an example to our youth.
I think perhaps the NFL could maybe rethink what they require of their EMPLOYEES before it becomes an issue. What is required of a person as an American and required of a person as an employee are two very separate things. Let's treat them that way.

That said, I'm not sure his gesture was perhaps the most thought through. I really like the essay I shared earlier (link re-posted below), where he states he pledges allegiance to the flag not just for what it stands for and the imperfections, but the hopes for a better future.
Because here's a glitch with CK's protest: When does it end? When you protest something without a measurable solution, when do you stop protesting? I can't judge what was in CK's heart. I won't. That is speculation, and in my book, that's gossip. I can't expect humans to make the "right" choices (whatever those may be) in all circumstances. On the other hand, people would impose a system of how to behave on him, on anyone, that does not really provide opportunity for change. Respect the tension.
He made a choice that is now becoming a dialogue about free speech and flag burning and jersey burning rather than the dialogue that he'd hoped for. Be the bigger person. really.

Can we blame that on him, the negative response? In part, yes. When you make choices, there are consequences. Always. And we often do not know how to calculate for the unintended, because our focus is usually on the intended. That is where we cut people some slack. And, I am editing to add: it's a shame the unintended consequences are even half of what they have been. Sometimes, when trying to shine a light on something, there is no other way, but a way that makes people uncomfortable. Is there some truth in what he is saying? Focus on that. Is there a way of improving? Focus on that. Is there a way to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how you can be part of the solution instead of the problem? Do that. Is there a way to kindly direct anyone who behaves in a way you find disrespectful? There is a way. It's called open, respectful dialogue. It is not accusations and insults hurled. It is not petty memes dragging a person through the mud. Have they made other mistakes related to said protest? Probably. The negative response is also down to the responder. Dismissing a person out of hand will not produce any positive change that either one of you are looking for. Whining about someone whining is just a lot of whining. How sad.
Why do I say all this? Because I read. I see. It needs to be said. Again. and again.

I'd rather focus on the PROBLEM, (which I understand many people would rather side step). But right now, seems like all we can do is focus on the reaction. Which, when all is said and done, is part of the problem.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What do we celebrate?

Life is about more than I can even fathom at this moment. Sometimes, I feel pushed like a tide is carrying me into deeper and deeper waters; the Syrian crisis to 9/11 to wildfires. No matter what you believe about wars in general, refugees, what actually happened on 9/11, no matter what, people are suffering, have suffered. I see a meme floating around comparing Mulala to a Kardashian. I can't stand the Kardashians. I love Mulala. Basically, it is asking, what do we celebrate?

Sometimes I despair….what do we celebrate? Eyes roll when politics come up. Differing points of view turn into fences and walls and wars of words, and if they gather enough steam, wars. I remember as a child, when my favorite television show was interrupted because something needed round the clock news coverage; I was so upset. How dare something I couldn't care less about preempt my viewing habits. I celebrated my television shows; my leisure time. My perceived rights even. One year, I was really mad a soon to be Princess was preempting my shows. And then I fell in love with the Princess, and didn't care anymore. What could we fall in love with now? What could preempt our lives and turn into a love story?

I see the community rallying for those who have lost everything in these raging fires. (On a side note, I love the imagery of losing everything in a symbolic fire, for then everything you build from there can have purpose and intention.) But I digress….
I see donation centers reach max capacity of clothes, blankets, pet food. People packing up their trailers with food to share, homes opened, trailers sent after left behind horses and animals. The community knows how to care. The community knows how to rally and come together.

But I have this nagging thought.
How do we learn to live in such a way that we can give to those who may be displaced by something else. Something singular. Something personal. Something that is twisted into looking like someone's hand in our pockets. The personal fires, that sometimes people can build on, and sometimes leave people desolate.

How do we not suffer compassion fatigue as we're swept along the tide of suffering. Humans, animals. There's always a need. There's always a Gofund me, a sick friend, a sick animal, a disaster, a riot, a war. How do we rise above this constant need, so we're not sucked dry and can no longer give or even care.

How do we get people to care in the first place? Many people have a lens on life that it is all about their own checklist: career: check, house: check, baby: check, vacation: check, the good life: check, check, check. All good things, no doubt. But what could move a person outside of this system, into one that celebrates humanity?

It's scary to care.
Sometimes, we're even judged for what we care about.
Kim Davis wouldn't do her job. The internet lit up talking about it. Then, in some circles, anyone who talked about it was under fire from those who felt the Syrian Crisis was a 'bigger deal'. I see this kind of logic time and again. The arbiters of what's important. Here's what I think: It's all a big deal. All of the ways we treat each other. All of the ways we celebrate life, or annihilate it. It all matters.

The more we celebrate that which alienates and devastates, the more we set ourselves up to one day be the refugees.

It feels like I care from a place of emergency. From the comfort of my home. I listen to the news, I scroll through Facebook. I'm moved. And then I move on. I can't sit in that place of grief or I'll die. Inside first.
So, here's my final thoughts: how can I create some margins in my life for caring? How can I incorporate actively caring in a sustainable way, for truth is, there will always be a need. How can I set aside money to give away freely when disaster strikes? I know so many people living beyond their means, and yet, their means are incredible; and living well within in them, they'd still be richer than most of the world. How do we flip our perspectives so we appreciate what we have so much that we want to share instead of hoard? Hopelessness says we can never give enough. Entitlement says we deserve all we have and more. I feel guilty nearly every time I buy something frivolous, yet that's not living. That's not helping anyone. I think sometimes it's all or nothing, and wind up giving nothing, because I'm afraid of unraveling. But. Somewhere, there is balance. That is what I am looking for. The place where we can still find joy in small things and big things, coexisting with the place where we can give until it hurts.

Instead of feeling hopeless about all that is falling apart, I'm going to pull myself together, and celebrate some life. I'm going to be grateful for what I have, most importantly for who I have. And I'm going to give. Time, money, whatever I can. Today. I'm going to celebrate life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

An Unconventional New Year

photo courtesy au.tv
Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Unconventional. How else can I describe anything about my life? I who wanted to be more conventional than anyone ever. My goal in highschool was to get married, have lots of babies and collect tupperware. I have not a single piece of tupperware.
So, this year I rang in the new year in the most unplanned, unreflective way.
A friend posted that the way you spend your New Year's Eve is the way you'll spend the rest of the year. In some ways, I hope that's true, and in others....not so much. The not so much is the crazier part than how I chose to ring in the new year...I'll get there.
 My Numero Uno is on the other side of the world, so I really didn't care what I did. I stayed with my friend's teenager while she went away for the holiday.
I'm so glad I did.
He is probably old enough to stay on his own, but something about this particular situation told me to go, and I knew it made my friend feel better.
The first night, I was so cautious about intruding on his life. I tip-toed around and basically passed out I was so sleepy.
But last night, we immediately started talking about everything. His Mom, Aunt and Uncle have been dear friends for over 20 years; I know a lot about this kid and his family. The words came pouring out of him. Before I knew it, we were sitting on the living room floor snuggled in blankets laughing and watching the time fly. He is one cool kid.
After a while, a good long while for a teenager and a "grown up" to have a conversation, we decided to watch his new extended edition Lord of the Rings. Our tummies were full, and we settled into the movie. We both fell asleep midway.
Here's the crazy part. They have an attack cat. You sit there smugly thinking how bad can a cat be? Do you remember the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Worse than that. It wants to tear any visitor to shreds. It doesn't wait for you to get too close for comfort, it comes after you, scratching and biting. Sometimes, I think it has wings. My first night there, we locked him away. But last night I felt sorry for him, and suggested we let him out, the creepy fiend. He patrols the room all slinky and slow. It was fine when we were awake, because if he got too close, the kid could shoo him away. The kid is the only one who can handle this cat.
But then....I was asleep on the couch, and the kid had carried himself off to his own bed. And I was alone. With the cat. Stalking me. Lurking. Sticking his face in mine with a menacing growl. Jumping up onto a high shelf cocking his head sideways like a Gremlin sizing me up. When he got too close, I lifted my down comforter like a shield.  We'd watched Lord of the Rings, I knew how to take action. What I didn't know how to do is go back to sleep with Jaws, I mean the cat in the room.
So I sat up and started reading on my computer. I used my phone as a light to keep track of where the cat was, because he likes to sneak up. Then I realized the kid was up playing video games. It was a relief to turn a light on, and know where that cat was. We started the new year being awake at 4 in the morning laughing about his crazy cat. Not at all how I'd imagine starting the year. But perfect.
This year....I'm going to turn a light on. I'm going to illuminate that which scares me and face it, that which is beautiful and that which brings joy and magnify it. And I'm going to continue caring for the people I love and be open to wherever the wind may take me; with the light on. Happy 2013!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Grief Beauty Strength

Thoughts are like waves. See them, acknowledge them, then let them pass. (paraphrase) ~Ruth Riffe

I haven’t posted anything in a long time. I have so much I’d like to say, but not sure how to construct it, well, constructively. These words ache to come out.

The past several weeks have been rough; add the tragedy in Connecticut, and I’m a regular waterworks. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between raw grief and ordinary life and it sometimes feels weird. I even struggle now and then with guilt. How can I go on living and laughing and eating cookies when families are ripped apart, never to be the same?

Yesterday, I attended a fundraiser for a dear teacher Ruth at my yoga studio. Ruth called in sick just over a month ago and a week or so later was handed the diagnosis of cancer. All over. She could try treatments, that would maybe extend her life, maybe. And, she’d be miserably ill. She opted to let it take its course. You see, Ruth watched her own husband fight the same cancer just 2 years ago and she knew what lay ahead. Our vibrant Ruth, who sometimes had so much energy I thought it was going to vibrate right out of her and the very walls would start dancing.

We gathered together for her yesterday. We dedicated our class to her. Normally, a teacher leads us with their words, but yesterday, only the names of the postures were called, and we moved into them silently. It was such a beautiful dance. We were all moving for Ruth. I think we were moving for something even larger.
I marveled as tears flowed down my face that I could be so heartbroken as memories of Ruth splashed across my mind, as well as images of the sweet babes in Connecticut, that I could still move and my body could still bend backwards and forwards and dare I say do amazing things. I marveled at everyone’s strength and beauty. I know I wasn’t the only one in the room with a tight heart, not for the aerobic activity, but the sadness welling up and out. And yet, we all followed along, wordlessly and with purpose. It’s one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had.

It strikes me now that that is how we move on. (Or at least one of the ways). In strength and beauty, we go about our business, and we cry when we need to. It’s very simple, and yet I at least struggle with it.
Ruth will always be with me. The things she taught me both actively and passively will always be with me. The crying and grief will slowly fade out. Hearing Ruth’s voice during class will fade as well, I am sure. But the way she has touched me, just as I’ve been touched by others who have gone before Ruth, they will always be a part of my being, whether I consciously know it or not.
We take time to remember, we take time to honor and then we move out into the world with grace and strength and do each thing to the best of our ability and in love.