Friday, October 19, 2012

What I Promote

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

I've been reminded of this sentence time and time again lately.  I'm going to go ahead and assume that you know there is a presidential election coming up since you are reading this and therefore have access to a computer and information.  Every day, when I get on Facebook  it seems like there is yet another one of my Facebook friends who I have to add to my list that is excluded from my news feed.  So many posts basically calling me all sorts of terrible things, degrading my character and questioning my love of country, my integrity, and my humanity.  Of course, these people are not targeting these attacks directly at me, but they are posting  those things about people who hold the same political views I hold and those who would vote for the people I intend to vote for.  (An absolutely wonderful post expanding on that topic can be found at this link.  I highly suggest you read it, but not before you read the rest of this post.)

I know that I am guilty of this too, at least to some extent.  I hear or read something that boils my blood and my first impulse is to rant about how terrible it is and how I can't believe anyone would do/say/think/promote such a thing.  However, I keep coming back to this "instead of bashing what I hate" idea and what that should look like.

I hate bigotry, racism, sexism, violence, war, and discrimination. I love when people, words, and images promote tolerance, understanding, community, equality, non-violence, peace, and love. Sometimes promoting what we love does mean identifying what it is we hate, but it should stop there. When we become preoccupied by how much we hate an idea or a politician or certain belief that differs from our own, that begins to dictate how we treat others. When our treatment of others is dictated by what we hate, we lose.

And we all hate losing.

So here is what I'm am not going to do:  I am not going to stop sharing what I think or begin to keep my opinions to myself.  I know people who have chosen to do that and it may be what is best for some people.  But I learn so much from engaging with others over ideas and topics, that I don't think giving it up entirely is constructive for me.

Here is what I am going to do instead: Before I click "like" or "share" or "post," I am going to ask myself if what I am about to show to others is promoting what I love.  If it isn't, I'm going to step away from the mouse.  Before I respond to another person's comments -- online or in person -- I am going to think about what it is I care about and respond from the perspective of advocating for something I think is extremely important. I am going to do everything in my power to promote what I love and leave behind the discussions about what I hate.

I know that I am not going to change another person's ideas by pointing out where I think they are wrong or why I hate what they have said or posted.  And, in case you are thinking that this is some kind of positivity exercise I'm undertaking, that's not it at all.  I am still a realist through and through and I know it is also highly unlikely that I will change their views by promoting what I love.  This is about realizing that I only have so much time and, rather than wasting it by giving attention to the things I hate, I'm going to make the most of it by focusing my fight against those things on promoting the things I want to see take their place.

Tolerance, understanding, community, equality, non-violence, peace, and love -- That is what promoting what I love should look like.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No More Wading

One thing that I find interesting about writing a blog is being able to look back at my posts from a few years ago and see where I was then.  In some ways it is depressing, because I feel like I used  to be a pretty decent writer and that somewhere along the way I lost my muse or my voice.  (Or maybe I just thought I was better back then?)  Yet, in other ways, it is a good reminder that I'm not floundering and I haven't gotten stuck in one place. 

I happened on this post from June 2009, and I'm reposting it below as a reminder to myself.  This song came to mind a couple weeks ago.  I remembered that I had posted some of the lyrics here way back so I went looking for that post.   When I read what I wrote in the last paragraph, I was overwhelmed.  I certainly haven't mastered swimming, but.... yeah.  I sure have come a long way.  I barely remember what wading feels like.

(Caedmon's Call, on their 1997 self-titled release.)

When I'm cold and alone
All I want is my freedom
and a sudden gust of gravity.

I stop wailing and kicking
Just to let this water cover me, cover me.

Only if I rest my arms, rest my mind,
You'll overcome me
and swell up around me.

With my fighting so vain,
With my vanity so fought,
I'm rolling over....

All the time I'm thinking,
Wondering how it would be
to breathe in deep.

I guess I need to be careful
when I ask for a drink
(Just might get what I ask for).

And I know just what
You'd say to me,
That's why I don't ask You.

What would I ask You?

An awful lot of talking,
I don't leave You much to say;

You didn't ever leave me-
And my greatest fear was
You'd leave me here.

A long time back
my feet could touch the bottom.

It probably makes more sense if you listen to the song, but I think it has some really great lines. I especially love the last line.

This song, and especially that last line, describes how I feel right now. Just a few months ago, my feet touched the bottom, but now I mostly forget what that feels like. I don't think that, had someone asked me back then, I would have said that I had everything figured out. I'm smart enough to know I never have. But I think that looking back, I felt I had enough figured out. That I knew what was going on and that I knew what I thought about most things. Now I'm exploring and thinking and mulling over and trying to swim. Despite that it is unfamiliar, it's much better than just wading in.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


There is something about this time of year that makes me acutely aware of the passage of time and leaves me feeling unsettled.  Perhaps it is because my birthday is in October or perhaps it is because it feels like once November is so close on the horizon the remainder of the year zooms by in a holiday-fueled rush.  Whatever it is, I find this the most agitating time of year.

Southwestern Ohio weather has a tendency to be completely crazy in any season, but something about the utter fickleness of Autumn here makes me feel off-balance.  The leaves begin to turn and the wind kicks up and I start to feel like something I can't put my finger on has disconcerted my soul and an unprovoked unease has crept into my heart.  I can't stop myself from continually taking stock of everything in my life and wondering what I should be doing differently.

I am not one of those women you read about who are caught up in the having-it-all trap.  I do not think I have to have it all, do it all, or be it all.  I actually spend a lot of time doing nothing at all worth mentioning.  This isn't to say I've reached some praise-worthy level of enlightenment, it simply speaks more to the fact that I've accepted the way my brain is wired and I feel completely fine leaving "it all" to others. I'm an introvert and I spend a lot of time at home.  My natural state is not one of worrying if I'm getting ahead in life.

But when Autumn blows in, I can feel myself withdrawing from people even more than usual.  I get mentally exhausted from my efforts to inventory what I do and why I do it and where I need to focus efforts to improve.  I find myself feeling like I'm constantly being interrupted, only to realize all I was doing was thinking and no actual interruption occurred other than normal life happening around me.  It seems like I'm running out of time, like I should have more figured out, like I would give anything for life to have a pause button to allow me to get my shit together before proceeding.

But there is no such luxury and not much else I can do but plod on and wait to regain my balance.  Lately I have been trying to focus more on the people around me and do my best to quiet my mind and give them my full attention throughout the day.  It's not much, but it is something to pull me back to reality when my mind is racing and my heart is overwhelmed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sink or Swim

In her sermon titled “The Shepherd’s Flute,” Barbara Brown Taylor begins by telling the story of when her husband and a friend were going duck hunting in the friend‘s boat. When they arrived at the boat dock, they discovered that the boat had come untied and was floating away. As much as they tried to reach if from the riverbank, the current carried it away and the friend eventually had to shed his hunting gear, jump in the frigid water, and swim out to get the boat. They both agreed it should be the friend to take the plunge because it was the friend’s boat.

The second story is about two friends who parked in a parking garage and the driver accidentally bumped the car next to him as he was exiting his car. The driver of the other car jumped out and began yelling, despite that there was no damage. The first driver’s friend got out of the car to diffuse the situation, but the irate car owner told him to stay out of it as the dispute didn't involve him.  To which the friend replied, “When you’re talking to my friend, you’re talking to me.”

Later she goes on to explain the following, which I have been thinking about all weekend:

All in all, we are warned away from getting involved in other people’s problems. Parents teach us to mind our own business and let other people mind theirs. Therapists call it “trespassing boundaries,” or “ co-dependence,” and they have a point. Sometimes our ownership of others’ problems ends up crippling both them and us, by eroding our responsibility for our own lives.  When we make a habit of rescuing other people, we prevent them from learning about the consequences of their actions. We help them keep illusions about themselves, and we get to be heroes in the bargain, but it is not good for them or for us. Everybody deserves a chance to fail.  It is how we learn to be human.
But we also deserve to have someone in our lives who will say, “When you’re talking to him, you’re talking to me,” someone who will tear her clothes off and dive into the water when what is disappearing down the river happens to be us. That is not “ co-dependence.”  That is agape, self-giving love, the kind of love the good shepherd practices and the kind he teaches.
In reading this, I began to think of how much I appreciate the people in my life who have been there for me, to swim after me and keep me from disappearing down the river. But I also realized how ill-equipped many of us are, myself included, to be that person who is diving in, reaching out, standing in, or pulling someone back to shore. We don’t know what to do, aren't sure of our ability to swim, aren't sure exactly of how to help. We stand by either hoping (or praying) for them to save themselves or we end up offering assistance that doesn't really meet their need.

I know it’s not really fair and I know it feels like other people should know what we need, but if we’re being berated by life or struggling to stay afloat, we need to say something to the panicked onlookers. Tell them that we need them to yell back, to pull us in, or to just tread water with us while we get our bearings. If they are trying to put together a rowing team to come out and get us, but what we need is for them to remind us that we are an excellent swimmer and to simply cheer us on, we should try to tell them that. If someone wants to take revenge and shout back at the bully but we just need them to stand quietly by our side, say that. It is easy to think that the people who care about us should instinctively know how to support us. But people process and approach situations differently. What they are offering may seem like the best idea to them, but may be hurting us.

Again, it isn't fair and I know sometimes we may not have the strength to fully explain what we need, but, if at all possible, I really think we need to try. I’m speaking just as much to myself here as I am to anyone else.  It may make all the difference between sinking or making it back to shore.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Christians Should be More Like Atheists (or How an Atheist Helped Save My Faith)

Once upon a time, I was a good Christian girl.  Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that a lot of what I'd been told about God and Christianity and how I was supposed to "live out my faith" was complete bullshit.  It pisses me off to realize that a lot of what I’d been told was actually made up as a way to control others or make money.

I know I've written about my struggle with this process previously; yet what I haven't written about till now is the eclectic mix of people who threw me life preservers and kept me company while I was floundering, struggling to keep my head above water – trying to figure out not only how to swim, but if I really wanted to be in the water in the first place.  I was fortunate enough to find several beautiful souls in some seemingly unlikely places.  Someday, I may write about the others if I feel they might not mind it, but today I'm going to write about my friend Kara.

Late one night as I was randomly looking at blogs, I stumbled on one that was decently interesting and read a few posts.  When I looked at the blog roll and spotted "Answering the Apocalypse” listed there, I clicked over to it.  What I found was some of the most honest, witty, sarcastic, entertaining, and heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.  I have to share her "About Me" description here so you can see why her blog caught my eye:
I am a currently underemployed writer/graduate school dropout who has no idea how to pave a path for herself in life. In addition, I am an "out" atheist, I don't want children, and I am nowhere near as financially independent as I would like to be. And, no, I don't think that my lack of direction, my dislike of children, or the absence of money in my life will be improved by accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, although I guess it would take care of the atheism.
I literally laughed out loud.  This chick is seriously funny and seriously self-effacing in the most endearing way.  She is sharper than most other people I've met, yet she realizes that her flaws make her just as human as anyone else.  I spent my free time over the next few days reading all of her old posts.  I tried several times to leave a comment, but something about my browser settings wouldn't let me.  I finally gave up trying and sent her an email.  We struck up an email friendship, which quickly became chatting and commiserating almost daily.

I genuinely appreciate Kara and her friendship is invaluable to me.   For over three years now, she has been one of those people in my life to whom I could honestly say ANYTHING and know she was not going to judge me or hold it against me or be offended.  She was there for me -- with just the right mix of support, questions, rants, dialogue, and silence -- while I struggled with the incongruity between what I'd been told I should believe and what I saw with my own eyes, felt in my own experience, and read for myself in the Bible.  She would encourage me to see things from other perspectives without ever once pressuring me to change my beliefs to match hers.

While I don't like to tell people what to do or how they should act, after thinking about this for quite a while, I am going to share a few of the things I've learned from my atheist friend that I honestly believe Christians should take to heart.

1. Accept that it is okay for people to be different from you.  Christians seem to talk a lot about loving everyone and "meeting people where they are."  Sadly, we are often so preoccupied with our small groups, purity programs, and hating the sin but loving the sinner, that we fail to realize that none of those things show we can handle it if another person’s life experience does not allow them to see things the way we do.  Kara and I have very different backgrounds, but she never made a big deal of our differences or acted like I needed to be more like her to be worthy of her friendship. That attitude is much more like the attitude of Christ than what I typically see from a lot of Christians.

2. Stop being scared of questions.  Jesus almost always answered questions with questions or with stories that led to more questions.  I know from experience how the certainty that we have the right answers makes us seem haughty and arrogant, because I have been treated that way many times.  Life is messy and full of questions.  We don’t have all the answers and pretending that we do is living a lie.  I don’t know how many times I've started a conversation with Kara with “I don’t understand…” but those conversation almost always lead me to a place of meaning.  I may still have the same questions, but discussing them with someone who never made me feel like I should have it all figured out opened my eyes to the vastness of God’s love and the realization that he doesn't expect me to know it all either.

3. Stop acting like you have it all together.  You don’t.  None of us do.  Be a real person.  People can spot an agenda from a mile away.  No one wants to be your project.  In I Samuel 16, we are told, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Look at the heart of others and wear your own heart on your sleeve a little.  One of the most refreshing things about talking to Kara is that I knew she would tell me what she was really thinking and respectfully admit if she disagreed with me.  We need to accept who we are, regardless of who others think we should be, but we also need to allow those we come in contact with to be who they are.

4. Never tell someone they shouldn't feel how they feel.  Open your eyes and look at the reality of the world around you.  There is real pain.  There is real suffering.  Abandon your slogans, church-sign zingers, and clich├ęs.  Those things not only trivialize real heartache, but they also make you seem like an ass. You do not know exactly what it is like to live someone else's life.  From your perspective, the other person may not actually have it so bad, but how is that helpful to someone who is having a really difficult time?  Proverbs 14 tells us "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy."  I cannot tell you how much it helped knowing that if I told Kara how much trouble I was having with something, she would agree that it sucked instead of telling me what a terrible person I was for thinking I had it bad when there were women being persecuted in Iran.

5. Show up.  Be there.  Don’t shy away from the things that challenge you and your world view.  My friend Kara has been hurt by Christians in the past.  "Christians" used their "biblical world view" to verbally attack her, to judge her, and belittle her.  Yet she never asked me to stop talking to her about my own beliefs and where I was in my journey.  I’m sure there were times it would have been easier for her to tell me she couldn't handle my baggage, that she’d had more than her fair share of Christian rhetoric, and to please talk about something else.  But she didn't   She kept telling me that I’m smart, that I will figure it out, that I will be okay.  It’s easier to back away when we don’t want to get our hands dirty with someone else’s issues, but that isn't what we are supposed to do.  Roll up your sleeves.  Offer a your hands to help, your ears to listen, and your shoulder to cry on.

These are just a few of the things, but I am sure I could go on and on.  My main point here is that when I was standing on the edge of losing not only my faith in God, but also my faith in myself, there was someone there for me who doesn't even believe God is real.  She loved me for who I was, for where I was, and helped me pick up the pieces.  She stood by patiently while I put them back together in a way that allowed me the beginning of an understanding I'd never imagined possible.  Regardless of your beliefs (or non-belief), I think there is something there we can all learn from.  With her unconditional acceptance and constant encouragement, an Atheist helped me salvage my faith.  Imagine how different things would be if more Christians treated other people with the same warmth, respect, consideration, and love.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Small Choices

I've always thought that if I had lived in another time in history, I would have been an abolitionist, a Suffragette, a civil rights supporter, or whatever other label would be applied to someone who, at their time, was standing up against injustice.  Oppression and discrimination have always made my heart heavy.  I feel the need to do something.  To not, through my silence, grant approval.  I can't disguise my frustration and disgust in the face of inequality. 

I’ve come to believe that the struggle for the equal rights of those in the LGBT community is something I need to support.  When I really step back and envision myself in their shoes, I feel like I have a rock in my stomach and can't take a deep breath.  I may not be out there on the front lines with a sign and chanting for the news cameras, but I often feel that tug on my heart and cannot stand how my fellow citizens are too often treated horribly because of who they are, especially when hateful words and actions are cloaked in some kind of religious argument.

Recently my oldest son came home from school with a print-out about Boy Scouts.  Another boy in his class participates and he really, really wanted to join.  I told him we would think about it.  The more I thought about it though, the more I was bothered by the BSA exclusion of LGBT persons and began to doubt if participating in the organization was a good idea for us. 

I will pause here to make two points:  First, I recognize that as a private organization, it is the right of the BSA to make determinations about who is eligible for participation;  Even if I do not agree with their determination, I affirm their right to make it.  Second, I do not have a bad view of people who have participated in or currently participate in BSA activities.  This is not a judgment on those people, just a personal choice about the organization and its leadership for my family and me.

I know it might seem like this should have been a simple decision, but it was not.  If you knew my very reserved and introverted son, you would know what a huge deal it was for him to take such an interest in something and how very difficult it was to tell him no on this. 

I also wondered if my not letting him participate due to my beliefs on the matter was not the appropriate response.  As much as I truly believe in equality in this matter and that what I believe about it is "right," I still struggle with how that works when making choices for my kids.  I remember when I was 12 or 13 and my mom took my sisters and me to a Democratic political rally to hold up "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart" signs across the street in protest.  I contemplated if my not letting Luke do Boy Scouts because of my beliefs was somehow similar to my mom using her kids to help with an abortion protest.  I certainly hope that my kids grow up to be adults who take a stand for equality, but is denying them something they really want because of my stand on the matter the best way to teach them that?  In the end, I decided that if it were the way my child is or my relationship with my child’s other parent that were keeping him out of an organization, I would think that others keeping their kids from participating was an appropriate show of their disagreement with the way I was being treated.

It may be just a tiny thing, not something that anyone would think makes any difference.  I didn’t march down to the school, waving a banner, and give all the people signing up a piece of my mind.  I didn’t loudly protest to everyone within earshot the injustice I see in this type of discrimination.  But in the end, I decided I had to go with my belief that the commands that I follow to love my neighbor and treat others as I would want to be treated means taking a stand against discrimination.  I had to say no.  I truly believe that there will come a day when good will win out and discrimination against the LGBT community will not be tolerated.  Yes, it will come partly through protests and rallies and lobbying congress, but it will also be ushered in through the small choices we all make – in the voting booth, in the support we give to organizations that promote equality and withhold from those who don’t – in the choices we make for ourselves and our families. 

As Dr. Richard Beck so eloquently put it, “Goodness is, perhaps, more banal than heroic. Goodness is achieved through a million small acts of kindness, goodness, and generosity. Goodness is achieved through a million small acts of subversion, resistance, and protest. Millions of small Yes's and millions of small No's.”