Finding Peace In a Time of Dread

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a freight train barrelling down on you and all you can do is wait for it to hit before. You’re waiting for the power to be turned off. The doctor to give the terrible diagnosis. For the court date to come, the judgment to be rendered, the relationship to irreparably break. Where you’ve just stood and watched the cracks form as the world starts to fall out from under your feet. Even if you’ve experienced it all before, waiting for the freight train to hit can leave you struggling to breathe from one moment to the next and make each day a long, arduous endeavor to get from morning to night without breaking anything or anyone.

I think a lot of people are in that place – or realizing that they may be headed towards that place right now. Unemployment claims in the US are expected to jump from 250,000 to over 2.5 million this week. Elderly people and those with preexisting health conditions are living in fear. People with no health insurance are thinking through what will be their sign that they have no choice but to seek medical treatment if they get sick. Everywhere there are people making choices between income and protecting their health. Being isolated or risking the health of those they care about. Right now there are people watching the cracks forming under their feet and contemplating whether they even have what it takes to survive the world falling out from under them.

This time 5 years ago, that was me. I was living in a state of constant dread. My husband hadn’t gotten a paycheck in over 6 months and the last bit of consulting work he could drum up had been completed a couple of months back. We hadn’t paid the rent for March and there was little to no hope of being able to cover it in April either. Our one working car was in such dire need of repairs that we didn’t dare even use it for one of us to get a job working for low wages lest it finally breakdown and require a repair bill too large to be covered by a low wage job and thus make it impossible for my husband to get to job interviews much less to his first paycheck large enough to cover the repairs. We had no plan for the inevitable eviction we were facing – no place to go, few people to turn to when the day came that we were forced to load the family into our janky truck and leave. The only positive was that the utility companies were prohibited by the laws of the Northern Tundra from turning off the gas and electricity until Mid-May.

The kind of dread that comes from waiting helplessly for the freight train to hit is like a great suffocating blanket. When the freight train actually hits it creates problems that demand action. The adrenaline hits and you physically have to move. There are plans to execute, solutions to find, calls to make. When the train hits and there’s carnage all over the tracks, you call in help, you move to stop the bleeding, you put aside thoughts for tomorrow while dealing with what’s right in front of you. But when the train’s barreling down on you and the ground under your feet starts to rumble and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, there’s just that paralyzing dread.

Back in 2015 when I was walking through long days of dread, I was reminded one day of the sparrow whose fall Jesus says God takes note of. And it hit me that in my mind, the entirety of that bird’s existence was defined by the moment it fell and yet that wasn’t so at all. Prior to the moment it fell, there had been a great many more moments of not falling. Of flying, socializing, singing, eating, resting and just living its bird life. Out of all the moments that the bird existed, the moment of fall was actually the smallest one. I don’t know what it was about this idea that grabbed me that day, but it came to me that if that freight train was going to hit, it made no more sense for me to suffer in advance over it than it would have for the bird to allow the fact of its inevitable fall to steal all enjoyment from the other moments of it existence.

I felt God telling me, “you think constantly about what has happened or what will happen and hardly even notice that right this moment, you are fine. You can breath, you’re not far removed from a meal, you can get something to drink when you need it, you have shelter from the weather and covering for your body. No one is harming your body in this moment and there’s something beautiful closeby for you to see. Right in this very moment, you’re OK.”

After that, when the dread would start to overtake me, I’d stop and repeat to myself, “right now, I have everything I need. I am safe, I am fed and watered, I am sheltered and I have something beautiful to look at. In this moment right now, I am fine.” It sounds trite, but I’d actually think of the last meal I had eaten, take a sip of the cup of tea, coffee or water I had sitting nearby. I would let myself physically feel the creature comforts I was surrounded by. I’d take a moment to look at and appreciate something beautiful and the dread would pass. In its place came almost a sense of awe at my good fortune. There was still a freight train approaching, but until it hit, I was living in a level of luxury and security that many of the humans who have ever existed rarely had. It made no sense not to savor every moment of it for as long as I could.

Over the next couple of months I would regularly discipline myself to engage in this little mental practice whenever my sense of dread would crop up. Simple and trite though it sounds, it transformed the entire way I experience life. After a while, I started to feel unreasonably spoiled. Yeah, all the furniture might wind up on the front lawn come May, but have you felt how soft this couch is? (Don’t look at the stains!) And how many people in history ever got to enjoy both coffee and tea with just the right amount of sweetener and cream on the same day?!? Have you seen the view through the living room window or looked closely at this picture on the wall? And smell the lentil curry cooking on the stove! I live on the great Northern Tundra of the United States of America and there’s a freight train barrelling down on me and yet somehow I have coconut milk and rich spices from the other side of the world! It’s all quite amazing if you really think about it. I mean – lots of people have had the earth open up under their feet, but how many in human history have birthed 5 children who were all in good health and spirits and had never really been hungry?

The hard reality is that life doesn’t owe us anything and when we enter into human form here on planet earth, there are no promises. Anything can happen. We might get hit by a freight train. In due time, each of us inevitably falls just like that bird. But for most of us the moments of disaster are wildly outnumbered by all the moments in which we are fine. Isn’t it enough to deal with the moments of disaster and the arduous work of recovering from them without also handing all of our moments when we’re actually fine over as well?

If you are one of the many, many people who are suddenly living under the shadow of dread, I would strongly encourage you to start disciplining yourself to stop and be in the moment you are actually in rather than fixating on the train that’s barreling down the track towards you. If the train hits, it’s going to suck – there’s no two ways about it. But there’s no point in suffering in advance. Let the moment you are in – the one in which you are fed and clothed and sitting at a computer or on your phone reading these words nourish you so that in the moment that train does hit, you won’t have already worn yourself out with worry and sacrificed all your moments of fine leading up to disaster to it.

And you never know what’s going to happen anyway. I’ve certainly had freight trains hit me and leave a mess behind but that freight train barreling down on me five years ago? It never did hit. My husband got a good job with the best company he’s ever worked for right in the nick of time. The repair guy we took the car to when the first paycheck came did the most critical repair on the cheap and then arranged to replace our ready to blow tires for less than half price. The bills were eventually paid down and there was even a trip to a resort in Mexico on the company dime the following February. I really am spoiled. And even if you have a freight train barreling down on you, you probably are too. You just have to stop and let yourself feel it for as long as you can.

Let’s Talk About That Half Time Show

So let’s have a conversation about the SuperBowl half time show that people are losing their shit over. I’ve been watching the back and forth reactions and talking with people about it and I realized that the problem really is that two people can look at the exact same thing and see two completely different, unrelated events because of differences in culture. For example, when Shakira went up to the camera and did that tongue thing. To me, that looked really lewd. (I was watching with the sound off, so it looked particularly bad.) I have never moved my tongue like that except when doing things I’m not going to discuss with y’all cuz some shit’s private. But since that’s literally the only frame of reference I have for moving that part of my body like that, I just naturally saw something that looked really lewd.

However, as you probably already know, what Shakira was actually doing was performing a zaghrouta. It’s something done by people around the world, particularly in the middle east as a sign of joy and celebration. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it. Little girls do it and perhaps when they’re grown and move their tongue in a similar way for sexual purposes, it carries the memory of joy and celebration because that’s the memory that’s tied to that body movement. Obviously, the movement is not in and of itself lewd or sexual since it’s done in settings and for purposes that aren’t sexual at all. My perspective on the tongue movement is shaped by my body’s memory which is sexual while for people the world over the same tongue movement is tied to memories of celebration and joy. CLEARLY, the fact that Shakira’s tongue wag looked lewd to me is a ME problem and not an accurate representation of reality. If I refuse to accept that my perspective doesn’t define what she was doing, then really I’m just a jerk projecting my issues onto everyone else.

If you listen to people coming from non-western cultures, one of the observations they often make about us is that we are unusually restrained in our movements and behaviors. We don’t often display the physical exuberance, free movement and enthusiasm that is found in many other places. We reserve our hip thrusts and tongue wags and body rubbing for behind closed doors. Which isn’t necessarily a problem except we often make the mistake of thinking that movements which we have never and perhaps would never engage in outside of a sexual context are in and of themselves sexual. But they’re not. Many people in many places regularly move their bodies in ways we restrained westerners only do sexually when there’s nothing remotely sexual going on. What looks to our eyes like lewd, open sexuality is nothing of the sort to someone who has grown up swiveling and thrusting their hips while playing and dancing with their families, etc.

In fact, it’s pretty insulting to others when we presume that they’re engaged in sexual behavior while they’re simply playing, dancing and celebrating. How would you like it if someone claimed that an American cookout was a lewd celebration of fellatio that we encouraged our children to participate in because we eat hotdogs? They could write articles and include pictures of small children sucking on bunless hotdogs and decry us as a perverted people inclined to sexualizing children for men’s pleasure. Cultural anthropologists could theorize about the role of the hamburger and its relationship with cunnilingus. It would be ridiculous, of course, but it’s not all that different than what we westerners have tended to do to everyone else.

Now, I’m sure that right now someone is thinking that I’m being naive – I mean – look at the pole dancing! Obviously, THAT was sexual! We think that because we associate poles with strip clubs but the practice of using poles for dancing and athletic displays dates back hundreds of years to China and India. Even the pole dancing we associate with strip clubs has its roots in western eyes viewing indigenous Egyptian dancers as sexually provocative (because they dressed and moved their bodies in ways westerners don’t unless sexuality is involved). Traveling shows put these indigenous dancers on stage to make money from leering men and the dancers began incorporating the pole that held up the tent into their dances. Eventually, westerners more broadly were introduced to pole dancing in strip clubs in the 60s. But pole dancing isn’t sexually exploitive in and of itself. It’s hard work that takes a lot of skill and strength. We westerners are the ones who made the connection between pole dancing and strip clubs and now we want to be outraged that everyone else doesn’t accept our perspective as the only valid one?!? Come on people! We can be more mature than that, I would hope.

Even the clothing that the women were wearing. One of the most persistent critiques of western and particularly America culture is that we are unable to see the human form except through the lens of sexuality. It’s as if sex were the one true purpose of bodies and we find it impossible to view a body without being reminded of sex. Which is kind of pathological, to be honest. Obviously, our bodies do all kinds of things other than have sex. They run, carry, jump, play, hold, manipulate and on and on. All around the world and throughout time people have displayed their bodies without any sexual connotations. Just because western eyes have difficulty viewing the human form except Nhakg™g™re plays takes a bath after a ceremony in the village of A'Ukre, in the Kayapo Indigenous land , Brazil on Friday, March 22, 2019. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon rain forest are the shock troops in the struggle against climate change and are undergoing extreme pressure from the newly elected right wing Jair Bolsonaro government. (Dado Galdieri for Financial Times)through a sexualized lens, doesn’t mean everyone else does too! If you look at indigenous tribes engaged in religious ceremonies, depending on the climate, it’s not unusual at all to see the religious leaders dressed in ceremonial garb that covers very little of their bodies. It’s not sexual at all. Until relatively recently in the west, nudity during sporting competitions wasn’t even unusual. Not everyone looks at people in “revealing” clothing and sees something sexual.

And this is the point that I think a lot of people who are appalled at the half time show are completely missing: just because YOU saw it as sexualized, objectifying and lewd doesn’t mean that is the reality of what was going on. You think you’re decrying the sexual objectification of women and exposing children to open sexuality while most of the rest of the world thinks that they just watched two women engaged in feats of athleticism, skill and creativity with great joy. When you respond to what others see in those terms by claiming that they’re sexually objectifying women, you’re just telling them that YOU can’t see these women and their skills except through the lens of sex. You’re telling on yourself.

YOU don’t move your body in those ways unless you’re engaged in sexuality so you can’t fathom that a body being moved in those ways is anything other than sexual. YOU struggle to view the exposed female form except through the lens of sexuality so you assume that the point of wearing clothing that exposes the female form must be sexual. But the fact that YOU see all this sex all over everything doesn’t make it a reality. Other people are not obligated to avoid bumping up against YOUR sexual issues. Because that’s really what this is about: western culture has such a weird, stifled relationship with sexuality that we view all kinds of innocent and even fun, joyful things as sexual whether or not they actually are. And then we try to hold ourselves up as the moral exemplars who would never engage in or approve of such behavior. While everyone else stands around marveling at what sick perverts we are to read sex into anything and everything they do.

The bottom line is that just because something can be seen as sexual, doesn’t mean it is sexual. I totally get that those of us who were brought up in cultures where we have clear demarcations between movements that are sexual and non-sexual and dress which is non-sexual and sexual just naturally see a performance like the one at the Super Bowl as sexual. It looked really sexual to me as a white woman raised in a religious environment too. I get it. (And I’m sure that those who don’t view these performances as inherently sexual have no qualms about taking advantage of our sexual peculiarities to make money.) But just because we see it that way doesn’t make it so. When we project our perspective on others around us, we’re actually the ones sexualizing and objectifying women which is supposedly exactly what we’re so upset at everyone else about.

So, chill. It really ain’t that serious, people. And, if I can make a suggestion, it’s probably not a good idea to pass on our narrow views of sexuality to our children. They’re going to be living in an increasingly multicultural world and it just sets them up to be jerks and bad neighbors if they’re going around acting like other people’s joy and celebration are sexually perverse. Sometimes it’s better to just let things go.

America’s Dark Night of the Soul

Everything is really dark right now. The forces of evil appear are fighting to maintain the upper hand and are clearly determined to drag us as far down the ugly path of cruelty and hatred as they can with willing support from people who ought to know better but are under the thrall of hate and so don’t care. People have revealed themselves and it is bizarre how rare genuinely good people seem to be. And yet, I do believe there’s a well of untapped goodness lurking under the surface just waiting to be released. There has to be; humans are made in God’s image and we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to pour out good as evil.

I often think of something John of the cross said in The Dark Night of the Soul. He says that when God invades our innermost being and begins to purify us, it pushes all of the impurities in our hearts to the surface – things we didn’t even know were there or thought we had overcome. We see this darkness rising and think we are worse than we’ve ever been. Hopeless, ugly, evil even. And yet that is the point at which God is working most intensely in us under the surface. As his purifying fire expands out from our innermost being it quickly burns off the darkness on the surface to reveal his presence and our goodness.

I work under the theory that what we go through as individual humans must happen with humanity as a whole. I think (hope) we are at that point where the darkness is right on the surface and we believe ourselves to be worse than ever. Or perhaps there’s still more ugliness that needs to come to the surface to be dealt with. Either way, if that’s true, then we’re not far off from the point where the goodness under the surface burns through the darkness to reveal something much purer and more beautiful than we imagined was possible. Chin up, peeps.

PS Just a reminder, that I pretty much predicted we were heading in this direction back in 2014. Let’s just hope I am also right about the end result!

Hate In a Time of Trump

In the last few years I’ve had numerous people confess to me that they were really struggling with hate towards Trump, his supporters, his enablers and the gang of conmen and criminals who have taken over our government. Given the behavior of these people, their open animosity, disdain and thinly veiled hatred for the rest of us and the harm being done to our government, our allies and some of the world’s most vulnerable people as the result of this administration, hatred is pretty justifiable. But a lot of us for reasons of personal morality, character or mental health have a commitment to rejecting hate. And yet, as many people are discovering, not hating in the face of extreme provocation and rank evil is easier said than done.

At this point, some of you are wondering why this is even a concern. Hate is a valid and one can argue even a morally appropriate response to some kinds of behaviors and harm done. And telling people not to hate is a fairly common way to minimize actual wrongdoing, threats and abuse. Besides, who are we to tell other people what they are and aren’t allowed to feel? And I agree with all of that. However . . . allowing yourself to hate comes at a cost.

First off, maintaining hate requires a lot of energy. Energy that you won’t always have control of, frankly. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with the bullshit that triggers the hate, but when you hate, you can be having a perfectly pleasant day turned sour by seeing or hearing the object of your hate or even just remembering them. Which is WAY too much power to give someone who’s worthy of hate over your life.

Further, when we hate, the part of our brain that primes us for action is activated. Which means we tend to be more impulsive than normal when we hate. Being impulsive leaves us vulnerable to making mistakes (here’s a quick guide for evaluating an outrageous story before you share it on social media, btw?). Maybe it’s me, but I generally try to avoid doing dumb stuff on impulse, so that’s a problem. And hatred tends to go hand in hand with anger which clouds our judgment and tends to prevent us from recognizing when we’re wrong and making appropriate corrections. Which means we end up being both wrong and an asshole at the same time more often and, thanks, I don’t need help with that.

Probably most insidiously, because how you use your brain becomes how your brain works, allowing yourself to hate means that hate becomes a baseline normal state for you which you will compulsively return to over and over again until it’s so ingrained in your wiring that it can take many years and therapy to undo. As a former white supremacist told researchers investigating hate’s addictive qualities:

“I’ve said before that it took me less than two years to learn to hate and it took me nine
years to unlearn it. You don’t just stop hating just like that. There is still a lot of pollution in there.”

Hate’s a dangerous thing. Even if you are completely justified in your hate, your brain can easily become habituated to hating in ways that are hard to undo. Which, again, is WAY too much power for someone worthy of hating to have over you.

Now, there are lots of esoteric and spiritual arguments to be made against hate, but when you really get down to brass tack for me refusing to hate is a matter of being kind to myself and refusing to allow terrible people more power than I have to in my life. I don’t like the way hate feels in my body, I don’t need help making more mistakes and misjudgments in my life, I have worked hard to master my mind and I’m not risking that to indulge hate and I refuse to allow myself to turn into a hateful person over terrible people. So that’s my personal take on why I don’t allow myself to just hate anyone. Including Trump.

Of course, like I said earlier, easier said than done. If want to share how you avoid falling into hate in the comments, maybe you can help out someone who is struggling with it. For me, it’s been a two-part process. First, I refuse to live in denial so I will make time to have a good look at my hate. I have to let myself feel it so I know what it feels like, how it works, what happens when I add self-righteous or empathy into it, I make myself face the truth about when my thoughts, attitudes, and words are driven by hate posing as reason, righteousness or some other excuse. Then once I had a good feel for it, I just started rejecting it mentally every time I experienced it. The feeling didn’t automatically go away when I rejected it, but I set my will over and over against allowing myself to hate. As soon as I recognize it’s presence in me, I pray: “God, please take this hate from me, I do not want it in my life.” Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. So I don’t particularly have a magic bullet to take hate away (it is at root, a natural, God-given emotion, after all). Just a practice of disciplining my heart and my mind to refuse to hate. Terrible people don’t get to infect me and my mind like that.

Who Are You Calling a Liar? Parkland Shooting Edition

Image result for parkland shootingProbably the most pervasive problem that trauma survivors deal with is not being believed on account of not sounding, looking, acting or thinking how people think a victim should in the aftermath of the trauma.

If we smile or laugh, we’re lying because we should be grief stricken.

If we cry hysterically, we’re acting because we’re over the top.

If we stumble over our words, we’re having a hard time keeping our lies straight.

If we speak eloquently, we’re lying because we’re too composed.

If we throw ourselves into another dangerous situation, we’re lying because we should be seeking safety.

If we hide away, we’re lying and can’t withstand people asking questions.

If we don’t tell anyone, we’re lying because if it happened, we’d tell people.

If we shout what happened from the rooftops, we’re lying to get attention.

If we become an activist, we’re lying for personal gain.

If we never want to speak of the subject again, we’re lying because we should want to fix it.

If our traumatized brains have a hard time remembering details or maintaining focus, that’s evidence we’re lying.

If we are calm, cool, collected and on point, then we’re lying because we should be struggling to hold ourselves together.

It literally doesn’t matter what trauma victims do or how we react, there are people who will use it as evidence against us. Why? Because some people are evil, pure and simple. Remember this as you watch the way some people are talking about the kids and parents speaking out after the Parkland shooting. Those who have partnered with evil are exposing themselves. Pay attention to these people and don’t forget who they are. Not everyone is a good person.

This Is Today’s Test

I really hate that we’re even having this conversation because it’s so damn stupid, but no one is disrespecting the flag. That’s just a bald faced lie. Kneeling is not a gesture of disrespect. It’s a prayerful, reverent position. If Kapernick had said he was kneeling as an act of patriotic fervor, no one except the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mennonites would have objected. But he’s kneeling to protest a pattern of violence by the state against citizens, particularly black citizens.

Let’s drill down to brass tacks about this issue. A 12 year old child named Tamir Rice was deliberately shot on sight, without warning, while playing in a park by the police. And nothing happened. His mom got some money because that’s all anyone cares to give her. The local cops ridicule her, sometimes openly. They knowingly lied about her son and what happened. They did not provide immediate first aid for Tamir’s wounds. They made his sister watch her 12 year brother dying on the ground while locked in the back of a squad car, after a full grown man tackled her to stop her from reaching him. They didn’t even follow their own rules. The local DA was forced by protests to convene a grand jury which he threw so flagrantly and deliberately that details of the proceedings were leaked to the public – something which simply does not happen with grand juries. Grand juries do not leak. From front to back, this case is as egregiously unjust and cruel as it is possible to be.

And, by all appearances, a lot of Americans are cool with that. They’ll repeat easily disproven lies smearing a 12 year old child before dealing with the obvious problem Kapernick and other athletes are protesting. To them, the most important thing is that we all agree that there is most certainly not a problem and further, that we are not allowed to talk openly about the problem outside of a few well-worn bromides that have always sufficed before. Unfortunately, there are people with really loud voices and a lot of power who fall into the category of people who just don’t give a shit about a 12 year old kid in a supposed “ghetto” that they won’t even drive through but know everything about. Where a 12 year old child was playing when he was shot by the police, no wilding gang members being available to do the job, apparently. The people who think like this are assholes. These are the people who need to be identified and kept away from positions of power and influence. Because they are literally sociopaths who are a danger to the rest of us.

So here’s what’s happening right now; as I warned y’all a couple of years back we’re going to be having a little test. And apparently God put Kapernick in charge of administering this part of it. The particular question we need to answer for this part of the test is simple:

What is more important to you: living in a country where it’s unthinkable for a 12 year old kid to be shot by a police officer while playing at the park or following protocol for interacting with national symbols?

That’s all you have to answer: which one matters more? A human being or the flag? Justice or a song? Will you kneel for justice and real human lives or will you refuse to on account of mere symbols? That’s the choice you get to make. It’s an easy enough question to answer. Which is more important – humans or symbols and protocols. Sociopaths will make one choice. Decent human beings will make another. So make your choice. What matters more to you? At the end of the day, what sort of person do you turn out to be? Choose. Let us all know. We’re watching.

Sadly, Being Nice Rarely Changes Things

While I’m usually pretty nice and well behaved here on my blog, it has happened a time or two in real life and on social media that I have been criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic and too provocative. The way I communicate has been called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. More than one person has tried to plead with me (or shame me) to tone it down. Typically they claim that no one will listen to me because I’m alienating people. Clearly, I have not found these arguments or criticisms particularly persuasive.

To demonstrate why, take a look at these fascinating charts:

Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of white people claiming that we have done enough to give blacks equal rights vs those who say that more needs to be done remained stable. Most white people had declared mission accomplished. But by 2015, the positions had completely reversed with most white people suddenly deciding that we needed to do more to give blacks equal rights. What happened? Well, Black Lives Matters happened. Conflict happened. Protests happened. Arguments happened. Roads were blocked, events were disrupted, people shouted and refused to back down. A few even set shit on fire.

Much like me, BLM was criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic, too provocative. They were called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. They were told that all they were doing was alienating people. Right wing media engage in a demonic smear campaign against them to make J. Edgar Hoover do a jig in his grave. The leaders of BLM, however, had studied the history of non-violent social change and they knew better than to give the calls to simmer down and be nice any credence. And for all the criticism and complaints, people’s eyes started to open and their minds began to change. Their denial became less sustainable. In a very short amount of time, opinions flipped quite dramatically.

You see, the idea that we can get people to change their minds about important issues, come out of denial and recognize the error of their ways through civility and dialogue sounds high minded and reasonable. Except reality doesn’t actually work like that. It could, if people were better at listening, less defensive and less invested in victim blaming. But they’re not.

Which is why it is both good and necessary that we have some people who are willing to be obnoxious, piss everyone off and refuse to back down. People who are willing to have people think that they’re a jerk and talk shit about them and say nasty things to them. And while not everyone can or should be that sort of person, I am quite happy to be one of those people at this moment in history. I get that at any given moment. I have a fair number of people mad at, disgusted by or appalled at me. That’s OK. I’m a mom; it’s not a novel experience for me.

A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

Kids and Politics

I’ve heard a fair number of people wondering what to tell their kids about Trump and current events. As someone with kids ranging from 21 down to 6, I thought I’d share how we do thing in our house. I’m not saying that this is the “right” way to deal with the issue, just that this is what my husband and I are personally comfortable with.

First of all, turn off the news. We do not have the news on either the TV or the radio in our home. If you absolutely must listen or watch, do it when the kids are in bed or at school. Most of the news is garbage anyways. Local news is racist and consumeristic garbage. Cable news is distorting and evil. NPR isn’t so bad, but it can be pretty emotional which is hard for some kids to deal with. You can access all the news you need to know online without your kids being exposed to it.

To the extent that my kids are exposed to the news and politics, it’s through dinner conversations between my husband and I with the older kids joining in. We tend to avoid subject that would cause serious anxiety, unless we can talk about them at a high enough level that it will be hard for the younger kids to follow. For example, we might say that Trump’s behaving like a fascist, but we’re not going to go into what fascism actually entails. Mostly we stick to inside ball – there was an executive order signed, this person spoke out on this issue, Trump’s approval ratings. Things like that.

With younger kids, it is my opinion that they don’t need to know what’s going on unless it’s coming right to your door. Children need to be able to focus on their own lives and don’t benefit from the anxiety of watching the goings on of the grown folks. To the extent that you do talk about it with them, keep it vague. All my 7 year old knows is that Trump is president (she doesn’t like his face) and that I don’t think he’s a good man. We also had a discussion about the fact that we’ve had other presidents who weren’t good people before so she’d know that we’ve survived bad men before. (I used George Washington keeping slaves and his relationship with Oney Judge as an example.) Frankly, if your young child is asking a lot of questions about politics and the news, they may be being exposed to too much of it.

If you live in an urban area where there are protests going on, are going to one or will take them to one, telling them that people are upset with the direction the country is going and are making themselves heard should be sufficient. Maybe add in that you’re protesting in order to speak up for the people who get mistreated. Personally, I avoid using the social issues of the day as jumping off points for discussions about serious issues such as equality, empathy, free speech and the like. If you’re raising them right, those are ideas that you are already teaching them in word, action and deed already. (Again, these are my opinions, not me pontificating at you about the right way to handle these things.)

Tweens are still pretty self-absorbed (as they should be) but they are starting to be more aware of the wider goings on in the world. This is the age when they typically start paying some attention to dinner table conversations. So they are gaining some feel for how things work and the general tenor of what’s happening and are usually satisfied with that. With my tweens, I asked them every week or two what kids at school are talking about in regard to the news and/or the president. Obviously not everyone is refraining from discussing politics in front of their kids and kids do have a tendency to parrot what their parents are saying. So things do get said. I’ll ask them what the general opinion among their friends/classmates are (apparently all the 6th grade girls turned on Trump when the news about how he talked about women came out). Then I’ll ask what they think about things being said. Often that’s enough, but if there’s a problem or some misinformation, I’ll counter it. I also try to offer a bit of context to what they are hearing. Like when the pussy grabbing recording came out, I told my daughter that Trump has a bad history with women, so this is the sort of thing that we can expect from him.

Once the kids get into their teenaged years, they tend to be spending a fair amount of time online where politics is ubiquitous. Because they’re growing up in a home where the news and politics is dinnertime conversation, they typically start at least glancing at the news on their own. Both my 17 and 21 year olds keep up with the news fairly well, although not nearly as obsessively as I do. But this is usually the age at which they will start piping up during dinner time conversations or bring it up at other times with us, as they know it’s an area of interest. At that age, I generally try to give them room to tell me what they think, rather than just spouting off at them with my opinions. I’ll gently challenge points of disagreement or bring up ideas, information and perspectives that I can see that they are missing.

As they get older I will sometimes run my own ideas and opinions past them and ask for their opinion. When you’re old enough to have children who are young adults, you’re old enough to be in danger of getting stuck in your thinking and shutting yourself off from new ideas. Asking your kids what they think gives them a chance to think more deeply themselves while potentially exposing yourself to a different perspective. I also like to ask them about the opinions of their more politically aware friends for the same reasons. This is the age where I’ll start arguing more forcefully with them about things we disagree on. But I never let it get too serious. We can agree to disagree, even majorly. But since we’ve been training them in morality, empathy, care of the least and the like as core values, their politics tends to wind up not too far from my own. Although they’re not nearly as radical as their dad and I tend to be. At first anyways.

In writing this, I am aware that although we are a mixed race family and we’ve had more than our fair share of problems, I’m writing this from a very privileged position of being middle class, well educated and largely protected from the wider goings on in the world. Like I said, I’m not saying that our approach is the right approach, but it’s what works for us. I don’t want my kids to be ignoramuses, of course. But I also don’t want politics to become a dominant feature of their lives unless they develop their own fascination with it independent of me. What I really don’t want, however, is to wind up with a young child who is anxious, angry or scared about the state of the world. Nor do I want my arrogant cocksure adolescent who has little to no real life experience spouting off ideology and opinions on the internet like they know every damn thing.

So there you have it. Some thoughts for those of you wonder what to tell the kids. Do with it what you will

Just How Out of Touch Are Trump and the Radical Right? Here’s the List

Image result for signs women's marchIf anyone is confused about why the country is in an uproar right now (aside from the fact that cheeto Mussolini just took office), consider the difference between what the American people want and what is being forced on us by our government and the radical right:
I’m sure there’s more, but those are the issues I could think of off the top of my head. If you would like to suggest other topics for me to research or know of polling on other topics you can direct me to, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list.
At any rate, the point is that right now we have a government pursuing policies which the majority of Americans disagree with, often by huge margins. For whatever reason, these people and their supporters seem to be under the impression that they matter more than the rest of us and that they are entitled to force their will on us. How did this happen, you ask? Seeing as we’re supposedly a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people and all. Well, it’s not because they’re winning more votes, that’s for sure: