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

Thoughts from my Heart for Christian Friends

It takes no time at all to do a Google search and discover an incredible number of Christian leaders who are saying things like Rick Joyner just said, “God seems to be protecting Donald Trump. You smack him and God smacks you back.” In addition, Joyner quotes another “prophet” who received a word that 45 would be a modern day Cyrus the Great of Persia.  So spread throughout the Charismatic believers across this country there is this belief that God chose Donald Trump, God has anointed him and he cannot fail. As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Joyner says that the Trump resistance is powered by the Spirit of Jezebel…of course it is…women with a strong voice are most always considered Jezebel’s in this world. Exhausting.

As one of these nasty Jezebelian women, I’m going to address this stuff tonight just to get it out of me and somewhere else. I’m going to address this with a bit of friendly fire,  a passage from the Old Testament in the Bible because I think it speaks very clearly to the reality of where Evangelical Christianity has veered way off course by becoming so utterly interwoven with the Republican/Tea Party/Alt Right politics.

One of Jesus’s disciples was named Peter and he is reported to have written these words,

1 Peter 5:2-3The Message (MSG)

He’ll Promote You at the Right Time

1-3 I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.

The hard cold truth that seems completely absent from the public discourse anymore is that Christian leaders are first and foremost called to be shepherds of those believers under their care. It is what clergy are supposed to do. It is what mature lay people are supposed to grow into. The leaders we see now saying things like this, have forgotten their first love of Jesus and I see little evidence that they are acting as The Bible describes Shepherds of the Christian faith should be acting. Too many are instead usurping the faith’s authority for their own self righteous agenda masked as a prophetic voice.  They honestly seem to have replaced faith in God, fellowship in a community of believers and sacrificial lives of service to others for dictating to others how to think and what to believe about a political movement instead.  This is not what they are called to do or be as Christians. I am not a biblical scholar. In fact I have more doubt about the whole thing than I do certainty but one thing I do know for sure is that what I’m seeing in these “shepherds” is not what I’ve read in the same Bible they use to assert their authority.I guess in a nutshell, I am simply saying that if you are a Christian leader, this is what it seems should be your focus, NOT trying to convince us that Donald Trump is beyond reproach because you think he is chosen by God.

Ezekiel 34The Message (MSG)

When the Sheep Get Scattered

34 1-6 God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, ‘God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd—scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!

7-9 “‘Therefore, shepherds, listen to the Message of God: As sure as I am the living God—Decree of God, the Master—because my sheep have been turned into mere prey, into easy meals for wolves because you shepherds ignored them and only fed yourselves, listen to what God has to say:

10 “‘Watch out! I’m coming down on the shepherds and taking my sheep back. They’re fired as shepherds of my sheep. No more shepherds who just feed themselves! I’ll rescue my sheep from their greed. They’re not going to feed off my sheep any longer!

11-16 “‘God, the Master, says: From now on, I myself am the shepherd. I’m going looking for them. As shepherds go after their flocks when they get scattered, I’m going after my sheep. I’ll rescue them from all the places they’ve been scattered to in the storms. I’ll bring them back from foreign peoples, gather them from foreign countries, and bring them back to their home country. I’ll feed them on the mountains of Israel, along the streams, among their own people. I’ll lead them into lush pasture so they can roam the mountain pastures of Israel, graze at leisure, feed in the rich pastures on the mountains of Israel. And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost, I’ll collect the strays, I’ll doctor the injured, I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.

17-19 “‘And as for you, my dear flock, I’m stepping in and judging between one sheep and another, between rams and goats. Aren’t you satisfied to feed in good pasture without taking over the whole place? Can’t you be satisfied to drink from the clear stream without muddying the water with your feet? Why do the rest of my sheep have to make do with grass that’s trampled down and water that’s been muddied?

20-22 “‘Therefore, God, the Master, says: I myself am stepping in and making things right between the plump sheep and the skinny sheep. Because you forced your way with shoulder and rump and butted at all the weaker animals with your horns till you scattered them all over the hills, I’ll come in and save my dear flock, no longer let them be pushed around. I’ll step in and set things right between one sheep and another.

23-24 “‘I’ll appoint one shepherd over them all: my servant David. He’ll feed them. He’ll be their shepherd. And I, God, will be their God. My servant David will be their prince. I, God, have spoken.

25-27 “‘I’ll make a covenant of peace with them. I’ll banish fierce animals from the country so the sheep can live safely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest. I’ll make them and everything around my hill a blessing. I’ll send down plenty of rain in season—showers of blessing! The trees in the orchards will bear fruit, the ground will produce, they’ll feel content and safe on their land, and they’ll realize that I am God when I break them out of their slavery and rescue them from their slave masters.

28-29 “‘No longer will they be exploited by outsiders and ravaged by fierce beasts. They’ll live safe and sound, fearless and free. I’ll give them rich gardens, lavish in vegetables—no more living half-starved, no longer taunted by outsiders.

30-31 “‘They’ll know, beyond doubting, that I, God, am their God, that I’m with them and that they, the people Israel, are my people. Decree of God, the Master:

You are my dear flock,
    the flock of my pasture, my human flock,
And I am your God.
    Decree of God, the Master.’”

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

White Fragility… Courageous Imperfection…and gratitude

The other day in a moment of incredible frustration I posted this on my Facebook page.

I’m just getting really, really sick of old white men calling all of the shots in DC! I love the old white guys in my life and respect their opinions but these guys in DC seem like monsters coming from the black lagoon!! Or a very icky swamp that was supposed to have been drained! Maybe they are the sludge at the bottom that needs cleaned out! What really pisses me off is how many women voted for them!! They can just keep sowing their patriarchy and over reaching authority because with every single thing they do they put another burr under the feminist saddle, the minority saddle, the environmentalist saddle, the Muslim saddle, the immigrant saddle and well…this angry actually LIVID horse is going to run their asses out of town at the very first chance it gets. In the mean time we are going to make this ride miserable for each and every one

Sometimes when posting it is easy forget that anyone else will read what you say because in the moment it’s simply just this great platform to express yourself…and ready for it or not…the pushback comes and  hits you square in the face. So was my experience with this post last week. I was completely surprised when a usually like-minded friend took great offense at my post. Because I singled out the whiteness of the current administration and number of elected officials as well as their age and gender, he determined that my comments were racist. I did my best to explain to him why I was not racist even so far as looking up the definition of the word and sharing that with him. I tried angle after angle to elaborate on why a concentration of old, white males in DC is bothersome to me and that saying so does not indicate that I am racist. He would have none of it. He even went so far to say this…

“Have you ever heard the axiom that the word but is an eraser? It erases everything in front of it.” 
OUCH.
One of the great passions of my life has been racial equality so I took this pushback very seriously. I grew up in a low income and diverse community in the 60’s.  My classmates were white, brown, black and various shades in-between. As my father’s earning potential increased it was as if bleach had been added to the neighborhoods I moved into. It was especially so  when my family arrived in Northeast Nebraska in 1973.  Racism wasn’t a community issue then because there really were few people there of any other skin color.
I became a born again Christian while living there and whiteness became even more exclusive to me. It was even explained to me that in the Bible God had cursed the descendants of Ham and darkened their skin as an answer to why we had black people on the earth. The implication that followed was that Christians are white because God prefers whiteness. Pictures of Jesus were white. It was also a prevailing thought that America was blessed because it was full of God’s chosen white people. Simultaneously, however, we were commanded to share this gospel with every tribe, tongue and nation which would bring us into constant contact with those of other skin colors.
Thankfully it was the emphasis on converting others to the faith that drew me into multiple relationships with nonwhite people and almost continually provided me with an education of my own, but denied white privilege. I began to notice though none of us intended this to be the case, there was an incredible ethnocentricity and American superiority that existed within us. Others noticed too and we often challenged it within ourselves and one another. It was clear that the one key element to challenging our intrinsic ethnocentric worldview was the need to take our level of concern beyond nondiscrimination and become students of how being white very literally made our lives so different from conception to the grave.
Our race’s preference for whiteness may seem like an illusion to most of us in 2017 but the reality is that this preference it is so deeply embedded in our very being that nothing but intense effort and deep personal reflection will allow it to be acknowledged. When our purposed intention to treat others without reference to race, gender or age is confronted with this, it can be extremely painful. I came to a partial understanding of my own white privilege in the world when I realized that one of the reasons my family was able to break out of poverty had to do with my father’s ability to locate investors for his business. My dad had incredible boldness and at one point approached his boss for a loan. As I thought about it through the lens of whiteness, I realized that had he been black, my father very likely wouldn’t have been in a relationship with his white boss to the degree that he would have felt comfortable even asking for a loan, let alone being given one. That one loan made all the difference for my family. That one loan continues to impact my brother and I as well as his grandchildren.
Whiteness and the color of my father’s skin has everything to do with the quality of my life in the present moment and is something I constantly wrestle with. As I wrestle, one thing has become crystal clear to me. Racial injustice will not end by white people being nice to those with a skin color different from our own. It will not end by affirmative action or anti discrimination laws. Though necessary, those laws are barely the tip of the iceberg. Nothing will end until we as white people are the ones most critical of our own race. We must call out concentrations of white preference and the Trump administration is glaringly reflective of that. By calling it out, what I’m calling attention to is that the president, as well as way too many of the American people have chosen a high concentration of older white men because they genuinely want a country led by older, white men. This does not translate to saying that older white men are bad. What it does translate into is that when the concentration of any age group, race or gender is in control, the reality is that the work will reflect a very narrow worldview. In this case, I am very, very tired of being led by the older, white male worldview. It is time for that worldview – way past time for that worldview, to be called on the carpet and transformed into something else.
Until white men seriously challenge this worldview, there will be no comprehension of why blacks form organizations like Black Lives Matter. Until men in general seriously challenge their male privilege there will be no understanding why women want equal pay for equal work. Until men understand that women are not primarily for sex or domestic slavery there will be no deeper understanding that they are highly intelligent in and of themselves. Until the aged among us understand that the voices of those younger than ourselves are significant and belong at our side, there will be great loss the future of our species.
One cannot attempt to eradicate racism or injustice of any kind until one has the courage to confront his/her own kind. Yes, we are vulnerable to taking it too far but that is a vulnerability I am committed to embracing each time I speak about it. A very important read for all of us would be a post from OnBeing’s columnist Courtney E. Martin called Transforming White Fragility Into Courageous Imperfection. I don’t know any white person who has gone after her own whiteness like she has. Her column gave me grace to continue to pursue equality and justice for all in the midst of my own white fragility. I simply cannot be an advocate for others if I cannot have the ability to call out my own people so I will continue to embrace the idea that though imperfect, I am courageous. And, Courtney, if you are reading this, my deepest bows of gratitude to you and your work.

Listening…or not

Thursday morning (2/2/17) on CBS News this morning, Frank Luntz said that he thinks that our country is unraveling, that it’s 1968 all over again.

“Nobody’s listening right now and if you can’t listen, you can’t learn and you can’t lead”  Frank Luntz

The words above spoken in conclusion of Mr. Luntz’s interview, were much more important to me than his assessment that the country is unraveling. Listening…learning and leadership should go hand in hand with each other but the choice to follow also comes as a result of listening. As a teacher I knew that if my students weren’t listening, nothing constructive was going to take place.  In the early days when I was student teaching I remember being so intimidated by a group of 25 fifth graders that I didn’t really connect with them and as a result, they had a hard time listening to me and I had a horrible time getting them to follow my lead. The consequences were embarrassing because my class truly did unravel and no one learned a thing that day. Eventually, I learned the skill of fully engaging with my students and became a more effective teacher.

One of the important skills I learned early in my career and one that continues to guide me in relationships comes from the author Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.   The Fifth Habit, quoted below, is especially meaningful to me right now in the midst of this crazy political climate we find ourselves in.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Habit 5

This habit has served me very well for about 30 years but in all of that time it has never been as difficult for me to put it into practice as it was during this last election cycle and continues to be now that Donald Trump has been elected president .

As an advocate for multiple causes, what I want more than anything else is to help people understand whatever it is I’m advocating for. I want to create space for a need to be recognized to the point that others are  motivated to  change things.  In other words I want to be understood in order to make the world a better place. Close to home, I genuinely want my very conservative family members on both sides of our family to understand the journey Dean and I have been on and why it took away from the political paradigms we grew up with. I want them to understand that our life isn’t meant to be a criticism of them personally or of the way we were raised. We naively thought our lessons learned would be an opportunity for growth for them like it was for us. Issues concerning mental illness, eating disorders, the battle with insurance companies, our frustrations with doctors and hospitals and all of the friendly fire from church leaders and family when we sought to get our daughter the help she desperately needed.

I also want our families to understand my passion for youth and especially to understand the realities of kids with emotional and behavior disorders. I want them to understand that at the heart of me I am always going to want to make others happy, help to make their loads lighter etc. all with the hope that doing so will empower them to live a better life.  I want our friends and families to understand and believe that our work over the years, though it was not always as lucrative as theirs, was beautiful work and something we both gave our all to do. AND yet…after years of seeking to be understood, I have yet to discover how to communicate in any way that will allow me to know that we are in fact understood. It’s been so frustrating that I’ve just quit trying. In fact it’s had a devastating toll on multiple relationships because the quest to be understood and my inability to communicate effectively at a subsurface level hasn’t materialized yet.

And yet, when I look up I see out on the horizon a reminder of a time in the middle of the storm when words came to me that helped ME understand why this may be so. I wrote about it here. The gist of the experience is that you can have all the insight in the world or the very thing that someone needs to be healed BUT unless they are open to receiving it, it’s better not to waste your breath. At the time I was a very committed Evangelical wrestling with how to accept the healing advice being given to us from the treatment centers because some of it didn’t jive with my worldview. Trust me when I say that nothing tests one’s preconceived ideas about life and how to live it like being on the edge of death and we pretty much lived there for a number of years. As decision after decision is questioned, you find yourself struggling to justify your choice to who genuinely care for you and who you also care most about. In our situation it was as if my entire world was suddenly thrown into a seeking to be understood mode because the pressure was so great.

The problem is…this burrowing into my own understood world and caring primarily about seeking to be understood constantly backfires. I thought it was the compassionate and honorable thing to communicate our experiences through letters, phone calls and in person. In the midst of it I also discovered that when multiple traumas hit you, everything in your life is processed at a very intense level and  your felt need to be understood becomes even greater.  The pill in the ointment is that because these are the ones in your primary support system, those with whom you enjoy mutual trust, you expect that they will gain insight WITH you and that may or may not occur.

In 2003 our daughter’s doctors were telling us we had to get her into treatment or she would die but because it was an eating disorder our health insurance wouldn’t pay for it. Add to that and we were told that mental illnesses are generally not covered by insurance. She was also diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder/Severe in addition to the eating disorder.  Her physical health was severely compromised but the goal of the insurers was to rehydrate her and send her home. We love our daughter to the moon and back so we begged, borrowed and cashed in retirement accounts to get her where she needed to go.

An example of just how hard it is to be understood in the midst of this experience while Dean and I were working full-time,  some thoughtful conservative relatives knowing of our financial situation offered to help me by offering me a job.  They were dismayed that I didn’t take them up on the offer. I sought to be understood by sharing with them why I couldn’t consider it. Our  family was in crisis, our daughter was 2.5 hours away during her inpatient hospital stay and then 16 hours away in residential treatment, we had appointments to keep for family therapy and all the while were trying to hold down full time jobs and continue to live our lives. The $500 a month extra income was a drop in the bucket in light of the surreal nature of our situation. I thanked them and thought that would be it.

Unfortunately, with this person’s ultra conservative capitalist worldview in play, the free gifts that others graciously gave us to help with the very expensive life-saving treatment, were seen as inappropriate. Though never spoken, in multiple ways we got the message that we weren’t living the right way. In order to understand why this was we both reminded ourselves that this relative sincerely believes that NOTHING should EVER be a free gift unless it’s at an appropriate time like Christmas or a birthday.  We’ve let them be content with their world view and done our best to accept THEM in the midst of it. Though never directly spoken to us personally,  we clearly got the message that we were wrong in our understanding. The pushback was constant and increased until it was impossible to even continue in relationship with this family.  It has been a brutal pill to swallow.

In this hard right culture, when you can’t pull off the extra work offered so as to make your own way in the world, it is expected that you will simply suffer the consequences. Everything changes when death is on the line and if it doesn’t the loved one simply dies. That wasn’t going to happen on our watch if we could help it and unfortunately this is what it took for us to open ourselves up to others and seek to understand what they were trying to say to us. We’ve been through so many forms of reproof from those we love that I personally find it absolutely unbelievable. Real honestly, I have reached a point where I don’t even want to listen to understand anyone with such certainty about what is right or wrong. In such a black/white, all/nothing world view it is utterly useless and because it was once my own worldview, it’s not an easy task to continually deal with something you want to be rid of day in and day out.

I’ve written before about our journey away from our faith and our political party so if that interests you, please look through my other posts for that. Right now my resistance to the conservatives in my life isn’t there simply to resist though that is a very real issue for me with this president, is it also not my intent to disrespect anyone else’s view of the world.  I know that I am where I am as the result of listening to the reality of my life!

Maybe, the place where a revival of listening needs to talk place is first and foremost in our own lives. Maybe we each need to take more time to get quiet, to self-reflect on our own rigid thinking, our own judgment and our strong egocentric way of living our lives. The right and the left each could learn a lot from each other if we could discharge our insistence upon absolutes and certainty. I really think that only then will we stop being so polarized and find some common human ground to walk on together.

I know it’s really hard right now with the level of intensity created by Donald Trump’s impulsive, reactive temperament to not want to stay on Facebook, Twitter etc. and I’ve deactivated and reactivated my account multiple times as a result. I think I’ve realized that it simply isn’t the place where we are going to learn to listen to our own selves enough to challenge our own worldview and we certainly aren’t interested in understanding someone else’s very much there either.

I feel like I’m rambling in this post and I’m not sure if it’s making any sense to anyone but me. I know that Frank Luntz’s observation is correct in that we don’t listen, really listen to each other anymore and this is just my account of why that is so very hard to do.

Good night and good luck!

Mockery and Evil – Two sides of the same coin.

Evil, real evil, isn’t easy to understand especially in a day and age where moral lines are continually being redrawn. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but there are a couple of authors who do and I think what they have to say could prove helpful to some of us trying to wrap our heads around some things that are taking place in our country at the beginning of 2017.

Many people, astonishingly, Christian people, do not seem to understand that when someone is mocked it means that the person has been treated with ridicule or contempt by another person who is out to hurt them. To this very day, Donald Trump claims that he did not mock the disabled reporter even though his actions recorded for all to see prove that he did. What many of us are struggling to comprehend is the silence from his own supporters in holding him accountable for his behavior. These very same supporters who are the same ones up in arms about Meryl Streep’s comments at the Golden Globes. She’s accused of “attacking Donald Trump” during her speech but the word attack by definition doesn’t even remotely describe what she said.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

I seen no intent to harm Donald Trump’s person or even his presidency. What I see is a woman sharing her own emotional response, similar to what many of us had, with her audience. She also spoke out as an advocate for the disabled man. I honestly would have expected the outcry about Trump’s behavior toward this man to have come from pulpits around the country ahead of any actors in Hollywood because in Matthew 25:-39-40 we read:

“When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It’s not rocket science to think that a disabled person would be among “the least of these” in this modern day.

But there was no outcry from Conservative Republican Christian pastors or their followers on my Facebook page. In fact there was quite the opposite. I continue to respond with dismay at the Tweet storm that this man engages in and how much mockery continues to be a part of his modus operandi. It seems that he lives and breathes to mock others and shame them into oblivion all in the context of, “Making America Great Again”. And day after day after day, Christians are rising up in his defense.  The problem with being a Christ follower in 2017 is that we have forgotten what real evil actually is.

According to Drs. Allender and Longman evil is particularly found in the behavior of a mocker.

THE MOCKER: DEALING WITH EVIL There are people in this world who seem to live and breathe evil. In every generation, masters of evil (Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Pol Pot) seem to serve as caricatures of the demonic. There are others, less known, who are involved in ritualistic abuse-the sadistic physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children. Few would dispute, even without definition, the accuracy of calling ing these people evil. Indeed, they are evil. There are many people, however, who do not perpetrate societal or individual barbarity to this demonic extent but who are more than simply arrogant, hard, and hurtful. All of us are capable of doing evil things, but evil people are driven by a self-interest that is so heartless, conscious, and cruel that it delights in stealing from others the lifeblood of their soul.

Dan B. Allender;Tremper Longman III. Bold Love (Spiritual Formation Study Guides) (Kindle Locations 2671-2676). Kindle Edition.

Evil Is Cold – Evil is (for the most part) unfeeling. It lacks sorrow when someone one suffers and joy when there is happiness. But an evil person is more than emotionally detached; he simply will not allow himself to enter the heart of his victim as a person. The victim is an object – an entity to be controlled or destroyed – and not a living, breathing being who feels hurt, fear, sorrow, and shame. In that regard, evil sees the other as nothing more than a service to itself. Most of us will use a paper cup and, when finished, discard it without feeling or concern. As long as the cup is useful, it is used, but when its use is finished, there is no reason to keep it or honor it as valuable. Similarly, an evil person feels nothing toward those who are used to satisfy his craving for unlimited power and control.

Dan B. Allender;Tremper Longman III. Bold Love (Spiritual Formation Study Guides) (Kindle Locations 2695-2696). Kindle Edition.

Though this is just one aspect of the evil I sense being unleashed in our country, it is extremely dangerous when perpetrated by anyone with this much power. I don’t think his Evangelical Christian Vice President has a clue as to the assault he is in for this next four years. Interestingly Paul Ryan knew this aspect of Trump almost at “hello” but now that he too has been given great power as a result of the Trump victory, he rarely, if ever calls the man out on this or other aspects of his bizarre behavior. It seems that now that he won, the whole of the GOP is intoxicated with absolute power and doesn’t really care anymore how they got there.

 

 

Thank You, Minnesota

As we prepare to head out today and return to Logan, Utah, where we feel most at home in the world, many things have come to mind that have greatly enriched our lives. Thought I’d just bullet some of them as I depart.

  • Great neighbors – this would take an entire blog to adequately do justice to. You all know who you are and you will be missed! A special shout out to the beautiful kids and young adults who wormed their way into our hearts at “hello”.  The future is bright with you in the world.
  • Scout and Morgan Bookstore!! – Judith Kissner, your store was a refuge on those LONG days each winter.  I loved every visit – Kirby, Elsa and Baxter loved your welcomes too! Amazing author events and very special Christmas Eve treats!
  • City Center Market – This is a whole foods coop that is a grocery store, deli and coffee shop next to the bookstore. I will really miss this place.
  • Common Ground United Methodist Church – A place of progressive Christians committed to social justice where everyone counts and is welcome…and they really mean EVERYONE. Beautiful people and we’re very thankful for what we’ve learned with them.
  • The Andover YMCA – this is a great facility connected to the Andover Community Center. Swimming in the pool regularly has allowed me to get stronger and enjoy my life again.
  • The Twin Cities… the hometown of…OnBeing studios, Garrison Keilor, The Links, The Vikings, The Twins, The Wild and The Timberwolves…author events where I was privileged to experience Terry Tempest and Brooke Williams, the poet Paul Muldoon, Courtney Martin and Cheryl Strayed…the Mall of America, a great place to walk around in the winter and to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp…The Swedish Institute…The Walker Art Museum…Brits Pub…Keys Cafes…Minneapolis Institute of Art…The Science Museum and the Fitzgerald Theater…Minnehaha Falls…Stillwater…Nicolette Island…sure I missed something. Suffice it to say, this place is amazing!
  • Duluth…we LOVE Duluth. Canal Park and its multiple ships coming into the harbor. The magical night we spent at the Bentleyville Christmas display and watched a ship come with almost no one around (a very rare thing at Canal Park) with fresh fallen snow and it being so quiet we could hear the ship cut through the water. The huge rocks, the big waves and The Scenic Cafe on the North Shore where we enjoyed lots of the most yummy chef prepared food we’ve ever eaten! We do love Duluth.
  • Leech Lake – our off season trip where the staff gave us a suite that faced the water for the price of our individual room reservation. We woke up to the sun coming up over the water and walked the beach alone for a long time. We finally GET going Up Nort!! Those lakes are intoxicating!
  • The Woods…though I can’t handle the dark of the woods 24/7, they were often the most amazing places to be. Black-capped chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, orioles, pileated woodpeckers, finches, bluebirds and the list of birds goes on! White birch trees – year around solace for any nature lover!

So, you can see we have loved life in Minnesota. So why move, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I cannot believe the impact of life on the 45th parallel and the cumulative affect the seasonal depression has had on my overall health and wellbeing. This fall when it hit with hard again, I knew that if I was going to live much longer, I would need to get to a place with a lot more sunshine on a daily basis – or where I can go up to a mountain and soak some up if I need to.

Thank you, Minnesota, even thought I need to go, it’s been brutiful living here among you…beautiful and brutal (Glennon Doyle Melton)

 

2008 Election Changed It All

In 2008 when Barak Obama was elected president, I was so frustrated. Not because he was a black, Democrat at all, but by the dialog I had witnessed throughout the election cycle from my own Republican party. Having dealt spent years dealing with a very unethical insurance company, healthcare reform was HUGE for me. I really wanted the Republicans to take up the fight because I wanted that perspective deeply in the mix when anything was to be done about it. I’d written to multiple Republicans with zero movement or even a decent response in return. The Nebraska senator I wrote to was much more concerned about overturning Nebraska’s helmet law that year than anything else. The ONLY ones validating my story and the need for reform were the liberal (demon) Democrats so I began to go where I could be heard.

I met very interesting and amazing people who were not at all the abortion on demand like a fast food restaurant kind of people, or eager to turn all of our children gay kind of people. For the most part they were just like me. They leaned left because their natural tendencies leaned left. Many of these new friends were as servant oriented and culture sensitive as anyone in my church. I learned so much from them while thinking I was maintaining my Conservative Republican status. The 2008 election changed it all for me.

What I realized that election cycle was that a very important piece of our democracy had been lost to all of us. As a Republican, with issues other than those in the party platform, I was given no voice.  My real life experiences meant absolutely nothing to those I’d elected to represent me in government.That realization led to an even more astonishing one and that was that the Republican Party had been so strongly influenced by the Evangelical Christian worldview that many of its members believed God was white, American and Evangelical and that this was the one and only worldview that would be acceptable in our country. These sincere people simply don’t realize that they have made God into THEIR OWN IMAGE and it reflects something very different from the image of the God one finds in the Old or New Testaments of the Bible.

Check out this list of the names of God found in the Bible. 

God is these things if you believe in a Christian God. God is not a Republican

The beauty of America is that here we are free to be whatever political persuasion we want to be. We are free to be whatever religion we want to be. I am free to be a Christian and a Liberal or a Conservative and  remain in complete connection with God Almighty. And though I do believe there is an all knowing God at the end of the day, it may all be nothing but my imagination. Belief is at its core faith in the unseen and we cannot make anyone have it let alone require it of government officials. When we do that, we get what has happened in this current situation. I say that because…God and Jesus aren’t running for President, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are. They are Americans. We as a nation chose them to run against each other. Consider this.

Jesus wasn’t an American winner.

Jesus wasn’t a capitalist.

Jesus wasn’t a communist.

Jesus wasn’t a socialist.

Jesus certain was NOT a dictator.

Jesus was a servant. He wasn’t head of a government. If the governments rest on his shoulders as the Bible says they do, then he gets to bear the burden of them all the world over. As well as the humans carrying them out and I wouldn’t want to be him for anything.

I think that the only way politics and faith can work together is if we take our faith seriously and allow that faith to lead us in voting for the best person to run the government…not our faith. Anyone who is elected needs to be able to support ALL Americans and allow them the freedom to believe. We are not America if we are only Christian.