When Faith is Replaced by Power

Biblical examples abound, especially in the New Testament, of circumstance after circumstance where a challenge of some kind was presented to religious power. There are so many examples that it seems odd that Christian faith is about anything else.  Jesus was always, confronting religious dogma and power.  I honestly cannot think of one example where someone came to Jesus and was told to follow him in order to be exclusively right, morally perfect and most absurdly to take power over nonbelievers because of that rightness. Can you? If you can, please comment and enlighten me.

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Consider these verses in the gospel of John. Clearly, as a Jewish man, Jesus was very offended to find his place of worship and giving of sacrifice filled with buyers and sellers. It also seems that the whole idea of the Jewish leaders loving money was a really big deal to Jesus.

fullsizeoutput_1d49 How about these in the gospel of Matthew?

Can it be any clearer? According to biblical authors, Jesus spoke truth to power. I could find several more places where we see Jesus doing things this. There is one about a woman from a place that was “south of the tracks” and unacceptable to his own tribe whom he actually found worth his time and attention. The faithful among his own people wouldn’t have been caught dead with her.

There is an amazing story where Jesus tells  about one of the Pharisee’s heroes (Elijah) who actually couldn’t find anyone among his own tribe interested in receiving what God wanted to do so he left and when to find someone in Syria. He found an old woman starving and miraculously provided food for her without ever mentioning a thing about his own religion. If the physical Jesus looked at the modern forms of those who follow him, I wonder what he would do.  I wonder what he would say.

After nearly 30 years of devout faith* lived within organized evangelical churches, I can honestly say that many of those I knew in them, started out simply as people seeking something  more. Many times, especially among converts, we were broken and fucking up our own lives so badly that we felt it necessary to convert to Jesus or die our own slow death. As newly born again Christians, we couldn’t understand the complacency of so many of the lifelong “Christians”.  Complacency about church attendance, personal devotional time, and sharing the gospel seemed somewhat low priority to many. In the late 70’s Jesus movement, we newbies were sure that real Christianity was serious and devout or nothing at all.

As I look back, I also see that many of us were under the illusion that by our new conversion, we, like Jesus, were speaking truth to powerful religious people. We left our mainline churches in droves and committed our lives to full time Christian service of some kind. We sincerely tried to take the words of Jesus as literally as possible and live accordingly. We gave away our possessions, our time and our money simply because Jesus said to.  In community we saw ourselves as a unit: The Body of Christ on earth, led by male authority.  This was our Christian faith.  This is the faith of many today and thankfully in a free country people can practice as they see fit. It seems obvious that if the entire world this committed, it would seem that all of our problems would be solved, our diseases healed and our existential quests for meaning satisfied. It would seem.

I admire anyone who lives out what they believe with integrity. What I find utterly distressing and beyond my intellectual capacity to understand is that in the 41 years since I embraced this theology, the evangelical church seems to have altered it’s focus to living more by political power than it does living by faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for participation in politics by people of faith. What I cannot figure out is how we can live in a religiously free country and expect the entire country to embrace one particular faith.

Jesus didn’t lead his followers to embrace Roman politics.

Jesus didn’t want to legislate morality to the point of controlling others because he knew that the best way to control oneself was through hard core self analysis and interaction with God. He knew that coming to grips with one’s own shortfalls was the only way one could really find ongoing redemption. Ironically this holds true for both believers and nonbelievers. No one makes positive changes in their personal life without intention and hard work. Saying a prayer, joining a church, tithing 10% means literally nothing if one is unwilling to do that. When faith is married to control and power, it is no longer faith but something very, very different. When religion is married to control and power it is even more terrifying and dangerous.

Jesus was said to be the “light that enlightens everyone” at the very least, the first commitment to living a Christian faith would seem to be a devotion to that enlightenment over and above all else. If that time spent in devoted introspection and resulting personal change occurs, I believe that faith is real.  If it is at all about being exclusively right and having authority over others…it simply is not.

 

 

 

 

*I no longer identify myself as an Evangelical Christian. I still think of myself as a spiritually driven woman but I have more questions than answers. Mental illness in a family member, thought provoking questions I can’t answer from another added to my own very long lasting questions exposed holes in the neatly packaged 4 Spiritual Laws version of the gospel I once took literally. The words of Jesus, as you can tell by this post, continue to be in soul and influence my life every day.

Truth

It would seem that one of the great debates of my lifetime has been that of absolute vs. relative truth? Thanks to Rudy Giuliani’s interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press last Sunday, we all get to revisit the concept yet one more time.  I believe the record is pretty clear that the President’s entire campaign and presidency have both been held up by a very intentional and relative grasp of the the truth. Truth is to Trump whatever he deems it to be in the moment. Mr. Giuliani’s words should surprise no one.

Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is no exception to this idea that the truth is not the truth.  Of course he doesn’t actually realize that he sees truth as relative vs. absolute in most of what he says too.  He seems to have little self-awareness that his truth is as relative to his perspective as anyone’s. In a speech he gave at the National Catholic Prayer breakfast in May, he strongly challenged the audience he was speaking to to fight against moral relativism or the idea that truth is relative.

…Ryan, who is Catholic, lamented at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast what he sees as a deepening sense of “identity politics and tribalism” in the country, as well as a trend of “moral relativism” that is becoming “more and more pervasive.”

Is it just me, or was Speaker Ryan high on something and not able to think clearly?  He doesn’t seem to be aware that what he’s saying actually comes directly from his identity as a Catholic. Being Catholic is being tribal. Being Republican is being tribal. Being German. Being Jewish…um…we are a nation of immigrants and we will see things as true that really are not true for all of us living here.  It seems to me that he genuinely believes that Catholics are exempt from identity politics and tribalism? Is he really saying that in order to stop being morally relative, Catholics should combat culture with Catholic Social Doctrine implying that everyone should adopt it? How is Speaker Ryan’s truth not tribal or relative to being Catholic?

Objective truth is truth. Black is black, white is white etc.  The force of gravity is a truth we cannot deny. We need oxygen to be able to live. This is factual truth. In Giuliani’s situation, he isn’t really talking about whether a conversation did or did not happen because right now it is simply, Trump says one thing, someone else says the opposite. The truth isn’t provable at this point in that situation.

If we’re honest, humans, no matter how confident we think we are in our perception of what is genuinely true,  all too often we are assuming truth simply because it is what we know.  That’s what is meant by truth being relative. Here’s an example. Today Dean was told that he ate his banana the wrong way. He was told that monkey’s hold it with the stem and break off the top. He does the opposite.  The person who told him this is from England and that’s the way it’s done there. Is he right, is it true that there is just one right way to eat a banana? Of course not. It is his perception of reality and it is true for him but it isn’t necessarily the truth.

Enough for today…

My Dad

A few years ago when my parents arrived in Yuma, Arizona, for their winter stay, they arrived one evening and the next morning my dad was feeling pain in his chest and down his arm. He and Mom immediately went to the hospital where it was determined he was having a heart attack. It was considered the “widow maker” because of where the blockage was but because he got there very early in the attack, his life was saved. We have all been so grateful for the years we have had together since then. It’s been a difficult spring and summer of 2018 as we’ve learned that there is another issue with his heart that is irreversible.

At present my dad’s heart is functioning at 20% and each day has become a real struggle. In March we were back in Nebraska for our nephew’s wedding. I hadn’t seen Dad since his return from Arizona and when I did, it was very difficult. My dad has always been a tall, big man with unbelievable strength. He is usually the life of the party laughing and joking around. Always eager to play cards or another game of some kind but this visit was different.  He was quiet and tired, napping constantly and coughing a bit. Upon my return to Utah I learned through phone calls with my mom that his cough was worse, he was sleeping even more and incredibly uncomfortable. I hopped in my little red Escape and headed to Nebraska with my own heart feeling like it was in my throat the entire way there.

The day after I arrived, I began to walk alongside my parents in the quest for answers. The cardiologist appointment revealed that Dad’s heart had literally thickened over the last year and as a result the chambers of his heart have become much smaller. After his blood-work was inconclusive he was sent to Omaha for further tests. The end result was that he has amyloidosis, a protein build up in his heart that is very serious and irreversible. His doctor told him were he in his 50’s he would need a heart transplant. Dad turns 79 in September.  I’m really quite devastated and mostly numb knowing that my dad is in the valley of the shadow of death…for real.

So much of who I am is a result of my dad’s wrestling with his life. Dad wasn’t born into economic prosperity. He was born during the great depression to poor farming parents. He grew up working. Always working. At eight years old he would tear apart old cars and put the metal in his wagon and haul it off to be recycled. It earned him some spending money back in the day.  I grew up working. Babysitting, paper routes, cleaning houses, making pizza’s and waiting tables through college. I am my father’s daughter.

A teacher once told Dad that he would never amount to much because he was stupid. That right there made me want to become a teacher to push back against that type of thing happening. I am still mad about that and I’ve known about it since I was a child. My dad struggles to read, write and spell. He is brilliant in mathematics and physics. When I was a kid little blue booklets would regularly come in our mail and night after night Dad would be in our basement working through them. They were courses in engineering. As a result of that work he invented things and started a business that became very successful. To this day, I am always reimagining the world around me and trying to improve it by solving problems. I’d sure love to have words with that teacher and let her know how wrong she was. Dad’s one of the most intelligent people I know and it’s no thanks to her that he continued learning. He’s made me a life-long learner and I’m so grateful. I am my father’s daughter.

There are some really important moments from childhood with Dad that shaped my moral compass. One evening Dad came home after bowling with his league and told my mom within earshot of me that the guys wanted to go over to the bar and watch the go go dancer. He went along but as he sat there he couldn’t help but think, “That’s someone’s daughter.” He even told his buddies to think about that. Then he left and came home. I was never more secure than I was that night. I was proud of my dad. I had no desire to ever go into anything remotely close to go-go dancing and that experience made all of the difference in determining what kind of person I would choose to marry years later. I am my father’s daughter.

Another one of those moral moments was the discovery that after we’d just settled into a house in Billings, MT, Dad determined that he could not stay employed with his new employer. The boss was stealing from the company and he couldn’t tolerate that. We loaded up everything and headed back to Nebraska near his parents. All because Dad had a conscience. It was a wild time but one that really impacted my life. I am my father’s daughter.

Dad was a natural salesman but he wasn’t the kind that would do anything for a sale. He really and truly wouldn’t sell anything to anyone unless they really needed what he had to sell. He was incredibly honest and enjoyed what author Stephen Covey called the high speed of trust from his customers. If he broke it, he fixed it. If he designed it poorly, he redesigned it until he got it right. He was willing to go the extra mile and it paid off. I have been less motivated to work for money than he would have liked but it’s really his fault because I honestly just loved to work. Everyone I worked for knew that I’d go the extra mile too. I am my father’s daughter.

Growing up I watched my dad interact with other people and it was very evident that the color of a person’s skin or their economic status had very little to do with how he treated them. I’ve seen him with Sioux Native American friends, African American friends, rich and poor friends. We had many casual and I now know, philosophical, conversations about others when I was growing up. He was always thinking and challenging the status quo where other people were concerned. He recognized people for their strengths, their character and treated people so fairly. He always had a heart for the underdog. I am a devoted advocate for equality and justice for all because of him. I am my father’s daughter.

Honestly, I could go on and on about the way I’ve been shaped by my dad. I could also go on a bit about the hard things between us because there were a few. We certainly didn’t live a perfect father-daughter life and boy did we have our power struggles. I could push his buttons like no other and I did just that plenty of times. I’ve been so mad at him I could have spit nails more than once, but I’m pretty sure he could say the same about me. Yep, I’m my father’s daughter. Just ask my mom.

It’s so hard to see and experience this man’s struggle right now. He’s never been weak and tired like this. He’s struggling to breathe and sleep. I don’t know how much time I have left with my dad and it’s pretty much on my mind 24/7. My ache for my mom is constant and I feel so powerless. I suppose we all feel this way when the end of life seems to be coming at warp speed for someone we love so much.

I really am his daughter. His first born. The one he said looked like Doris Day growing up. The one who loved sleeping in his t-shirts as a nightgown because they smelled just like him and were so soft. The one who loved cats that he tolerated for my sake. Dad has been a rock in my life and I don’t know how I’m going to survive without him physically present. I will because…I am his daughter.

I love my dad.

 

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 Emenem 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.

Scan 2016-7-28 12.18.57

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.