Missing American

A Cache Valley, Utah, man disappeared while serving his Mormon mission in China. The Chinese government says that he disappeared while hiking. His family doesn’t believe that and wants our government to intervene to find him.  According to our local paper, the missionary’s  community held a fasting event to encourage God to intervene. In the article it quoted the man who organized the event as saying that he was now hopeful Trump would intervene because the State Department hadn’t done enough. He went on to say that these are much better times because the rest of the world now understands that instead of the State Department we now have Trump. Seriously.  I can hardly stop thinking about what that means.

The world consists of 195 countries. One hundred and ninety-five. Those who represent American foreign policy and other affairs in these countries must learn the language, study its history and culture and know actual people in those countries to do their jobs. Many countries in the world already do not appreciate America’s freedom, its wealth and privilege in the world and yet they allow our ambassadors residence there and a place at the diplomatic table. These people work very hard on our behalf day and night. Though not directly elected by the people, they are appointed by those who are. To even remotely imagine that any ONE person can replace the them is to imagine that we are no longer living in a Democratic Republic.

Unfortunately, with so many vacancies in the State Department at present, a vacuum of leadership continues to exist across the globe and as time goes by it seems logical that this puts our country at a genuine disadvantage as well as in real danger. No one man can possibly fill the shoes of this important department. It is very likely that with those positions vacant, when future Americans disappear, their families may find themselves totally abandoned with no one on the ground to investigate or engage in diplomacy of any kind to find them. President Trump will have absolutely NO idea what to do and likely won’t do anything unless someone within his inner circle will ask him to.

If one observes the president’s present means of intervening on behalf of others, it’s rarely done with respect to in depth observation or with a collection of data, but is instead done in response to the personal or political benefit he will receive by doing so.  Kim Kardashian was given audience with him and as a result he pardoned someone at her request. She’s a reality TV star who knows him personally. When it comes to acting on behalf of LDS missionaries, there will likely be more involvement from President Trump due to his connection and fondness for Senator Orrin Hatch rather than because he is at all interested in the situation itself.  Senator Hatch would never imagine being important enough to replace the entire US State Department, nor would he imagine any US President capable of doing so.

I sincerely hope this missionary lost in China finds his way home but if he does, it will be because many US citizens, both private and with the government, have done the hard work it will take to bring him home. It will certainly not be because one man declared it so and I, for one, believe it should never be.

What Do I really Mean When I Say…

A discussion about abortion on Twitter. Same questions. Same arguments. 37 years of advocacy on both sides…I continue to be so frustrated about this but here’s what I said and this blog will by my more lengthy answer to what I meant.

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First of all, I don’t really think the author of the first Tweet is truly interested to know what crime (worthy of death) a pre-born baby committed. The author is interested in reminding me that abortion is something that should NEVER happen at ANY time for ANY reason, period. This person knows very well the answer to the question.

I replied by asking what crime a single mother committed? The obvious answer is that she had sex and got pregnant. Instead of focusing on her crime, I suddenly shifted gears and began to talk about the children of a single mother I know who had four unplanned pregnancies. Children with hellish lives, no support, constant shame, (because they were basically feral children who were dirty, underfed and desperately just trying to satisfy their basic needs among themselves). These kids all had a propensity for criminal behavior because Mom was in her room usually behind a locked door so she could watch TV and avoid taking care of them. This mother got the pro-life, anti-abortion message loud and clear. Having a baby became a visit into dreamland for her. She could have been a poster child for the anti-abortion movement. Though she could have easily accessed birth control from Planned Parenthood to prevent her unwanted pregnancies, having a baby was literally no big deal for her. On Medicaid, she paid for nothing. Her baby on Medicaid could get sick, could need extensive medical interventions for free. What Medicaid could not do was help her become a responsible parent. As a committed anti-abortion advocate myself, I really wanted to be proud of her for not terminating her pregnancies. I was not.

The only positive input these children had came from a severely abused older woman and a male pedophile. More than once, these kids were tearing apart the apartment they lived in because they were bored and alone. Hinges taken off the doors, holes put in the walls, windows taken out and the list goes on. As they grew up, Social Services was repeatedly called in to assess the situation and attempt to help the kids. Why they weren’t taken away remains a mystery to me. One of the children has been in and out of behavioral units, taken into a special school and yet when he is discharged or released, he has no idea where to go or what to do and is now in prison. His mother has been virtually held unaccountable for any of the neglect and/or abandonment. I don’t know why that is.  Her situation threw me into a very serious ethical dilemma. These children’s lives are a living nightmare and there is no end in sight. I genuinely wish the children could have been taken away from her after they were born, but that is unethical. I have found myself wishing that for their sakes the mother would have chosen abortion. It would have saved them from the continual disintegration of their lives. When children starve both physically and emotionally, they are a risk to themselves and to those who cross their paths.

Wishing for a better life, a fuller life for these four children has been all that I was capable of doing. She continued to have her parental rights in tact throughout their lives. I know that I cannot ever endorse forced abortions. Knowing this woman, I have serious doubts that she would ever consider abortion for herself either. The entire experience of knowing and being on the edge of this family’s life has made me ask very, very hard questions and made me both prolife and prochoice.

What I wish to say cannot be said in a short tweet. What I wish to say is as follows.

The issue of abortion, though easy for many to find a black and white, all or nothing, either/or issue, is to me anything but that. Though the actual procedures are barbaric to me and I could not have an abortion personally, I have observed that throughout history, abortion has been sought and provided for. I believe that…

  • women will seek abortion whether it is legal or not.
  • people will perform abortion whether it is legal or not.

Realities like this will exist until the end of human life…

  • immoral grandfathers, fathers, brothers and uncles will abuse and impregnate their daughters, sisters and nieces. As a #MeToo woman myself, I will fight my heart out to hold perpetrators accountable any chance I get.
  • philanderers will continue to exist and they will use their money, power and physical strength to subdue beautiful women, most often against their will.
  • women will most likely be blamed for getting themselves pregnant
  • men will walk away unless the law holds them accountable
  • pregnancies will exist where pre-born children are in excruciating pain, have gross deformities or serious illnesses that will make life in utero torture as well as impossible to continue after birth.
  • pregnancies will exist that threaten the life of the mother.

These issues are reality. I believe that reality must be faced and validated. The choice to terminate any pregnancy should be a most serious and thoughtful one.  If women have the right to choose, like they presently do, there will be women who won’t have any of the above situations in their lives, they will just simply want to end something they don’t feel is right for them. Government cannot control that even if they outlaw abortion. That is reality.  If the abortion issue is focused solely on the life/death of a pre-term child without taking any of these realities into consideration or minimizing their significance, there will be little or no progress for anyone. How we deal with abortion will simply flip from right to left with each new administration.

As a pro-life, anti-abortion woman, with very real thoughts and experiences about all of this having  been in this fight for 37 years, I have chosen to devote any of my energies toward making unwanted pregnancy a rare occurrence. I strongly support Planned Parenthood because I have been in a clinic assisting someone with acquiring free birth control. It was the ONLY place she could get it and had no reservations about premarital sex. She had been horrifically raped by coworkers in a place where she was the only woman among them. She was already “impure” and if the opportunity for consensual sex arose, she was honest about the fact that she would participate. Most of society, Christian or not, agrees that sex before marriage is no longer expected. Like it or not, this is the world we live. Pretending to be Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock will not work. It never has, it never will. I have come to the conclusion that the constant debate over whether or not we can harness and control the women and providers who get and perform abortions is utterly useless.

In the political realm, to imagine that Donald J. Trump has never paid for his wife’s or one of his conquest’s abortions is to have one’s head buried very deep in the sand. Someone who regularly participates in prostitution and regularly pays off his women, the odds are extremely high that he has done so more than once.

In addition to our president’s constant use of prostitutes, I became aware of the reality that when America’s NFL teams come to any town to play football, prostitution requests increase exponentially with the highest being during the Superbowl. Many of these women are actually sex slaves, some in their pre-teens who have been taken against their will. Maybe, if we’re interested in saving the unborn, we should put a lot more volunteer effort in assisting law enforcement in bringing these bastards into jail or forcing them to be castrated. By the way, most back alley abortions are paid for by men who engage in these activities.

In conclusion,  spare me the shallow questions about the unborn. Spare me about how important it is to save the life of an unborn child while you work to cut benefits to pregnant women and their children. Spare me the abstinence instructions when the odds are quite high that you haven’t been abstinent yourself. Put your money and mouth into support of free birth control in schools and at any pregnancy crisis center. Educate your children about the realities of passion and its override of rational thought in the moment. Equip them with the means to protect themselves. Bring the entire issue of sex out of the closet and deal with it. I will continue to make abortions rare by attacking the above issues at the source rather than pretending I can control the women facing their outcome.

Hard Decisions

It’s no secret that my mental health has been all over the place in the past decade.  Living with Complex PTSD has had a profound impact on my life. One of the realities that I’ve tried to manage over the years has been the various events in my life that trigger the fight, flight or freeze response.  It is as if my entire body is subject to an overwhelming need to be aggressive, to hide away or to just freeze and go numb as soon as I hit something reflective of a past trauma. What has become brutally real to me of late is that my battle with social media, particularly Facebook, is that managing the things that trigger a massive stress response is utterly impossible. I have realized that for my own best interests I simply have to delete my Facebook account. I know that means that I will lose touch with many of my friends and a good portion of my family but I just cannot successfully navigate it anymore. I love the lively political discussions but the very reality that one of the most emotionally triggering things in my life is the inhabitant of the White House and his cronies, I’m honestly a mess when I participate. When sharing what I perceive to be important information, empowerment lasts about a nano second then quickly turns to despair and that just simply isn’t sustainable if I want a healthy life. This is not going to be easy to do but I absolutely need to inhabit my own body with peace, joy and love if I wish to remain here much longer.

Would you please share your snail mail address with me in a Personal Message in the next 24 hours. I love writing letters so you might actually hear from me as the days and weeks go by. If not, at least at Christmas like in the olden days :)!

Namaste, my friends.

 

Thoughts on Refugees

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In 2002 Dr. Mary Pipher wrote this amazing book about the plethora of refugees who came to Lincoln, Nebraska, beginning in the late 80’s.  At the time, Lincoln’s unemployment was low and so was the cost of living.  The Federal Government’s US Office of Refugee Resettlement took this information and determined that it would be the perfect place to settle a plethora of refugees from around the world. The people of Nebraska had next to no idea they were coming,  had no say as to whether or not they could adequately transition the people and help them assimilate in the Midwest culture and in many cases had no budget for the exponential expenses that the would tax the health, education and welfare systems in the state. In other words, the place was not at all prepared for any of them but they arrived nonetheless. By the time of the book’s publication in 2002, the nonwhite population in the city had grown 128%. In the Lincoln public schools there were children from fifty different nationalities who spoke thirty-two different languages. The J-curve was high for refugees and host state. It was a very difficult and frightening time for everyone involved.

Reading this book humanized the refugee experiences for me but it equally broke my heart. Here are some nuggets that I learned about how “great” it is to resettle in America.

  • It is harder for educated refugees who come here.
    • A  pediatrician works stuffing envelopes
    • A director of a hospital drives a taxi
    • A judge works as a janitor.
    • Lawyers become doormen.
    • teachers work in factories
  • When a refugee arrives in the US he/she is immediately in debt to the American government for the cost of the plane ticket over here.
  • They are given a few months in a small apartment and they are on their own
  • They are given a television and told to watch it as much as possible to learn English but instead they learn to believe that Americans are rich and life here is about buying things.
  • Due to the low income status of most refugees, they often move into the poorest and most broken down neighborhoods. Many of those in Lincoln ended up in neighborhoods with meth labs, crack houses, sex offenders, and gangs.  Unethical landlords often took advantage of them by overcharging them or not renting to them at all.

Honestly, I could go on and on. Being a refugee in America can be a second kind of hellish existence for those who come here without a support system in place for the long haul. I do not agree one bit with the way that Trump and his minions are handling the immigration system at present but I can say without doubt that the system does need an overhaul. I do not know how we can continue to bring anyone here from war-torn countries without really doing what it takes to resettle them here with integrity. They deserve to have a real chance at a decent life here. I personally believe that forcing any culture to assimilate into another one is a brutal exercise in futility for both cultures.

In my hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, the two packing plants in the area offered work to refugees coming from many of the same places that they were coming from in Lincoln. All of the sudden there they were and the community was definitely not ready for them. I saw plenty of good people reach out to them but I also saw more abuse toward them I ever imagined possible. I witnessed people from one African country thrown together in an apartment complex. What few in the community understood was that individuals from different warring tribes from within their home country were suddenly expected  to live there in harmony. One does not simply mandate peace simply because the people are on American soil. Local Police officers were often at this complex breaking up fights between them.

Bringing refugees into another country is SERIOUS business and though noble and right to do, it should NEVER be done as haphazardly and without buy in from the people among whom the refugees will be living. Like you, I hate the racism I’m seeing expressed by our president and others in America as much as anyone. It is disgusting. I too want America to be a place of refuge. That said, it is very easy to sit here in my warm house with a nice computer to write my posts on Facebook  crying out in protest against this president (which I will continue to do), to feel the world’s pain and strongly assert that America needs to be devoted to bringing in the broken huddled masses etc.  It is, however, a much more difficult thing for me to participate in the actual process of making sure that these broken, traumatized people have the healthy spaces they need to recover and live better lives in my community.

If this is something we as a nation want to continue to do, changes in how we do it are essential. I am sure that since the writing of Dr. Pipher’s book 16 years ago, things have had to have changed but considering the rhetoric flying around cyberspace,  I’m doubtful the changes have resulted in a better situation for anyone seeking refuge here in this country. There is a lot of resentment out there that could have been avoided had communities been asked to take in refugees in the first place and had they been given adequate time to prepare the places for them to rebuild their lives.  It seems to me that too often they were allowed to enter the US with the appearance of benevolence when in reality they were merely given green cards to provide America with workers willing to do jobs that most of us think are beneath us.

 

Abundant Life

What exactly is abundant life? Christians use these two words to describe the kind of life they will have once they are connected to Jesus. He said he came that we might have life and have that life to the full. Imagery abounds in describing abundant life. The cornucopia  reflective of Thanksgiving, a bowl full of fruit, a big cluster of grapes hanging from a grape vine etc. Rarely does one hold up a picture of plastic jack-o-lantern full of candy to reflect this abundant life from Jesus. Equally rare is a picture of a Land Rover with the caption under it reading, “Abundant life…from following Jesus.” And yet…I wonder how much we believe the latter to be truer than the former?

There is a very weird paradox when it comes to money and possessions intermixed with faith of any persuasion.  The faithful in America couldn’t seem to stop talking about Tim Tebow’s kneeling and praying before and after his football games, about his verbal affirmations to God for his success. These same people were much less inclined to believe that Colin Kapernick’s money was from the same source. His kneeling instead of pledging allegiance to the flag of his country (where he perceives that the police in America are needlessly killing black people for minor things like a traffic stop for a broken tail light on their vehicle) was seen less as a reason to use his “God-given” platform than treason toward the country that “allows” him the privilege of earning so much money.  Something to think about.

Country music stars are often the hard drinking, partying, cheatin good ol boys and girls but they will be the first to acknowledge that God has given them talent and an abundance of blessings. Mansions, yachts and well…abundant life. Contrast that with M&M and everyone knows that his talent and abundant blessings surely come from Satan himself. Something to think about.

As a continually God oriented person – often in spite of myself – it’s important for me to observe and think more deeply about this. Asking questions of my own life and practice…my own thoughts…I want to know where real abundant life exists, what that abundance really looks like in my life and if it’s exclusive to Christians or not (I already don’t think it is). I want to plant myself in that place of LIFE…the real essence of life.

Religion and Jesus never really did get along too well with each other. Who knows maybe I really am becoming more like he was.  Enough for a Tuesday…I need to get ready for work and the abundance of life at the preschool. AND for that…I am beyond blessed. Namaste, my peeps, namaste.

Coming Out of the Dark

Just like that, I came out of my office on a Sunday morning last October after having spent time in meditation and prayer, looked at Dean and simply said, “I have to move back to Logan or I am not going to be alive much longer”. He looked at me and said, “Okay, then I’m going too.” Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It wasn’t at all. It was the most agonizing decision I have ever made but I really was slowly losing my life and I simply reached a point of believing it to be true.

In July of last year, after taking one dose of a medication prescribed by my doctors at the Mayo Clinic, my body began to shut down and lose all of its bodily fluid. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital where within minutes I was surrounded by people trying desperately to get an IV into my body in multiple places. After all attempts proved unsuccessful, the ER doctor came in and put one in in my neck. Soon after that I was intubated and admitted to ICU.

I woke up the next morning with Dean and Hannah beside me explaining to me that I had almost died. It took me quite awhile to grasp all of this, a few months in fact. Upon discharge, I was home for a day and went back in very sick with a kidney infection. Beyond discouraged, I asked God why I was so sick and to show me what I could do to get better if I was going to continue this habit of “almost” dying.  I had the strongest impression in my mind and heart, almost audible words, telling me that I wasn’t dealing with the Undefined Connective Tissue/autoimmune Disease that I have. Instead I was dealing with severe depression that was threatening my very life. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment in that though I’d battled depression since 2012 when a series of surgeries left me with chronic pain, I didn’t realize that it had reached a much darker place.

I didn’t know what to do but I knew that I had to go after the depression with zeal or I really wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I’d already tried everything I knew possible – lots of therapy,  both physical and psychological, prayer and meditation/mindfulness practices, several online classes directed toward healing including all of Brene Brown’s classes and of course a plethora of doctors and alternative interventions. Though everything was life changing and healing to some degree, I was not getting to a place where I could sustain a reasonably healthy life. Having been on that ventilator and in Intensive Care was really the final straw because I knew that if I entered the hospital again like that, I would not come out alive.

I realized that there were two things that were basically killing me. The seasonal depression that overwhelmed me in Minnesota. Even now, all I have to do is think about being there in October and a sense of dread comes over me. Winter is LONG in Minnesota and there can be weeks with overcast skies. One year we went from March 1st to June 1st with just 15 days of sunshine.  Growing up in Nebraska and having lived here for 5 years, I’d been through long stretches of dreary days but add to that very short days and life among more trees than I even knew could possibly exist in one place and well, my brain just could not adjust. In addition to the Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder, I had been diagnosed with PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a result of multiple traumatic personal events.  My central nervous system was on high alert most of the time and it was just wearing me out.

Another important piece to the puzzle of my darkness was that due to my inability to work or expend much energy involved in social events, I found myself alone A LOT. Alone to the point of isolation. As if falling from the sky, a book I was reading shared some statistics on the effects of isolation and loneliness in battling chronic illnesses. Apparently, isolation is one of the major causes of serious illness. In case after case when isolation was resolved, people’s bodies were actually able to more easily enter into a state of health that allowed for their bodies to heal. It sounded far fetched and out there but for me in the throes of it, it was spot on. After reading this information and revisiting it that Sunday morning before talking to Dean, I knew that I had to go back to a place where I had an established support system and where the association to traumatic events was absent. Thus the reason we moved back here last December.

I’m living proof that isolation really does inhibit one’s ability to heal both mentally and physically. I’m living proof that the brain is an organ like any other and when it is overused or damaged in any way, it requires care just like anything else. I’m living proof that some people just cannot live without enough sunlight even if they take Vitamin D and sit in front of special lights.

I’m still somewhat fragile, especially physically. I haven’t been able to do any real good hiking yet and that’s been a bummer but otherwise, things are going very well. I am working 5.5 hours a day 4 days a week at a Special Needs preschool and couldn’t be more eager to get to work in the morning. I LOVE it so much and though tired at the end of the day, I’m able to sleep well and ready to go the next day. I’m still pinching myself.

Last January I attended a beautiful retreat at Asilomar near Monterey California. The speaker was the poet David Whyte. I went there because his poetry was so important as I tried to find the path I was to go toward in the spring of 2016. I have listened to his OnBeing interview with Krista Tippett at least a dozen times. The following is one of the poems that was most meaningful to me.  I don’t know if I’m ready to feel the sweetness of the darkness I have been through just yet,  but one thing I do know that it has taught me. That is the deep truth of David’s words that  “anything or anyone that does not bring you alive, is too small for you”. I have learned that what those things are or who those people are, are as individual for each of us as our unique fingerprints. Through David’s poetry I very literally found the courage to pursue my own house of belonging (the name of one of his books and poems) and honestly, I am finally grateful that I didn’t die during any one of the times that I “almost” did.

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Getting Real: My Foundation

A long time ago now, I came across a beautiful little book that presented four simple truths I desperately needed to hear. I was 35, a wife, mother of two and a third and fourth grade teacher. In addition to that I was leading committees, mentoring, being mentored and in a nutshell had more meetings than should ever have existed. Living in a perpetual state of anxiety was very hard on my body and 21 years later I continue to be aware of the toll those few years at warp speed took on my life. Had this book not come into my life, I’m pretty sure I would not have been able to find the resilience I needed to get through the years of chaos that followed.

The book is called Intimacy with the Almighty by Charles Swindoll, an Evangelical Free pastor from Southern California. Though I no longer consider myself an Evangelical, I continue to center my life in God.  Lots of times I feel more like an agnostic than a person of faith but more often than not I’m drawn back to an awareness of God and the mystery of faith.  The four points Swindoll focuses on in this book seem to have a universal reality as well as a specifically Christian one. I have a very close Buddhist friend who embodies all of these and has actually mentored me in them.

The heart of the message is that there are four decisions and four disciplines one must realize to enjoy “intimacy with the Almighty”. That said, these four disciplines are applicable to anyone who wants a life of depth and meaning.

The Decisions

  1. to reorder one’s private world
  2. to be still
  3. to cultivate serenity
  4. to trust the Lord completely (for those who do not believe in God, I have found that they simply do not argue with what is but accept it as it is. “It is what it is”)

The Disciplines

  1. simplicity
  2. silence
  3. solitude
  4. surrender

Now honestly, who couldn’t possibly benefit from implementing these decisions and disciplines in one’s life? Every time I pass a golf course I become aware of the reality that golf is the way for many people to find a place of silence and solitude. Even though it’s technically not a place of being alone, for most it is one of the most quiet places they have in their lives and their inner being craves both.

The reality is that life often just sucks and pressures seem to come upon us that we aren’t fully able to avoid but what I’ve come to realize is even when life is going utterly crazy, if I will simplify, get silent and alone, I will find the ability to surrender to what is. My lizard brain locked in fight or flight calms down and my logical brain finds space to make the decisions I need to make a whole lot easier. These four decisions and disciplines have literally been the foundation of my life since 1996.  If you know anything about me or my life, you know that the winds have nearly blown me/us over more than a few times. It has been and continues to be this foundation that keeps me going. I am so very thankful.

You can buy this book at used bookstores and on Amazon or you can buy anything written on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or the Buddhist concept of Radical Acceptance if you want to explore more. Namaste.

Faith. Again.

If you are familiar with my blog posts, you are familiar with my struggle. You know that I believe that I encountered God in a profound, life-changing way as a sophomore in high school. You know that the encounter brought about a stability and focus to my life that reset the entire trajectory of my life. You also know that the experience was so profound that I embraced the Evangelical Christian faith with 100% certainty that it was the one and only way to God, the one and only way to really live, love and leave a legacy.  It would be no mistake to define me as a professional Evangelical Christian. As with any fixed identity, the break away from it is rarely ever complete. Such is the case with me.

I will never be fully free of the experiences I had as an Evangelical Christian and part of that is because at my core, I still have evidence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Though I rarely use the word anymore, miracles did take place in my life as a result of volitionally placing my faith in Christ shortly after my 16th birthday. At some level I will always know that I woke up to my own self in a profound way when Christ became the focus of my life.  At present, that is pretty much all that is left of the life I once knew.

The way my departure took place has a lot to do with a nasty little debate I continue to hear play out in various forums from editorials in the paper or on social media to conversations in my own living room. I’m sure I am a magnet for attracting these conversations into my world because at the slightest hint of a discussion about the Evangelical version of the Christian faith, I find myself all ears. Trying not to listen has only made things worse and had created no small amount of dissonance in my life.

Such a conversation came into world yesterday after I Googled an author that I enjoy reading. Oh.my.goodness. The links to his name were astonishing to me. One after the other, it seemed that Evangelical voices were decrying this man’s faith as heresy and declaring that he was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I opened up a link. The bottom line to the energy behind the layers of warning for the faithful was that the author I follow does not believe that the Bible is a book that should be taken literally and without error. Not a new thing for me to encounter but having slept on it, I woke up multiple times throughout the night and found the topic on my mind this morning.

I think what disturbed me most was not that the link I was reading said negative things about a beloved author, but that the person saying these things was so certain of his/her truth that they were incapable of entertaining the reality that they could actually be wrong themselves. There wasn’t even an, “I believe The Bible to be the literal and inerrant word of God.” Instead there was the declaration that it simply is and because I am so certain that it is, I have been given permission from the almighty to be as condescending and shaming toward anyone who believes differently as I deem fit. It was such a passionate, angry, absolute commentary that in the end you actually had to wonder if the author in question should be allowed on the planet any longer. In other words, the only reality this person seemed to know was that of his own belief (which is likely the only reality any of us know, right?). He’d completely lost sight of the fact that the author I’m reading is a human being, with a rational mind who is simply on a journey of discovery and could only determine for his own self what faith actually meant to him.

I know the mind that would engage in a battle of right/wrong, all/nothing, either/or, black/white logic to dismantle a heretic to the faith. I know it well. I’ve written from that place too so I get the struggle. But here’s the deal. All of the discussions surrounding God, Jesus, the Bible or any other faith, begin and end with just that, faith. Faith is not something you can force anyone to adhere to. Even if you get them to believe whatever it is you do, it doesn’t become real until it actually does BECOME REAL specifically for them. AND that also gets tricky because, we can do and say things that we think are genuinely our own but when tested in the fires that life naturally brings our way, we may discover that we don’t genuinely believe that at all. That is what happened to me.

I always would have said that I believed that The Bible was the literal word of God. I would have told you that scripture was alive and that uttering it would get evil spirits to go away and heal all kinds of diseases. I would have told you that every single word is true and should be obeyed literally. When life’s bonfires started to overwhelm me, however, everything changed.

A significant fire came in the form of a book by a man from a southern state who had painstakingly gone through each word of The Bible and on his own had determined what the words were saying about various health problems.  My 16 year old daughter had recently been admitted to an inpatient unit for eating disorders on the verge of a heart attack. This friend was sure that this book held the key that would unlock the reason behind her disorder. I opened the book and began to read it. Immediately, I witnessed the most bizarre explanations for illness I had ever encountered. Full of blame and shame, this book was full of the author’s interpretation of the literal word of God and offered me not one solution. I shut the book and took it back to my friend immediately. I lost it and wrote a very long and angry letter to her adding that she even cease praying for me or my family. It was very much as if a nuclear bomb had landed on my neatly arranged worldview. I’ve never been the same.

I could fill a spiral notebook with one story after the other where an encounter with reality and the literal Bible didn’t make sense. As a result, I am one of the one’s that finds no difficulty in calling out Evangelical BS when I believe I see it. It’s not easy because there is the natural outcome of becoming like those I call out. It’s painfully easy to communicate as though I believe my perspective is the only right one and that just isn’t at all what I want to do.

My faith is no longer centered on absolutes or certainty because I cannot call it faith if it is. I cannot continue to have faith if I cannot continue to be a rational human being at the same time. I cannot have faith in a Bible that was written by men, that is full of contradictions that require so much work to understand in a literal way. I still have my Bible and I often live my life with insights that have come from various parts of it but it will never return to the place of it actually being God in my life. That is simply impossible now that I’ve lived the questions and had to find my own answers.

My daughter is living her own best life right now. Had I stayed put, she would not be. It is that simple.

 

Living in Paradox

Paradox. A word that came my way in 2004 in the middle of a family crisis. I was teaching in a private Christian school in a small rural American community when severe mental illness entered my safe secure and near perfect world. Everything I ever thought was certain and true was in question.

Our family had been meeting with a local psychologist for over year which in itself was a real stretch for us as Evangelical Christians sure of the one and only truth. The professional who had referred us to this doctor prefaced doing so with, “You guys are a strong family, you will breeze through this.” Trust me, mental illness could care less how strong or right your family’s path may be. We did not breeze through one damn thing. Instead we realized that in order for her to recover, we would have to get used to life in a hurricane and hope like hell we could find the center now and then for a break. It’s so freeing for me to add those swear words because truly, they are the only appropriate words for such a time.

As time went on and our world continued to disintegrate, I continued to find myself living in a world of opposites that were BOTH true and lifesaving. My Midwest Conservative Christian worldview took hit after hit after hit and each hit brought new life and hope to my husband and I. At times it was downright joyful to live in the place of paradox something Dickens understood well.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.       Charles Dickens

One day while visiting my daughter while she was in residential treatment, we went to a bookstore and I landed upon a book by Parker J. Palmer called The Courage to Teach. While finding much of the material speaking to my vocational interests, the concept of paradox described by Parker Palmer, hit the nail on the head and became a permanent guide for my life. In his April, 2014, OnBeing column, Parker described how the reality of paradox continues to guide him.

If I didn’t have the idea of “holding paradox” to help me understand myself and the world around me, I’d be more lost than I am! For me, holding paradox means thinking about some (but not all) things as “both-ands” instead of “either-ors.”

The personal experiences with paradox that guided me through those difficult days continues to guide me now. At the same time, staying in that place of tension can be very difficult in a world that seems to be ripping apart as the days go by. Simply for a sense of security, I find myself wanting to adopt a worldview that is full of absolutes about right or wrong. I find myself wanting someone else to tell me that everything is going to be okay. I want to adopt an all or nothing, either or perspective so desperately right now. But I cannot.

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America is a country wrestling with paradox.  We are rural and urban, we are mystics and scientists, we are male and female, gay and straight, and white and colored, Christian and not. I believe that holding the tension that these opposites create is possible in this great land of ours but my experience lends me to conclude that doing so is rarely possible without some fairly intense introspection. The willingness to participate in that kind of introspection, however, seems to only come from seasons of intense suffering.

I know that I would never have considered any view other than that approved by my worldview’s black/white, all/nothing litmus test. Had I not been in the crucible created by the realities of my daughter’s mental illnesses,  I would never have been able to hold on to the reality of who I knew my daughter actually was when her brain was misfiring and responding to the depths of trauma buried within it from her very difficult time in my womb and being born 3 months early. I would not have evaluated the very real dysfunctions in my self, family, church and overall culture that were contributing to her inability to heal.

I sincerely believe that if our politics hold us captive to an either/or, all/nothing, black/white security, we will eventually self destruct as American citizens. America was an experiment and seems to remain one in 2017.  Please join me in considering that the only way through is for a deeper understanding of one’s self and the power of creatively holding the tension between opposites. Paradox.

Vulnerability and Facebook

The author Brene Brown just gets me. My guess is that she might get you too. Brene is a shame researcher. Crazy vocation if you ask me, but she’s changing the world with her research and insights. Her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong have been my constant companions for the last decade. Navigating the waters of a culture that is steeped in “NEVER ENOUGH” is serious business. A couple of weeks ago, the reality that I will never be enough hit me square in the face, bored a hole in my heart and threw me under the bus.

I made a comment on Facebook in response to a question someone asked about black children. My comment came from an honest place of love and honor in my soul. I was totally unprepared to experience being called out as a racist white woman. I was equally unprepared to have my one comment singled out with five others from 600 comments, put together in a screen shot and held up as a gross example of white racism. I was devastated.

If you know me, you know that racial equality is something I have been passionate about my entire life. I was a white child who grew up in a poor and multicultural neighborhood. At 13 I ended up in a community where few minorities even existed. I deeply felt the culture shock of an all white culture. As a result, I’ve been the one among my peers always reaching out to minority students. Always.

The author of the original post was a black author who described the screen shot with my purportedly racist comment among the others said she had put her post out there as an experiment. It was basically a worm on the hook to catch the unsuspecting racist white people. The real irony was that the women actually chewing my ass about what I said were WHITE! The entire exchange caught me totally unaware and though I tried my best to understand why the words I said had been taken the way they were but it only seemed to bring more damage to the conversation. Though I understood to some degree what they were addressing, I found the entire experience so difficult I chose to delete my Facebook account and start over.

Brene talks about putting ourselves out there as an act of bravery but also as an act of vulnerability. I have never really felt angst against anyone whose skin was darker than my own but on the evening of this exchange, staying true to my core values were sorely tested. I bought the author’s memoir and started reading it but my compassion for her was lacking as a result of my own pain having been so publicly shamed by her that I put it down right away. I do want to read her story and try to grasp her experiences but right now I’m not able to.

What I said that day when the world of Facebook fell apart for me was this: “they are children”.  Apparently because black children are never the center of conversations by reducing them to mere children, I was being a racist. The fact that I teach children, that I would be in BIG trouble as a teacher were I to single out any child of a certain race and draw attention to their physical appearance meant nothing. The fact that in my circle of friends there are several people of color meant nothing. The fact that I read books like Between the World and Me by black author Ta-Nehisi Coates or anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie meant nothing that day on Facebook.

The level of anger leveled at me by the two white women on top of the author’s singling out of my post and displaying it as an example of rampant racism made me aware of a whole world of black expectations I knew nothing about. I know that in the end, it will become an enlightening experience and I will be better for having gone through it. For now, this is my attempt to come out of the corner and process it to some degree.

What is striking to me is that Brene’s words are truer now than ever. We ARE a culture that regardless of the issue that DEMANDS perfection from each other. We demand that our truth is fully recognized and if it is not, we have no problem publicly shaming the blind, ignorant fool who dared to try to illicit a response.  The woman who tried to be of help to me was accused by the other of coddling me, “that white woman”. How is it okay for a white woman to call me one in condescension? What was more difficult was that her response to this woman’s suggestion that I was being coddled was something like damn right, I should have called her out on the first chance I got.

Maybe we ALL need to be a bit more coddled because the world of social justice seems to be is full of “experts” who demand perfect allegiance to every single cause on the docket. I’m passionate about a lot of things and try to contribute where I can but this standard of all/nothing compliance is impossible to adhere to and I believe that it is also damaging our country’s ability to have civil conversations.  It is literally creating a world where people are afraid to even try to participate.

I am totally guilty of demanding this kind of compliance from others with my posts and too often shaming those who do not respond according to my standard of perfection against something. Right now, when it comes to anything close to supporting Donald Trump I am immoveable. I want him out of there. I don’t believe for one second he is a Christian at a heart level and I pretty much hate everything about the way he was elected and how he is running his administration.  I want the entire swamp to be drained  of traditional white male Republicans.  I’ve been hyper-focused on trying to get my people to see what a total jerk the man is. Have I succeeded? Not even a tiny bit. I am simply the fruit and nuts liberal black sheep. The tragedy is that I know we share many of the same values and want many of the same things.

My family grew up visiting National Parks. Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks were our favorites. We were not a wealthy bunch and yet we could enjoy these treasures together almost for free. The Black Hills and the Badlands are etched in my soul from childhood vacations. My strongly conservative parents LOVE these parks. When they were here a few weeks ago, in a calm voice and looking them in the eyes I was able to share what their party wants to do on these sacred lands. Drilling for gas and oil will change those places forever. I reminded them of our wonderful experiences in these places and how much they are in my heart as a result. It got quiet and they listened with heart and ears wide open. In one 20 minute civil, non-shaming, not personally condemning conversation, the world changed a little bit between us.

Of course I want to think of myself as a version of authors Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams when I’m ranting on Facebook about these parks but I will never be the experts that they are. I will likely never know the wild to the degree that they do but reading what they have written, empowers me to fight alongside them. What must change for me is to figure out how bring their messages to the people in my circle without condescension.  Trying to hold people accountable for what they do not know or understand isn’t working for America. Pretending to be experts and self-righteously declaring how stupid others are in their ignorance is only making all of us less aware and open to understanding.

I have a new Facebook page and I’m cautiously attempting to continue to be engaged but I am now committed to figuring out a new way to be the change I still very much want to be in this world.

I am imperfect but I am worthy of love and belonging – and patience as I struggle through toward deeper awareness and understanding.

Namaste