Wednesday, August 31, 2016

One of Another

I don't remember how old I was, probably early adolescence, when I overheard a conversation between two adults, in which one stated they were a registered Democrat. I remember being utterly dumbstruck and completely horrified. I could not reconcile the good person I knew them to be with the evil that was the Democratic Party. It didn't even matter that they said they had registered that way years ago, mostly voted Republican now, and just hadn't gotten around to switching registration. I could not imagine why on God's earth this person would continue to be associated with such a depraved, godless group of people.

To be fair, I don't remember anyone specifically telling me "Democrats are evil and depraved," but that was what I had inferred from the conversations, messages, and media I was exposed to during my upbringing in a conservative, Evangelical, homeschooling environment. (Before anyone not raised in that environment gets too indignant, I encourage you to remember this demonization of those on "the other side" is certainly not exclusive to those groups.)

I like to think I've grown a lot since then. I've certainly explored a wider range of conversations, messages, and media. I do not think a person's voter registration is the determining factor in their morality or goodness or even their standing with God.

However. I'm increasingly aware of how often I still get that sinking feeling when I encounter views of family, friends, or acquaintances that are strikingly different from my own. Especially if those people profess to be Christians. Even though my beliefs are vastly different now than those I held as an adolescent, the sentiment behind my disappointment and dissent is the same: how can you call yourself a Christian when you believe that or support that candidate or hold that position?

I keep wondering how I can move past that. How can I think I've actually come very far if I'm presenting the exact same argument or having the same reaction, just from a different position.

I don't think I am alone here. From what I can tell, there is no shortage of people asking "how could you?" of those in their circles, be it only in their own thoughts or outright. If this is true, then I can hardly be alone in wondering about another way. I don't have any easy answers, but I can share what I'm learning from my wondering.

A few weeks ago, the book of Romans was the New Testament reading in the Daily Office. One passage in particular stood out to me and I keep coming back to it every time I wonder how to move past the 'how could you" to a different way:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor...
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)

Two things stand out to me: The first is that this passage contains so many things to do and not do that just focusing on those could prevent me from having time to even think about who you or anyone else may be supporting for president. But what I really want to focus on is the phrase "we are all members one of another." That phase comes back to me every time I catch myself baffled by a friend's statement or Facebook post. I don't fully understand it, but "we are all members one of another" seems to be doing a slow work in me.

I'm starting see that in the mystical Body of Christ, there is something I'm not supposed to so readily dismiss in anything that brings out my 'how-could-yous.' And, more importantly, I'm coming to understand that the person holding those views is somehow part of me, as we are each part of Christ.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we stay idle or silent in the face of actual wrong or evil. What I'm wrestling with and trying to express is a dissatisfaction with the way most of us have learned to engage with people on the other side. What I'm looking for is a different way.

I'm seeing that when we disagree, if I begin from "how could you?" then the last thing I'm going to remember is that we are "one of another." I will forget that we belong to each other (to summarize Mother Teresa). I will recoil or become defensive and cut myself off from you, which means I'm also cutting myself off from who I'm called to be.

It can be baffling how two people who profess a belief in the same God and read the same Holy Words can have such vastly different views. It is so easy to use these differences to harm to each other and our relationships by approaching those opposing views with accusations and incredulity. But what if we could transform these interactions? What if we could learn from and love each other, even if we never agree?

If we want to, we could start by remembering that we are members one of another, and go from there.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Part of My Story


“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.” ― Frederick Buechner

For years I have been in the process of healing from a terrible thing. There were times this process was more fits and starts than anything, but in hindsight, I can see it as a journey I’ve been navigating for much of my life. I’m writing about it now because I believe hope and healing and blessing in our own lives are meant to be shared with others.

When I was a child, I was molested by someone who was older than me, but not quite a teenager. I didn't tell anyone, even though it happened multiple times, because he told me I’d be the one in trouble if I did. Instead of telling, I tried subtle ways to get out of being alone with him. If that didn’t work, I’d end up crying, insisting that I didn't want to play with him, but my tears were dismissed and I was told to stop being rude and go play.

I spent years trying to minimize this experience or rationalize it away. I made excuses for all the reasons no one stopped it from happening. I told myself that a kid who would do that was clearly troubled, that something bad had likely happened to him, too.  I told myself the adults didn’t know what was really taking place and that they'd been taught “acting out” was defiance. I reminded myself that far worse has happened to many other people. None of this helped.

What happened is a true and terrible thing about my life.

Neither minimizing nor rationalizing creates a magical path to healing. What I told myself about those involved is probably true. It is also true that far worse has happened to many other people. But I now understand that I can only heal by dealing directly with my own experience – an experience that has influenced the way I see myself, how I relate to people I'm supposed to trust, and how I parent my own children.

Part of dealing with my experience has been realizing that what happened to me was made worse by unhealthy fears created in a culture of fear. My fear of punishment made me afraid to tell anyone what was happening. The adults who dismissed my tears feared what others might think of my behavior.  They also feared that taking the time to try to understand my “acting out” would be an indulgence that would lead me to even more defiant behavior.

When we succumb to a culture of fear, we have trouble distinguishing healthy fear that is an appropriate response to real danger from unhealthy fears that create more fear, harm, and secrets.

I'm learning, however, that we can learn to identify and break free from the unhealthy fear that causes us to react in hurtful, controlling, or dismissive ways with ourselves and with others. Pema Chödrön writes, “Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart is the work of a lifetime.” While it's true that healing from living in unhealthy fear is a process that takes a lifetime of work, each step we take in that process brings us closer to wholeness and freedom.

For me, the process took physically separating myself, as best I could, from places and people dominated by unhealthy fear. It took stumbling my way into a daily practice of contemplative prayer. It took (after much searching) finding a church where the voices of women and children are valued and heard. It took letting go of most of what I’d been taught about relationships and parenting in order to find new understandings. It took finding life-giving friendship where I could be true to my process in a safe and accepting dynamic. It took finding a good therapist. And it is still taking time.

It's true that it has not been easy. I've struggled and doubted and second-guessed. It's taken a lot of hard work and tears and reevaluating. There are times I still worry over the possibility of terrible things happening. I'm still affected by terrible things that did happen. I still have a long way to go and lot to learn.

But I've also discovered it is possible to own my story and choose how to move forward, that I can choose love over unhealthy fear. 'Love is kind' (1 Corinthians 13) and 'Love casts out fear' (1 John 4) have become deeply held truths for me. If you’re needing to find a way to heal from your own terrible thing or simply realizing you need stop living in unhealthy fear, don’t give up. Love can be a lifeline for you, too.

If it seems too overwhelming, start small. Start one new practice – meditation, mindfulness, hiking, biking, walking, setting a loving intention every morning, taking a few deep intentional breaths every night, appreciating one beautiful thing every day – anything that can help you start to separate yourself from the habits of unhealthy fear. Find a way to get help, from a professional if you can, or from a trusted friend. Work on one relationship. I started with my kids, convinced that since love is kind then my interactions with them must come from a place of kindness rather than fear. None of us are able to change the past, but we can choose a brave and loving way to live now.

I know that love can't always stop terrible things from happening. I know that love can't necessarily make other people respond the way we hope they will. But choosing love changes us. Each time we make a conscious choice for love over unhealthy fear, we become less afraid. We open ourselves to growth and to healing and to new understandings. We become people who can be a safe, life-giving, loving space for ourselves and for others.

And that is beautiful.

Note: I know that sexual abuse and trauma varies in degree and each survivor will have his or her own journey to healing. If you are traveling this journey, please reach out to those who are qualified to support you. Many areas have excellent local organizations or you can contact a national organization like RAINN at or 800-656-HOPE(4673). You are loved and worth the effort it takes to find hope and healing.

Brené Brown's wisdom has been invaluable to me on this journey. 
I encourage you to read her books or visit her website here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Knowing Without Grasping

Silent Saturday is held the first Saturday of every month at St. Patrick's. A few of us gather and someone reads aloud one of the passages for the next morning or shares a short meditation. We then observe three sessions of silent prayer, in increasing duration, followed by walking meditation around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The two ladies who started it have faithfully held this ritual for years, and I've been joining them since summer.

This month, they were both out of town and I agreed to lead the session. The first Saturday of February dawned a glorious, unseasonably warm day. No one else showed up for Silent Saturday, but one of our Altar Guild members was at the church to set up for Sunday's service. I asked her if she'd like to join me, but she politely declined, explaining that she only had time that morning for set-up.

Not wanting to delay her from her other Saturday commitments, I encouraged her to go about her work and to not mind me. I'd just carry on as usual from one of the pews.

She was incredibly gracious, obviously careful to make as little noise as possible. Even so, it was somewhat difficult to settle in to silence with the sounds of preparation echoing occasionally in the space.

But then something happened. The Eucharistic words "Body of Christ, Bread of Heaven" began surfacing in my thoughts as I sat with my eyes closed and hands open. For someone like me who wrestles with the idea of Christ -- simultaneously drawn to The Word Made Flesh and skeptical of the assertion that Jesus Christ is the only way to God -- this was a bit unexpected. No matter how I tried to detach from the words and simply be present in silence, I kept returning to them. And somewhere in the space between her activity and my stillness, I knew and participated in the Body of Christ.

Knew, yet still couldn't grasp.

It was an experience like stretching my hand out the window of a moving car, feeling the air slip over the surface of each finger, over my palm, permeating each pore. Leaning my head so the rush of wind envelops my face and teases my hair. Breathing deep. The current around me and inside me... and yet. I can't hold on to it. I can't close my fist around it and put it in my pocket. Can't hold a single breath.

I have to exhale.

I'm obviously reaching to wrap words around the experience. I know I can only give an approximation. But I think it has something to do with balance and being present in the moment. Sometimes we are the ones in silence, whose hands are still and open. Creating space. Waiting. Sometimes we are the ones in motion, whose hands are moving and serving. Setting a table. Preparing bread. Some of us do one more than the other.

But we can all eat the bread of angels. Taste an incomprehensible mystery. Open ourselves to glimpse what we cannot grasp. The body of Christ. One Body, many parts. An inhale. An exhale.

We balance each other.

We are each other.

And maybe, sometimes, if only for a single breath, we know it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Buffy and Winter

I had high hopes the new year. I was going to have a renewed sense of purpose and focus on establishing some new practices. Only, that's not what happened. I just couldn't seem to muster up the motivation or the discipline.

Instead of focusing on practices and purpose, I spent the better part of January binge-watching the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I had never seen before. I spent any time I had to myself watching Buffy save the world a lot. After spending most of 2015 hardly watching any television, this was... well... a change from that.

I'm not saying it's good or bad. It's just what happened.

I did manage to stay with a couple of my old daily practices. I continued Morning Prayer, and, thanks to an overly-energetic puppy who joined our family in June, I still took walks in the woods every day. I admit I probably would've foregone the walks if the dog would have let me get away with it.

Since I couldn't find my way to starting any new practices, I placated my conscience by trying to use the time in the woods to be present and notice what was going on around me as the seasons made their way through the woods. Even as I experienced a growing sense of general disconnection due to my lack of motivation and discipline, I determined to look for what was still beautiful as the green of Summer and the colors of Fall gave way to the short, cold, gray days of Winter.

I always try to take at least a minute in the woods to close my eyes and breathe deeply, to make myself aware of my connection to the earth beneath my feet and the trees surrounding me. Right now, most of the trees are empty. Just trunks, really, with bare branches sticking out in angles.

I've been feeling a lot like those trees.

I began 2015 with anticipation. I'd been told my career was about to be upended, so I thought it would be a year of big, exciting, scary change. But then it wasn't. And now it's 2016 and I'm in seemingly the same place with nothing temporal to show for the transformation I thought was inevitable. Like a tree in winter, whatever shelter or beauty I had in former seasons is gone, carried away in the biting, Autumn wind. I have nothing to offer.

But surely something happened or is happening. Trees don't cease to exist in winter. Things are happening under the ground, right? I tried to reassure myself with those thoughts. But I've since learned that trees are dormant in winter. Almost nothing is happening. They wait out the season, drawing on resources they saved in the other seasons, trying to stay alive. Not especially encouraging to my analogy. But then I found this:

"It is possible to force a tree to evade dormancy if you keep it inside and with a stable temperature and light pattern. However, this is usually bad for the tree. It's natural for trees to go through dormancy cycles, and the lifespan of the plant is dramatically decreased if the tree is not allowed to go dormant for a few months. Trees have winter dormancy for a reason, and it's best to just let them run their course as nature intended."

I know I'm not a tree, but something about those words is reassuring. Seasons of dormancy are natural and healthy. I remembered that Parker J. Palmer uses the seasons a metaphor for exploring selfhood and vocation in his book 'Let Your Life Speak.'

Palmer writes that winter is a reminder that "times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter-it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves....Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being."

Maybe I stumbled into this dormant season and maybe binge-watching an old TV series isn't the best way to renew myself and prepare for what's next. A part of me is a bit terrified that nothing is next. Terrified that the trees will soon be filled with leaves and new life and I'll still be dormant, with nothing to offer.

I guess that could happen.

But maybe recognizing the necessity of an occasional time of dormancy can bring me the perspective I need. I hope it will help me be more understanding of myself and others. And I pray I can now try to look clearly at the ground of my being and at least open myself to the possibility of a new season.