If you’re going to make it through this life, there are some things you need to have a good handle on starting with these 3 Unchangeable Rules.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I have a dissociative disorder. A derealization disorder, in fact. Which means that when my dissociative disorder is triggered, nothing around me seems real. Sometimes things literally look like movie sets and sound stages to me. I can’t even watch movies when it’s bad because when everything already looks fake, bad acting takes on a whole new meaning. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s like being locked inside a glass bubble where sounds can get through, but they’re muffled and removed from much of their meaning somehow. I read an article about it once which described disrealization as the loneliness disease. Obviously you can’t connect with anyone when you have a hard time even seeing them as real.
Because my dissociative disorder started by the time I was 17 months old, I grew up with no conscious experience of being able to consistently see other people as real. I just assumed that this was what it was like to be human. It certainly explained the way people treated each other; if the people around you feel like objects, then you’re going to treat them like objects, right? But I knew that other people actually are real, even when they don’t feel real. And I knew what it was like to be treated like objects. I didn’t want other people to feel like that, so I decided that part of growing up and being fully alive must include learning to see other people as real rather than as actors in my environment.
Probably around age 11 I started just watching people, trying to imagine what it must be like to be them. I would watch the way they reacted to things and think, “why did they have that reaction and not a different one?” After I became a committed Christian in early adolescence, I became more intentional about it. I’d pick out people who seemed the least real, the most scary or the least appealing and think about what it might be like to be them. I’d look for things to love about them. In the process, I learned to see people as real. And to this day, whenever I notice that they don’t seem real to me anymore, I make myself really look and think about and try to imagine loving them.
Of course, I wasn’t diagnosed with the dissociative disorder until the summer of 2014, so I didn’t know that the rest of y’all didn’t need to spend nearly so much time thinking about other people in order to remember that they are real. Apparently it’s happens instinctively and unconsciously for some people. Who knew? Thankfully, I was motivated by the teaching to love our enemies and the least to really work at dealing with the problem. And then some, because I am an American after all. If a little is good, more must be better. Continue reading
One of my working assumptions about life is that only that which can be redeemed is allowed. So anything that happens carries possibilities. Because if it’s happening, it can be redeemed. Now, whether any of that is factually true or not isn’t really here nor there. Even if it’s just a mental construct, it’s served me well through some really crazy shit.
Because I assume that everything is moving towards being redeemed, when life throws me a doozy that I wouldn’t choose if you promised me my own deserted island with wifi and an endless supply of tech support, my first thought is, “what is the advantage of this over what I wanted?” There are pro’s and cons to everything. So there are always advantages. They can take a while to find but, they are always there. Figure out what they are and hang onto them. Maximize them and use them to move forward.
Consider that your chosen path carried its own worst case scenario that maybe the universe is protecting you from. You don’t know what’s really going on, if there is anything going on, so pick a story that works for you. Write it in your mind and set it in your heart. Put it into writing if you need to. Revise it as necessary.
That story you create about whatever completely idiotic, terrible thing is happening in your life creates your working assumptions. So make it a good one with you as the good guy in the middle of it who the universe is secretly conspiring to help in unexpected ways. Make sure it fits the facts. Don’t punt and leave out the hard stuff to make the story easier than it really is. It needs to be a true story, not an imaginary one.
So, about the electoral college. They failed. Going back to the time of Plato at least, fear of the mob electing a dangerous man to power has been a concern when it came to democracy. The founding fathers studied the ancient Greek philosophers and were intimately acquainted with their writing and arguments. The electoral college was their answer to the problem of a foolish people electing a dangerous man. It was a great idea, but when the time came, it failed.
However, we do need to consider that if the electoral college had taken another path, that could have gone very wrong as well. If they punted the question to legislators, which is a possibility under the law, the worthless fools who run that place would have been left to make a decision. The Republicans have already shown that they just want power and the Democrats have shown that they will cave to pressure from Trumpkins who flood their lives with demands that they vote Trump in. Or Pence. Hard to know which is worse. So that was never likely to go well.
The other option was to give the vote to the winner of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton. This was my preferred option, although the reality is that if they had done that, it could easily have lead to violence. And given the factors I highlighted yesterday, we are in a situation which in other places has lead to extreme violence erupting almost overnight. So maybe the universe is trying to protect us on that front.
There’s no use or point in spending much energy worrying about it further. It is what it is. We have a marathon to run at sprint speed here. Let’s not waste emotional or mental energy on things that we can’t change or do anything about.
I didn’t mean to make this an all Trump Monday, but I suppose it’s appropriate given the electoral college vote this morning. Which I’ll probably have something more to say about tomorrow. But now that that’s done, we have a very serious issue to grapple with that I think we’d be fools not to take seriously. It boils down to three straight facts that probably 90% of American can agree are true:
- A white nationalist leader ran our president elect’s campaign and is acting as his personal adviser.
- People bought a shit ton of weapons over the last 8 years.
- We have seen the development of a branch of media which devotes serious time to explaining why people should distrust, fear and flat out hate libraturds, feminazis, black power movements, intellectuals, the media, educators, lgbt people, immigrants, scientists and other sorts of people otherwise known as your neighbors and fellow countrymen.
There is such a thing as evil. And in other places when evil has shown its face, this is what it showed up looking like. Lots of weapons, hostility towards “the other” and a media campaign which stoked hatred and fear of “the other” has lead to massive blood shed more than once. I keep trying to think of examples where the above ingredients lead to something else, but none come to mind. Feel free to give me ideas in the comments, because there’s a lot of stuff to know and I can’t know everything. But my concern is that we already know the worst case scenerio and it’s ugly.
Now, this is certainly a dangerous situation – too dangerous to sit back and hope for the best about. There’s a very good reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil; people aren’t required to wait until it’s too late to respond to the appearance of evil. We have to be realistic about the fact that within living memory open white supremacists were in charge of the country. It’s foolish to think that their will to power disappeared so quickly or that they have developed morals and a respect for fair play over the last few decades.
While all of that is genuinely scary if we let ourselves think about it, we do have advantages that people in places where things have gone way south under these conditions didn’t have. Probably first and foremost, we have a history of freedom in this country. Even the most oppressed American feels free to say what the fuck they want on a regular basis. So we have voices. And not just one voice, but many different voices. The upside of our individualistic culture. Which means diversity, which is going to serve us well.
We also have a solid contingent of people who are committed to love, peace, non-violent resistance, organizing, solidarity and the like who are already activated and networking owing to the BLM and Standing Rock movements. I am consistently impressed with the quality of leadership behind BLM. They have studied the history of various protest movements through out history and have been learning from what worked and what didn’t. The fact that the movement’s still a movement even after everything that’s happened ought to tell you something.
And the Standing Rock movement is not just tapping into, but grounding itself in a deep, deep spirituality. I have friends who have been to the Oceti Sakowin Camp and they say there is just prayer room after prayer room after prayer gathering going on. These people are praying without ceasing. Literally. And I don’t care if you’re a believer or not, religion is a powerful, driving force in human affairs. And the people involved in both of these movements are training people constantly. So there’s this network under the surface already of people committed to activism and resistance.
And we have technology. Social media. I have a friend who actually marched with Dr. King against the wishes of her very racist family. She was active for years in social justice issues and has been disappointed to see that we’re apparently not nearly as far from where we started as we ought to be by now. But when I asked her what sort of difference it would have made to have had access to today’s technology and she got excited at the very idea of it.
Now, it would be wonderful if Trump turns out to be merely incompetent and not the president who tries to unleash the wrath of hell on us. But those three basic facts mean we need to be fighting now, before things have a chance to start going south fast like they have in other places. I truly believe that whatever happens, we the people of the United States of America and our friends around the world can make it better. And we can do it without returning hate for hate or violence for violence. I’ll talk more about all of this over the next few days and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re brainstorming about what you can do from where you are and with the voice you have. Because I’m just having a hard time seeing a path forward that isn’t going to require us to fight. And, while I hate to be an I told you so, this situation is exactly what I was warning was coming way back in 2014. So don’t be too quick to write me off here, k? This is not a drill, peeps.
I once knew a family that didn’t do Santa Claus with their kids at Christmas. The reason they didn’t do Santa Claus was because they felt it might lead their children to doubt the existence of God. You see, Santa is basically an old man living far away at the top of the world. He gives you what you want because he loves you. But nobody ever gets to see him. And many children think of God as an old man living far away in heaven who answers our prayers (gives you what you want) and you never get to see him either. So their concern was that when the kids discover that Santa isn’t real (sorry if that’s a shock to you), that would sow the seeds of doubt about whether they were being similarly bamboozled when it came to believing in God. No seriously, that’s what the mom told me. I’m not making it up at all.
I actually think that the experience of finding out that Santa isn’t real, when handled decently well, is a good thing for kids. It’s a safe way to teach them that sometimes you believe things that aren’t actually true. And it’s OK. Life doesn’t end. The presents don’t stop coming. Yeah, you lose a little bit of the magic. But it’s not the end of the world. The real fun of Christmas doesn’t come from in believing in magic; it comes from expanding what brings you joy beyond just receiving. Christmas is much bigger and richer than presents that show up by magic if you’ve been good. It’s just like Christianity that way.
Unfortunately, this whole “never allow doubt, never consider that you might be wrong, never question the reality you’ve be taught” mentality is exactly how a good number of people teach their kids to approach the faith. I know that the people who do this and think this way believe they are doing the right thing. But the hubris of it is astonishing.
In order for me to teach my child never to doubt, question or challenge what they have been taught about God, I have to be confident that what I have taught them about God is 100% accurate and complete. I have to be so certain that my faith experience and theology represents the pinnacle of the Christian faith that it would be foolish and dangerous us for them to ever seek anything better than what I’ve got. And if you believe that about your faith, um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, hmmmm . . . how to put this delicately? Maybe if I pet your unicorn while I figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk? I know they must exist somewhere in your world, because your world clearly doesn’t work the way my world does.
In my world, God is bigger than I can imagine. In my world, we have barely begun to grasp his goodness. In my world, we’re still struggling to live according to his Kingdom ways. In my world, the way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been universally embraced and resulted in the meeting of heaven on earth, so clearly it’s not good enough. In my world, what I know and what I have experienced is the jumping off point, not the end destination.
If you think that what you know about God and how to live according to his Kingdom ways is good enough, well, flowers better be springing up around you everywhere you walk. Because that’s a mighty big claim to be making. Big claims require big proof. If the faith you are passing on is so delicate that learning that Santa’s not real might threaten it, that’s big proof alright. Just not the sort of proof that points to you being right.
It occurred to me this morning that our problem is that we are looking for a once and for all solution to everything. We want to get our theology right once and for all. We want to get our parenting right once and for all. We want to get our governments right once and for all. We want to get our sexuality right once and for all. We want to get our economies right once and for all. We want to get our laws right once and for all.
But this runs utterly contrary to how God created the world to work. There are no once and for all solutions on planet earth. You can’t water a patch of earth once and for all. You can’t grow food once and for all. Everything changes. What was once a jungle is now a desert. What was once a dominant male lion is now a fallen carcus being eating by scavengers. There is no once and for all. There’s only a process.
Then I thought, “but God does promise a once-and-for-all, doesn’t he? He promises salvation and redemption once-and-for-all. Right?”
And then I had one of those ah-ha moments. We want a once-and-for-all, but God gave us a process. There’s a Way of doing things. It’s why Christianity was called The Way very early in its development. It’s a way of doing life. A process for challenging the powers and principalities which rule this world. The process IS the once-and-for-all solution we’ve been looking for.
The process works when we are continually looking for a better way. When we are driven to do better and expect more from ourselves. We can always love better. We can always find better solutions. We can always learn from errors. We can always go deeper into God. We can always become more of who He created us to be. We can always experience our salvation more fully. We can always grow in deeper unity with each other. To embrace this process of continually learning better ways to follow Jesus’ teachings is to embrace God’s once-and-for-all solution.
The moment you insist that your way is THE way, that what you know about Jesus is what there is to know, that your theology is not only good enough, but unable to be challenged, you are cutting yourself off from God’s solution. You are like a child who refuses to mature. It’s not a good look, frankly.
Learning to be wrong is a skill. Most of us weren’t taught it. In fact, the more religious your upbringing, the less skilled you are likely to be at it. But refusing to be wrong doesn’t make you right. When I confront my children about their unwillingness to admit when they are wrong, I sometimes remind them of someone I knew growing up. He would never, ever admit he was wrong. He believed that it was his job to never be wrong and that to admit error meant he was failing at his job.
I ask my kids, “do you think he was ever wrong?” And of course they say yes. Everyone’s wrong sometimes. Then I ask them, “do you think that him never admitting when he was wrong fooled us? Do you think that we actually thought he was never wrong?” And of course they say no. We knew he was wrong even when he wouldn’t admit it. “Do you think you’re going to convince us that you’re never wrong just because you are unwilling to admit it? Do you think it will work better for you than it did for him? Or do you suppose we’ll all just think you’re kind of an idiot for never being able to admit when you’re wrong?,” I ask.
What I don’t tell them is that this person actually did manage to convince some people that he was as perfect as he claimed to be. It was shocking and hurtful to them when they finally had to face the reality that he was just as, if not more, prone to error than the rest of us. Even sadder was that he wasted many years dedicated to never being wrong that he could have been using to learn better ways of living and being.
So, I suppose that all of this is to say, there’s nothing wrong with your kids finding out that Santa isn’t real. And refusing to ever allow for doubt, questioning or error isn’t going to make you right. It’s just going to turn you into the kind of idiot who teaches their kids that God is like Santa Claus in the sky. Which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not nearly good enough for me.
*Originally posted May 2014.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
~ T.S. Elliot
An oldie but a goody! BTW, if you read these and know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to family, you are one of the people I wrote The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life for. It’s a collection of enlightening essays for thinking better, being better and growing where you’re planted. Even if where you’re planted is a, um, lacking in certain nutrients required for proper growth. (I was going to say something much meaner, but I’m trying to be a good Christian here.) The book is only $6 on Amazon. Buy an extra one for your sister. Or a whole bunch for your friends. Also, if you are one of those people who has been experiencing an increase in interpersonal verbal and emotional abuse over the last couple of weeks, you can follow me on my personal facebook page where I’m sharing other bits of advice for keeping yourself safe and sane under adverse conditions. (I swear a lot more and talk about God a lot less on my personal page though. Just so we’re all clear. I hate to have to make someone look like a jackass in front of everyone. 😉 )
So, best of luck everyone. It’s a bit wild out there, but just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll do fine. Happy Thanksgiving, peeps!
Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different. Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.” So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archives to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:
1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity. One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding. Where all of my other 7 siblings (but not me) stood up in the wedding. That was weird. Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.
2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only rarely less painful than the discomfort of conflict. The determining factor being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table after bursting into tears in front of everyone. Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but being able to speak up for yourself is a form of self-care everyone needs to know.
3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down. Not every confrontation need to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted. Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.
God’s ways do not rely on the goodness of men (or women) to work. They have a power all their own. Thus, all through the Old Testament, we see God relying, not on good men, but on people who were prone to abuse, violence, weakness, arrogance and all manner of human sin to enact his plans. To put a finer point on it, any idea about how things work which relies on the goodness of humans to work, is self-evidently not from God.
To see the difference in action, consider the difference between the fruit from the teaching of the unique subordination of women vs full equality and mutual submission between men and women. Despite having been tried all over the world, the unique subordination of women has never produced a human society where peace, justice and freedom were widely enjoyed. (Anyone who says pre-1960s America gets slapped – slavery?) The explanation for this is always the same – it requires good, Godly men. This teaching is like communism, a great idea that’s just never been properly executed.
On the other hand, women in the early church served in all areas of the church. They enjoyed rights in their marriages and as daughters not allowed or expected in the prevailing culture. That all faded away after the first few hundred years, but the remnants of this teaching carried such power that the places in the world where women first gained (pretty much) full equality and are considered the most free, most respected and most empowered are places where Christianity has deep roots. Once God’s ways are introduced into the system of humanity, they will face more and less opposition, but over the course of time, they will persist and bear good fruit.
That hopeful feeling you experience when someone tells you that God is better than you’ve been taught is the Holy Spirit moving. I know a lot of churches tell you to ignore it. To settle for a God who isn’t really good enough. But listen when your heart leaps with hope, joy or peace. That’s the Spirit in you.
How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.
Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions and might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading