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.