Monday, September 23, 2013

There but for the Grace of God...

The first 15 years or so of my adult life were pretty much dependent on programs I'm hearing called government handouts.  My first few years of college were at a State University.  My tuition was paid through state grants and I earned money with work study programs.  After serving in the Air Force, I went back to college using the Montgomery bill where the government matched with $2 every dollar I had paid in.  I went back to a State University and was again eligible for state grants and work study.
My first jobs were funded under Human Service Development grants and Job Training grants.  Along the way I had much help and support from family and sometimes needed food stamps to eat.  Years I went without health insurance and by the grace of God did not need it.
I didn't get the dream job right out of college.  I struggled and clawed my way and sometimes made bad decisions.  By luck, I got the job I have now with good benefits and decent pay.  Many of the people I graduated with and many whom I taught (under the Job Training program) have not been so lucky.
I'm not smug enough to think others did not have my same experience because I was smarter or worked harder.  And I'm not foolish enough to think that what is happening to other professional people in their mid 50's will not happen to me.  I'll be very lucky to retire from the job I now have.
I wonder if I loose my job through no fault of my own and I cannot afford health insurance as I may struggle to find another job, will I be called a slouch - a taker - an under achiever?
For about a decade of my early career, by today's conservative standards, that is what I would be called.  I probably wouldn't even have a job because the programs that employed me then have been slashed.  And if I wanted an education, I would need to take on student loans that would follow me for years.  The same years I was lucky to find jobs paying little more than minimum wage.
I just don't understand the whole "self made" mentality.  And I don't think it's because I've been a big taker all my life.  Maybe I'm just more aware of life's roadblocks and how difficult they can be to overcome.  I tend to think, "there but for the grace of God", instead of "Oh God, there's another one."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Truth can be a sword

Truth alone is not the only factor in determining if we should say something or not.  How we say it and the spirit in which we say it are just as important.
Here's an example:  a guy sees his sister and says "You look terrible in that dress".  His wife pokes him in the ribs and he says bewildered, "What? It's the truth".  The wife may totally agree that his sister looks terrible in that dress but that is not why she poked him. She poked him because he was blunt and didn't consider his sister's feelings.  Obviously, his sister saw something else in the mirror.
We get ourselves in trouble a lot that way.  Truth can cut like a sword and most often there are ways to say things - truth - that doesn't need to cut.  Sometimes we might be better to say nothing at all.
In the case above, can you picture the sister reacting with "my brother hates me"?  How did she jump from his opinion about the dress to hating her.  Two reasons:  She did not see his statement as true and he was blunt - critical.
I've done it and probably most of you reading can think of similar situations.  We say something that may be quite true but it's said far too bluntly.  The other person does not see that same truth when they look in the mirror.  Then they believe you hate them, especially if they are very sensitive about what you said.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are saying "What?  It's the truth." - it's not the truth that got you in trouble.  It's that you are seeing something different than they see when they look in the mirror.  You said it too bluntly or should not have said it at all.  Once the person's feelings are hurt, it's very hard to walk back what you said.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Pope of Hope

I am inspired and full of hope with the words of Pope Francis.  The world has a new spiritual leader that sounds a lot like Jesus.  He talks about love, compassion, and non-judgemental behavior.
"You are not Catholic, why do you care?"  you might ask.
I am Unitarian and believe in the human race as one.  If some are struggling, it affects us all.   I see great importance in all spiritual leaders.  They can lift the world up if they deliver a message that leads to behavior based in true compassion and understanding.
There are hints of this message in what Pope Francis says.  I can learn something from this man.  And larger than that, millions around the world will be listening to this man.  I don't expect him to change the entire way that followers interpret the Bible and don't believe that is what he feels called to do.  But he is calling the church to behave differently and get focused on the core vision, mission and values of the church.  He is calling the spirit of the church into action as compassionate followers and asking us all to recognize that we don't own God.  God is part of us all.
Many may feel compelled to dial back what he is saying - to try to hang on to the more exclusive and divisive views of the past.  That's understandable.  Pope Francis' message is nearly as radical as Jesus, the Rabbi's, message was to the Jews.  Jesus told the Jews that God loved the Gentile too.  Jesus told the Jews that laws would not save them.  I hope the world is better prepared this time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Rest of the Story...

Why do I always question and keep searching for the "rest of the story"?
Why don't I just believe and be settled in it as many can be?
When I was a child, I did.  I loved Sunday school and church.  I loved following my mommy as she lived the Christian teachings I heard sitting beside her on the pew.  I may have written about this before, but I am reminded tonight of the moment everything I believed to be true was challenged.   And I realize that moment has caused me to continually question and seek deeper meaning.  I am always driven to ask what the rest of the story might be.  I always wonder if the words really mean what they seem to mean because once I believed with total conviction that they did.  But they did not.
At 8 I learned there is something more to the story than the words reveal.  I learned that there are things we cannot understand in this lifetime.  At 8 I learned that you can believe something with total conviction because that is what you have been told.  But believing it does not make it true and no source on earth makes it so.  Even calling on God in exactly the manner you have been taught, will not make it so.  Someone missed the rest of the story.  I didn't stop looking and listening at 8.  I kept at it, Sunday after Sunday.  Church camps, working at church camp, youth ministries, Newman Center and on and on.  And so far, no one on earth has provided the answer for me.
I don't question God.  I question man's understanding of God.  I've grown to enjoy the journey and the search for greater understanding.  I also understand I am human.  Once I am beyond being human, I fully expect to hear the real "rest of the story".  Oh my, will I be full of questions.  Then I imagine being full of answers in an instant.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reaching the Other Side

It's not only language that limits our ability to communicate, but also images we hold in our mind.
Not long ago I was talking with a friend about a book and she said something about the main character that led me to say, "but she was black."  My friend said, "no, she was blond with blue eyes."
So, I went back to the book and sure enough in the early pages there was a description of a blond, blue eyed woman.
I tried to understand why I had pictured the character so different in appearance.  The character was a veteran, worked in law enforcement, lived at the beach....  Why did I not visualize this character close to how the author had described her?  It took me a few days to figure it out.  I once knew a black woman by that name.  To this day when I think of that book, I still picture the main character as a black woman - even though I now know that's not what the author wrote.
I've been in classes where we had to try to describe what we were seeing so that someone else - not seeing it - could draw it.  The results are interesting and it can be a very frustrating experience for both participants.  What would happen if the communicator's instructions were recorded and three very different people were the ones trying to draw the image?
Really understanding one another can be very difficult.  We don't always understand where the break down happens.  If one party hits the communication stop button, all hope of understanding is gone.
We get an image in our our mind that we just cannot get past.  It becomes debilitating.
Recall the last big argument you had with your spouse or someone in your family.  You said or did something - they said or did something - maybe word bombs started flying and probably at some point someone hit the communication stop button.  
Stepping back can be good if we are sorting things out.  But sometimes what happens is that we build a wall.  If communication stops here, the spouse becomes an ex and the family relationship is estranged.
Breaking through that wall is difficult, the larger it's built.  Usually the wall gets a label - something that sounds impossible to overcome.  Reality is that there are few issues that cannot be overcome with a lot of love, understanding and communication.  Recall the last argument with your spouse or family member that you actually worked through.  Didn't it feel great when you reached the other side!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


There are so many things I keep thinking about as I process all that I read in the book "Religion Gone Astray."  First, the title is appealing to someone like me who is distrustful of religious institutions.  Sadly, that may mean the important messages conveyed won't be considered by those who are quite certain there is nothing at all wrong with their religious institutions.  In fact, the title alone will likely cause them to dismiss the book entirely.
It should be noted that after a decade long journey together none of the three - the pastor, the rabbi or the imam - converted to another religion.  Their journey together was not about conversion.  It was about finding common ground and shared spiritual values.  To do that, they had to take an honest look at the historical context of their religion, the historical context of their own views, and seek the central important values of what they believed.  They had to examine their own misconceptions.  They had to examine the shortcomings of their own religious group.  Then they could begin to understand the perspectives of others.
This is very deep, tough work.  We are good at pointing out the shortcomings of another persons belief system but not so good at seeing the frailties of our own.  Beyond that, are we able to look at a foreign belief structure and find our common ground - appreciate the good that is there for us to see?
We cannot grow if we don't see where we may fall short.  We cannot aspire to more if we are not open to see something different.
I am thankful for this book and the challenge it has presented.  If you believe your religious belief is beyond question, I challenge you to read this book.  If you are right, the short pages of this book will mean nothing to you.  It's not about converting you so you need not fear.  If you are truly a person filled with the desire to learn to love better, read this book.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Find 10 things - Gratitude!

Not too many years ago I determined that I needed to wake up each morning thankful for 10 things and go to sleep each night thankful for 10 more.  At that time my life was shrouded in a cloud far from the life I wanted to be leading.  I wanted to see the light.  I wanted to walk in the light.  I wanted to be the light.
I wasn't inspired by one single source of information but rather a collective of information from various sources and memories of other dark times.  Always it has been gratitude - focusing on what was meaningful and positive - that has taken me to a better place.
At first it was very challenging.   I was counting toes and fingers and eyes and any other simple thing I would find to be thankful about.  But that was good.  I go back to those from time to time with a greater appreciation of awareness of how very much we take for granted.  Thinking of my Dad and dialysis, I am thankful for healthy kidneys.  Thinking of others I am thankful for a fairly healthy memory.  And as my thankfulness has grown I see things anew.  Outside of my designated thankful moments, I say 'Wow, look at those stars!"  I thank the people around me more.  I am even more thankful for those who challenge or provoke me.  Everything has become an opportunity for thankfulness.
I don't always remember to do this but hang onto it more closely than I ever have in my life.  And the more I practice it, the better life becomes.
Some say that life cannot be all "warm and fuzzy".  That is true.  But we are each in full control of what we do with each moment.  We are in awe of those who face great odds and find a way to overcome them.  I believe it is centered in gratitude.  If we can find a way to be thankful beyond all, we can conquer all.
Everyone has a story to tell.  Be thankful to hear it.  Everyone does something better than you.  Be thankful for the chance to learn it.  Every challenge we face has opportunity for growth.  Be thankful to discover it.  When you face a challenge - count those 10 before you make any rash decisions.
An attitude of gratitude will take you far.  Then count 10 more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Need for Community

The human species needs a sense of community.  Tribes, clans, nations all reflect that need for a collective sense of wellness.  We join churches and join clubs in need of being around people with similar beliefs and interests.  Within these communities we chart history, mark milestones, and develop traditions.
Studies have shown that these community relationships are as important as our family and close personal relationships.  The stronger and larger community ties make us healthier and happier.
Short of death and physical torture, the most severe punishments involve solitary confinement, excommunication, shunning, shipping off to a penal colony.
If you wonder why GLBT people want to live openly authentic lives, this is why - Community.
At one time I did not support the notion of gay marriage.  I thought it foolish to want to mimic an institution that has not be so successful in recent years.  But now I believe we need a return to what marriage is supposed to be and it does not matter if it is same sex or not.  The ritual of marriage should not just be something private between two people.  It is an important community foundation.
Finding a life partner is a really important thing.  Our friends and family should be part of that process.  When they are not, we don't have as broad a view as when they are part of the process.
Think of friends or relatives who were dating someone who was totally wrong for them.  If they married that person, what happened?  Think of others that you felt were totally right for one another.  Did they separate later?  Were family and friends involved in their lives?  Did they trust their friends and family to be involved?
I am sure everyone would agree that we all want a life companion.  That is the most important commitment of marriage.  Just as important is community and the community's commitment to support and encourage that marriage.  I'm a better person when I have friends and family near encouraging me to tackle a problem a different way or to choose my battles more carefully.
Many people believed that shunning GLBT people - making them outcasts - would serve as a deterrent.  Most people now understand that becoming un-gay is not going to happen.  The next step has been - ok, you're gay, so do you have to make a big deal out of it? 
Look at it from the need for community and you may understand.  It is a big deal.  To build a stronger society, we all need a sense of community and acceptance.  That's what GLBT people are fighting for - a sense of community and full acceptance.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The God of Institutions

For thousands of years man has justified violence and atrocities against fellow man in the name of God.  The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the forced conversion of native Americans with the motto "kill the savage.  save the man" are prime examples.  Even Hitler used the name of God as justification for creating a "pure" race as he sought to not only eliminate Jews but also disabled persons, homosexuals and just about anyone that did not fit as Arian. 
In order to carry out these atrocities, all involved had to harden their hearts.  Sadly, history tells us that it is not too difficult to harden the hearts of humans by repeating the same rhetoric over and over again.  If we can be convinced of some greater good, usually through fear, we will  overlook the horrible outcomes of following the line of rhetoric.  The fear usually revolves around "the others" posing some threat against us.  The fear is then often followed with a self righteous dose of doing whatever is done for the good of the person targeted.  "Kill the savage.  Save the man."
In reality, it's all about power and control.  Many go along with the actions simply for self preservation and nearly always the goal is institutional preservation.  The tribal instinct sets in and an institutional allegiance prevails.  There is no greater source of institutional allegiance than convincing the masses, the institution has direct authority from God.  Once that allegiance is secured, the masses no longer seek reason.  They harden their hearts to anything that is not in line with the institution they love.  They will also believe even the most irrational rhetoric without questioning its authenticity.
At some point the institutional rhetoric grows so irrational that external and internal forces begin to push back.  This is when the true spirt of 
God begins to speak to the masses.  If you struggle to know which is correct - listen carefully.  Look for heart.  Look for love.  Listen and watch for compassion.  A true prophet has no need for lies.  All that he or she says will be true.  The fruits of their labor will not be destruction.
Watching the remembrances of the civil rights marches a half century ago, I was reminded that the violence against peaceful protests convinced a nation that the institutional position was wrong.  The tireless efforts of thousands of freedom workers, began to speak to the spirit of the masses and changed the course of this nation.  We began to realize that justification for inequality was based on lies.
We need to constantly question and challenge the positions of our institutions. Just as we need to constantly question and challenge ourselves spiritually, we need to grow the spirit of human kind.  Our institutions reflect a collective understanding of the world.    If we do not challenge ourselves, we stagnate.  Our institutions will not grow if we do not work to grow our collective understanding.  That requires an open heart and an open mind.
Educate yourself.  Listen for lies wherever they may be derived.  Protect your heart from hardening.  
While I have great hope and a deep belief that universal truth will prevail, I'm disheartened most by political and religious leaders who spout lies to support their positions.  I'm disheartened because I know that masses of people are too easily deceived and too easily willing to follow without question.  The evidence is that these people have been elevated to positions of power and control.
Evangelist Pat Robertson, beloved by many, recently told a whopper story about HIV positive gay men supposedly wearing secret rings intended to mix blood with unsuspecting people that shake their hands.  To their credit, the Christian Broadcasting Network vetted the information and removed his comments from the posted broadcast but he and others are likely repeating this madness as evidence of the dangers of homosexuals.
A Catholic Bishop recently stated that children of homosexual couples are more prone to suicide.  Again, no basis in fact.
A Republican politician recently stated that rape kits clean a woman out so there is no risk of pregnancy.  Totally false.
When the argument turns to lies as justification of inequality, I know which side of the argument I need to be standing.  This is a sign that groups are cloistering and feeding on themselves to pursue their goal.  Our spirits do not grow in that kind of environment.  Universal truth is Universal.  If it is void of truth - void of love - void of compassion - void of understanding - the source is not God.