Monday, November 30, 2009

Hateful theology.....

Words mean something. And when we use words to promote hate, however cloaked it is in theology, it's still just plain wrong!

Sunday morning, I went to my class. It is a fill-in class and a big disappointment after the Life Coaching class last month. The focus is Psalm 119. The class is called "Sweeter Than Chocolate." Well, the way it is being interpreted and presented, it should be given the name "More Bitter Than Lemons".

The instructor of the class has blown me out of the water twice now with hateful comments. Her first statement was regarding the death penalty, justifying her support of institutionalized murder. She didn't talk about deterrents or any of the other usual justifications. She framed it in hatred for the criminals.

If this woman was a Muslim, she'd be on the Homeland Security Watchlist!

Her second statement was "we should hate sin. There is too much tolerance of sin these days."

I'm no one's theologian but even I know that the word "sin" translates to "mistake".

There are many approaches to human imperfection and our mistakes. The one I hold is that people who make mistakes usually act from woundedness or ignorance. And, yes, some people are just "born bad". I do believe that. But that's another issue for another time. I still don't believe I have the right to murder them.

At the same time, I think the purpose of religion is reconciliation and healing. It is about a loving universe or God that seeks to heal us, to comfort us and to help us make good choices. It's not all that different than the Ten Precepts of Buddhism. There are rules that make our lives work. There are behaviors and beliefs that lead us to misery. It should be used to bring us together, not tear us apart.

There are some who believe that religion is to execute social control, discourage freedom of thought and to scare people into following cultural customs and norms. They use it to disempower large groups of people so that they can control them. Their greatest tool is fear. That kind of religion, as Marx once said, is the opiate of the masses.

I've read a lot about Jesus over the years and he was amazing! He was straightforward, blunt, honest, authentic and he was very, very kind! Kindness isn't always sappy sweetness. Sometimes kindness is giving someone information they need to make good choices. Sometimes that's bluntly. He healed. That's not to say he never got mad. He got frustrated. Cursing a fig tree for being barren out of season is a sign of frustration, not hatred. There are times when he rebuked people but it wasn't out of hatred or rejection.

The instructor of this class has a superior, smug, arrogant and judgmental attitude. I can't help but believe Jesus would find that appalling. I can feel the tentacles of her judgment, even sitting in the class. It's an energy she throws off.

She has taken a dislike to me, as well she should. We think nothing alike. While I'm sure we have some things in common, I doubt either of us care enough to share our time with each other. I offered to buy a book for a woman who couldn't afford one. I negotiated a bit, said I would pay $15.00 for it rather than $25.00. It's better than giving it away, right? She commented that the woman who needed it hasn't been coming to the classes that long, so why should she get a break? I said "kindness" and walked away. What could I possibly say to something like that? The woman didn't get the book because they wouldn't sell it to me. I guess they think she should be "punished" for not coming to enough of the classes. Yecht! (Since I likely won't finish the class, I'll just give her mine.)

The next few weeks are going to be a challenge. If nothing else, it will test my tolerance for being around people who honestly carry such hateful attitudes - and choose to live their lives in such a small, harsh and unrelenting cocoon. I think it would be a rather smothering and unhappy place to be. I'm happy and grateful that I no longer live in that world.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: Indra's Net

It's been an interesting few weeks. It seems the universe is providing me with lots of new opportunities to reconcile the past, become friends with it and make connections with some people, related and not, with whom I have not communicated in 40 years.

At a relative's prompting, I set up a private Facebook account, as private as Facebook can be, that is meant only for old contacts. Relatives and friends left behind in Los Angeles many, many years ago. There are also some cousins I've never met who live on the east coast.

There's a woman I knew in 1967 through 1970. A girl then. We went to high school together. She had it all together. She wasn't overly popular by high school standards. There were three of us who hung out together, an unlikely group. One wanted to be a model. She was tall and blonde and beautiful. The perfect physical type. I was a compulsive, nomadic seeker and it isn't what I wanted to be. It's just what I was - and what I am. I was the hippie. And then there was Carole.

Carole was quiet by nature and that stoicism hid a deep wisdom uncommon for her age. She was always very clear. If I had to sum Carole up in one word, it would be clarity. She stood tall and proud, even during an uneasy adolescence.

I heard from Carole this week. She found me.

She wrote a long newsy letter, filled with accomplishment and ambition. She lives in a lovely, exclusive part of Los Angeles. She is someone for whom achievement clearly matters. On the other hand, that compassion was still present. It was a turn of phrase that let me know. Books she's chosen to read. Seminars she's attended. Her career choice which is in Human Services. Her comment in my yearbook was "never forget that the biggest surprises come in the smallest packages". While I understood the cliche in a superficial way, it took some number of years before I understood what she was saying. She was right on target.

Carole and I have both done human potential seminars. The one we shared the same year but in a different location is est. We both care about the world and the people who inhabit this fragile planet. We both have a quiet nature. We do and did have much in common when you scratch below the surface.

I haven't responded to her letter yet, although I intend to do it soon. I've grappled with myself about how to frame an unusual life at best. I've spent years and years living hand to mouth, gathering up traveling money and taking off to Parts Unknown, hoping to find that One Thing that would make sense of this earthly existence. When I finally made it to Thailand, I knew it was not unfamiliar soil. That's where the compulsive seeking stopped. I was nearly 50 years old.

Everything I own to this day can fit in a 5X5 storage unit. I haven't accumulated things, achievements or people. My life flows. Things come and things go. When I decide to move, I give away huge amounts of accumulated "stuff", then I get more in my new location. People come and people go. It's not that I consider others to be disposable. It's just that I accept at a really root level that people pass through our lives and sometimes moving on is appropriate. My primary achievement is freedom. I don't just want freedom. I need it to exist. It is my oxygen. Anything else would suffocate me. If I didn't die physically, I would die spiritually. The latter is worse than the former in my humble opinion.

These are all things I want to communicate to Carole in a positive way. I no longer find it acceptable to apologize for my life. She hasn't asked that of me but many years of conditioning and culture have led me to believe that it is required. I feel the need to justify my existence for the past 40 years. But this is about me, not her. It's only been the past several months that I've allowed this very judgmental, harsh part of me to surface. When something surfaces that way, it's because it needs to be healed.

So I grapple with some vanity. I want to feel "worthy" of her. I want to feel "equal" to her. And I look at all the ways I don't "measure up".

I can frame this in a way that will accentuate the commonalities between us. I understand Indra's net. We are all connected. We all seek although we might do it in different ways. While our lives might look very different, we share a common bond. We are here. We're all sharing this life experience.

In that context, we can't fail with each other. Carole and I will learn from each other. I will learn from the example of her life and she will learn from the example of mine.

In the end, that's what matters.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Okay. What in the world was I carrying on about?

Okay. I was vague in my last post about what I am doing. I wanted permission to discuss it in detail and that wasn't forthcoming. There's a very good reason for that and it is one I respect. But I can discuss it in a general sense.

Most of the people who read here are young enough that this probably doesn't have much reality. I'm technically middle-aged (closer to "old" than I like to admit) so it didn't have much reality to me, either. Still, we all have older relatives, older friends and older neighbors or acquaintances.

I am involved in an investigation of elder abuse. Someone I have known for a long time has been targeted by transient criminals who, if allowed, would do harm to her. Since I trained with a private investigator in Tucson and learned those skills, I decided to put them to use now. (Just goes to show that everything we learn along the way comes to good use eventually.) Basically I gather information, compile it, follow up on it and give it to a licensed PI who adds it to information he already has and passes it along to Law Enforcement if that's appropriate. So.. generally, that's what I'm doing.

Older people who don't have a strong support system in their lives are often vulnerable to these transient criminals. The more information Law Enforcement has, the better chance they have of catching and prosecuting them.

Transient criminals move into an area, identify their targets, commit their crimes and move on. They are sometimes called "travelers". They have multiple names and social security numbers which makes them very difficult to track.

An example of the crimes they commit is financial elder abuse. They get close to the targeted old person, often treat them very well in the beginning, giving them plenty of attention and essentially ingratiate themselves. When the time is right, they close in, take advantage of the older person's weakness, perhaps confusion, memory issues and other maladies of old age. They become caretakers.

Often the older person builds a trust relationship which is soon abused. The supposed caretaker will get the older person to give him or her financial control. He might get her to sign a joint tenancy agreement. When she dies, he gets the house. At the very minimum, the "caretaker" will empty out her bank accounts. Another method is to gain the old person's sympathy with elaborate stories of illness or a relative's need. The old person will hand over large sums of money.

A sign of this happening is when an older friend, relative or neighbor begins to isolate. They no longer respond to phone calls or take visitors. This is not the old person's choice. They are being intentionally isolated by the caretaker.

Lonely old men are vulnerable targets. A younger woman will begin to court him, fawn over him and ultimately wipe him out financially. She will tell him how much she loves him and ask for a BMW. She cooks him meals and generally pampers him until he believes she really loves him.

Being old is difficult in this culture where old people are viewed as disposable. This is really the larger issue.

So what can we do? We can pay attention to older relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors. We can notice who is hanging around and make sure their motives are pure. If we do have to provide a caretaker, make sure he or she is accredited and bonded.

These criminals often put ads out on Craigslist, offering their services as a caretaker. Never, ever, respond to those ads! If you need a caretaker, go to a reputable source. Have a background check done and make sure a Trusted Someone is in charge of the money.

Educate yourself and those in your community about these crimes. One way is to have a speaker come from ElderAngels to give a talk at your community organization, school, church or other gathering place.

When the case is closed that I am involved in, I'll be able to talk about exactly what I am doing and what I've discovered. At first, my intention was to protect only the older person I know. The more work I've done with this, the more I realize it's an issue I care a great deal about. I've decided to continue on, volunteering my services in a more general sense.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wellness Wednesday: Choosing Life

"Choose life" is the first thing that came to me this morning when I woke up.

But what does that really mean? It doesn't mean embracing life as it is without challenge and it doesn't mean stretching ourselves so far that we snap.

This is a balance I've been learning about lately as I confront social phobia and try to find the right configuration of social activity that works for me specifically. "The world" tells us that we should always be social, always be available, always enjoy being around people. For introverts, that's pure torture. We need to balance that in a special way and it's quite a learning curve!

Some socializing is important. It's important to have a support network in this life. None of us can do it entirely alone, as much as we might like the idea of it. For me, part of "choosing life" is the willingness to create that network, even though it's not entirely comfortable.

I am also involved in something that I hope to blog about here eventually. Right now I can't. I can say that it involves possible elder abuse and it is, frankly, putting me in a degree of danger. "Choosing life" also means doing hard things, even when they're scary, simply because they have to be done. This situation, make no mistake, is scaring me to death but I have to follow through on it.

Choosing life is also about making changes we know we need to make and having the courage to do it. My life is very much about "being brave" these days. I can't believe how many times I have chanted that short mantra over the past four or five months. Be brave. Be brave. Be brave. It's not about achievement. It's about the effort. Being brave doesn't have to be heroic. It can be as small or as large as we can do at the time. While it's scary and challenging, it's all good because it's choosing the fullness of life.

Speaking of scary and challenging, Angela at Eclectic Recovery is taking a big step in her life. She is choosing life. Can you take a few minutes and go over to wish her luck?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: No "Mean" Theology!

I attended the tail end of another class this morning.

First, let me say what I liked. It was very diverse with all sorts of people. Men, women, Black, white, young, old. Second, although I disagreed with the teacher on many things, she was a darned good teacher! Thorough, well-spoken, never rambling. Her research was very, very good!

It may seem odd to some that I am taking all these Christian classes when I am a declared Buddhist. Actually, there is no inconsistency. Buddhism doesn't address the issue of the existence of God. That is for each individual to decide herself/himself. My desire is to study as much as I can in as many traditions as possible. Even though I did this years ago in college, the courses are far more sophisticated and thorough now, so it's worth doing again.

I like the church offering the classes. I like their approach to community which is very proactive. They offer all sorts of classes, have a lending library and even have a pastor devoted to answering individual questions and offering guidance. There is nothing ostentatious or pretentious about it. It's very welcoming and the thing I like best is that they never, ever, talk about money.

This morning's class was about the second book of Thessalonians, 3rd chapter - in which I found a lot of what Olivia calls "mean theology". This was perhaps one of the "meaner" books I've read in the Bible and found the need to "soften" it. The instructor guided us through the literal words without interpreting them for us.

In the middle of the class, I asked her "aren't we talking about reciprocity here, about participation in community?" To her credit, she was willing to discuss this at length and to respond to not only me but others in the class who had similar questions. The passage sounds heartless and completely lacks compassion if there is no explanation or extrapolation. We all come to this planet with different capabilities. I believe work can take many forms. It doesn't have to mean "employment" in the typical sense of that. It can't be quantified in the way she was presenting it. We debated it and I was glad to get the opportunity to present an alternative interpretation.

I was sensitive to the fact that there were two women in the class who are disabled and that doesn't include me. Does that mean they have no value as human beings and should be left to starve? Hardly! Yet the presentation being given without challenge was "mean theology". It was a way of using God's word to diminish, demean or minimize another person. It was based on fear and judgement. Very distasteful, all in all.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe anyone should be free to just sit on their butts and take from others. I believe a major component of spiritual maturity is figuring out where and how we can contribute. It is important is to recognize all the different ways we can give to each other and embrace that. It doesn't have to look any particular way.

If someone is not contributing anything - and I mean anything - then we have an issue to address. Sometimes someone is not aware of it, might not be aware of how they are not reciprocating. Perhaps they haven't been made aware of a way to reciprocate. We owe it to them to bring the issue up in a gentle, loving way and hear what they have to say. And to offer something they can do.

Long, long ago - when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I was exhorted by a coworker on a social justice project. He told me I was always late and never stuck around at the end of the meeting to help. He was right. I did do those things. Last one in and first one out.

On yet another occasion, more recently, I was exhorted by someone with whom I share a recovery group, saying that I was too harshly judgemental and that I made her uncomfortable. She got to a point where she no longer wanted to talk in front of me because she could sense my judgement about her choices, her values and her cultural alignment.

Both of those people were right to bring me to consciousness and my behavior changed as a result. It wasn't easy to hear. None of us like to be confronted with our faults but by bringing it to my attention, they helped me grow.

That is community.

The way this lesson was presented seemed to be saying "reject all those who do not live to our standards and whose lives don't look exactly the way we want them to look." I don't see that as something from a loving God. I believe God calls us to compassion, first and foremost. I also believe God calls us to be involved with each other, to teach each other, to encourage each other and to help each other grow.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: My inner drill sergeant....

This morning's class, even though it was the last, was the best one we've had through the series. Many people opened up and talked about their own concerns for the future, what they wanted to do and how to help each other manifest it. The overall topic was forming community and how to be of service within the community.

Most people had something to say about what they felt blocked them from offering all they could. Some brought up the disconnectedness among all of us. Others brought up the "faux busyness" so many use to isolate themselves. One woman, the youngest among us, came up with a good solution using technology. We brainstormed it roundtable fashion and I was enchanted! In my element! By the end of the class, three or four of us agreed to get together and talk about how to make it happen.

It had little to do with Life Coaching but within a larger context, it definitely incorporated the purpose of it.

As I'd agreed to do last week, I was coached in front of everyone. Procrastination was my topic. The facilitator (who is also the instructor) sat patiently while I unpacked the many reasons for my chronic procrastination. I can find a million and one excuses to not do something I'm afraid of doing. Fear is definitely at the root of it. When I want to do something, I definitely get it done which is true for most of us.

We used my visiting a group that is not structured and is not a classroom setting as the focus. What steps can I take to make myself go? I also gave myself permission to decide that it might be the wrong move for me, that perhaps I'm not yet ready for purely social situations. Unless there is a higher purpose, I can't see forcing myself to be someone I am not. The only way to find out if it is really who I am or whether it's just more fear-based choice-making is to attend something and see how it feels.

My internal judge is very, very harsh which showed during the coaching session. There is no drill sergeant in any boot camp in this country who could possibly be any harder on me than I am on myself. Other people in the class commented on that as a matter of fact. They were a bit startled to hear how harsh and judgmental I was when it came to my excuses. I have a habit of speaking to myself in a way that would get me punched out if I spoke to anyone else that way.

I admitted all my fears and the reasons for them. I was open about being afraid of situations like that because I don't feel adequate. I'm afraid of rejection. I'm afraid of judgment. I'm afraid of going into a situation where I have to do the whole "will I be accepted" dance with a bunch of strangers. I don't trust people to be kind. It exposes every bit of the miasma that resides at the core of me. It exposes parts of me that I've been very good at burying for a lot of years. There is absolutely nothing in my general appearance that would reveal that I feel that way. Like a demon on my shoulder, it just whispers in my ear and keeps me trapped. Coaching, which is not counseling or mentoring, was used to help me walk through ways to move forward. It's all about making a commitment and following through with some level of accountability.

It was a little awkward, admitting in front of so many people that I am a complete chicken when it comes to engaging community without a "job" or designated purpose. In the strictest sense, I think we did a good job of moving through it and coming up with some solid ideas for progress.

I got through it and hopefully we all learned something from it.

Now I'm looking for the next class!


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: Back to the Wall....

This morning's class was a real challenge!

It was about putting the philosophical into practical application. It's easy to philosophize things. It's even easy to admit my considerable fears and reservations. To commit to change is entirely different.

The instructor had us write a list of things we are willing to do to become spiritually mature.

I pulled out my stenography notebook and began writing. It flowed out and I let it. I wanted to see where it would go.

1. Be brave! In small steps. Be willing to step outside of my comfort zone, despite social phobia. Spend less time in the company and safety of written words and more in the company of living beings.

2. Be brave! To get beyond fear of inclusion. Being included does not automatically mean I will be engulfed. Trust others. Trust that they will respect my boundaries. Trust that I will respect theirs.

3. Be brave! Be willing to corral some of my gypsy spirit and commit to being part of a group. Be flexible Get over fear of group politics.

4. Be brave! Trust that God will catch me before I fall. I'm terrified of spiritual heights and I've found much safety in "living small" so I'd be safe. I've avoided fearful things rather than confronting them.

5. Be brave! Stop living in abject fear of rejection. It has kept me from growing in every area of my life. Let go of the past and participate in the future.

This was all very easy to write, as I said. I'm good at that. (I didn't even edit it before including it here. This is exactly as it came out in class.)

And then I remember how terrified I'd been for the half hour I had to stand around before the class started. There were hundreds of people, all attending a service or going to a different class. It was like standing still for a picture and not knowing what to do with my hands. I scanned the environment for an escape. Go out and wait in my car. Find the restroom. Anything that would remove me from that awkward position, surrounded by families and friends, all of whom knew each other. I felt like an idiot standing alone.

I wanted to run.

So... even knowing I have to overcome these things to fully reach my own potential and to contribute something meaningful to the community, I still want to run and hide. It's scary. Very scary!

Now I have to come up with an actionable plan, something I am willing to do to get beyond these things. It doesn't have to be a permanent and immediate solution ~ but it has to be something I can actually do.

That is my task during the week and then next Sunday, I will likely be coached publicly in front of the class. (That should interesting! Ahem.) Anyway, that is my first Be Brave step. I will allow the instructor to coach me that way - and I will be honest.

Now I'm going to go hide under the bed for a while. I think I need a warm blanket and a teddy bear. :)