Truth and Empathy

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We don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. We can’t know or bear anyone else’s burdens. We don’t feel anyone else’s pain. We can only know our own. And that being said, because we all have burdens, it should never be a competition…i.e., my pain is worse than yours or I learned my lessons faster than you have, etc. Our journeys on this planet are unique to each individual. When I weigh out my troubles during prayer time, I am often overwhelmed by the ripple effect that our actions have on other human beings. I am aware that when I allow my personal struggles and fears to fog my eyesight, my behavior changes: less open, less empathetic, less loving. I also know how it affects me when others treat me in a closed, judgmental or hateful way, its like a punch in the stomach making it harder to bounce back. In response, I am  continually refocusing my prayers to help me include bringing openness, empathy and love to all  people, specifically to combat the growing deficit of these qualities in the world. I know all change begins with me. I decide the tone and tenor of my journey on this planet and it is my belief that being open, empathetic and loving will have an even bigger ripple effect than being closed, judgmental and hateful does.

When I start at this small level I can build up the skills necessary to bring out the big guns when I need them. What do I mean? Becoming skilled at being open, empathetic and loving has changed my whole perspective, hope begins to thrive and my own burdens become significantly less. A simplistic solution, I know…that’s why working hard on the simplest circumstances help gird my loins for the tougher circumstances. Knowing the back story of a truly vile person that is rooted in the most tragic of circumstances does change the level of judgement that I have about them. It has to. If I am trying to evolve as a person…IT HAS TO! It doesn’t mean that people who break the law get a free pass, or people who make bad choices don’t have consequences. It does mean that when I respond back to them in an open, empathetic and loving way…I take control of the situation and that is where the truth lies. I learn a lot from friends of mine who are defense attorneys. They hear another side to the story. They stand for people who have made mistakes, or who truly haven’t, all of whom need help facing a complex system. They advocate fairness in a way that the world outside the justice system does not (OK an aside here, I am not referring to the inequities of the present justice system…just for the importance of hearing the other side of every story). I also learn a lot from friends and others who are counselors, pastors, doctors, etc. who hear the “other” sides of the stories we would like to bypass so we can feel comfortable in smug judgments. I am also privileged to hear many stories that have staid the hand of my own judgment of others in my own life. What I know is this: most people are not inherently evil, most were taught to hate (I have to be truthful here, I say most because the jury is out on some who actually are evil in my mind…but then I am a work in progress). And when you offer openness, empathy and love in response, they do react differently. Change has to start somewhere.

Being open, empathetic and loving isn’t just reserved for the more heinous behaviors of the population either, it also allows me to share in the goodness and wonderful experiences I hear about every day too. The joy of another’s win, accomplishment, and kindness all give me hope and encouragement to keep me on the road that I am on. And for those of you who share in my faith, Jesus affirms my celebrations of openness, empathy and love as well in MT 7:1-18:

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite,  remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s or sister’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand their children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread, or a snake when they ask for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.

The lesson here is clear: spend less time judging, help is always available, and the only acceptable judgement is determining who the wolves are by the fruits that they bear.

Truth and Courage

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The word “courage” and the word “truth” are intimately connected…in my book, anyway. While the word courage is often identified with magnanimous feats in history, of war heroes and historical figures and fictional super heroes, I think its most important function is as the foundation for truth. Telling the story of who you are with your whole heart, speaking your truth takes more courage than most would admit, especially, given the temperament of the world today. Given the blatant disregard for truth that exists within powerful hierarchies and the level of sophistication of the lies told, it becomes an even greater challenge to recognize what the actual truth really is so that telling the actual truth becomes an even more courageous exploit. In order to combat the pathology that a culture of lies create…we all need to embrace the courage to tell our own personal truths first, and then stand together when those talented liars who lie try to attack us for it. Once you stand for truth, I’ve found, it is intolerable to accept or perpetuate lies coming from anybody else. And it is speaking out against those lies where courage is so necessary…because there are plenty of people in the world who are not only content with those lies, but thrive on them.

Stripping down the illusions that I surrounded myself with took the greater part of my lifetime and I found the courage to wipe those illusions away in large part because of my faith and a deep experience of unconditional love of God and also those brave souls who’ve shared the stories of their hearts and showed me a different facet of life through their experiences. Being on the beneficiary side of those personal stories revealed to me a broader truth and with every story a greater perspective. Championing truth requires perspective, and since I only have one set of eyes and limited control over my physical movement I often depend on listening to other perspectives to expand and form my world view. As I’ve mentioned before, truth is not two dimensional, it demands we move and try and see things from a different angles and perspectives. Once you strip your own life from illusions it isn’t as difficult when listening to another’s perspective to tell who is being truthful and who is either lying to themselves or has too high a stake in believing the lie. That was a hard statement to write because am I not prescient (well, maybe a little), and certainly don’t want to inhibit anyone from telling their story, but this isn’t about judgement, its about truth. I want everyone to be able to share their truth…I’m just saying that there are some criteria that I use in deciding whether or not I allow their perspective to shape mine or not.

Fear is the first condition I have for rejecting someone’s perspective. Perpetuating fear is the opposite of courage, and is the true cause of hatred in this world. Please let me be clear, being afraid is not the same thing as rooting one’s perspective in it and using it to justify your choices and behavior. Because fear is the greatest illusion of all, truth cannot exist in someone who roots their ideology in fear (1John 4:18), I don’t care if what they are afraid of is the devil, a political party, race or gender, or an intimate partner. It is embracing courage to face your fears and not be controlled by them that frees your heart to speak your truth. And speaking that truth literally makes you free and will distinguish you from the rest of the population who simply succumb to lies that feed their fears.

The second condition is the willingness to change. This is a bit of a slippery slope, because I certainly am not talking about being malleable, to change in accordance with everybody else. I’m also aware that change happens over time and never all at once. I’m talking about the willingness to make necessary changes that must be made in a person’s life when things aren’t working, or honesty when you decide you’re just not ready to make a needed change. Change, while inevitable, is still one of the things that is hard for most people, and it takes a lot of courage to do so. We tell people up front at our clinic that we can’t “fix” anybody without their help. If they are unwilling to change bad habits, there is nothing we can do to help them turn their health around…the individual themselves is the change agent, not those who are supposed to magically fix them. And there are those who will try and convince you that “they” can fix you. It’s just not true. I am the superstar in this equation, I make the changes, I reap the benefit for doing so.

The third condition are those who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and blame others for their life challenges. People who are never responsible for anything that happens in their lives and can point a finger at everyone else but themselves, are not being courageous or truthful. Again, while there are plenty of people who are tragically victimized or face tragic circumstances, I am not talking about them. I am speaking about those who consciously refuse to proactively engage in finding a solution to any problem they face, and instead find a scapegoat to vent their rage and frustration, even if they turn it inward on themselves. While blame may give momentary solace, it never fixes anything and is the source of some of the greatest conflicts in history.

Lastly, are those people who allow structures and institutions in our world to  control them and tell them who they should be in a way that redefines them according to to the acceptable norms within the structure or institution. They tell them who they should be instead of who God created them to be. While I understand civilized people embrace certain behaviors, like the golden rule for instance, those structures whose purpose is only for power and control and superimpose a perspective at the detriment of an individual…I reject. So when someone tells me that God deplores homosexuals, or black people are inferior, or illegal aliens don’t deserve humane treatment, or their “faith” is the only true faith, I know right away they really don’t understand God at all.

All in all, I think truth and courage go hand in hand. It is difficult to share your truth when there are people who would condemn you and judge you for it. It also takes courage to speak truth to power again for the same reasons. I struggle at times worrying about the consequences of the words I speak, I’ve had my share of condemnation and judgment too. But the alternative would be to lie and that’s just not possible at this stage of the game. So, today I pray for courage and to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart.

 

Truth and Loyalty

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When I looked up the word loyalty in the dictionary, the word “faithfulness” was primary in each explanation. Faithfulness to an ideal, principle, etc. was expected. When it came to defining loyalty to a person. though, it added an important word: “faithfulness to a person who is due.” The word “due” is an important distinction in my mind because it infers that the person has to deserve my loyalty, that they have earned it. It is also a point of clarity for me. Over the years, and I have spoken of this before, I have had to filter out and clean my own personal loyalty house. When it comes to an ideal, or principle I think it had become clear that certain groups or institutions to which I had plead wholehearted faithfulness no longer represented the principles to which I believe they were supposed to represent. While the stripping away part may have taken effort, it was a necessary step for me in clarifying where my loyalties would lie. And I think in the present culture it has only intensified. How can you be true to a person or institution who isn’t the reflection of the ideas or ideals they claim to represent?

We all have had the experience of being loyal to someone who really didn’t deserve it. I’m not talking about our shared human frailties, I know I have acted in a way on occasion that could be considered disloyal…I’m speaking about those toxic people who continuously behave in a way that defies the reasons we were loyal in the first place and leave us diminished rather than enhanced as people. Those experiences should help us hone our ability to choose better people in the future, and also more importantly show us how to be better worthy of another’s loyalty. Those relationships that command loyalty come from an investment of time, experience and continued proof on both sides that the loyalty is justified.

So there is reason to be concerned with what we are asked to do in today’s market of social media regarding our loyalties. There are those who play on our weaknesses, fears, laziness and at times character flaws to create such a divisive and angry divide. I see cable news do it, political parties do it, religions do it, and the list goes on and on. They demand loyalty without being held to account for whether or not they hold up the ideals they are supposed to stand for, claim the exclusive power to define who is right and who is wrong, are just using people for their own personal gain, or even more nefarious reasons, all to create an us vs them environment where no one can think differently without being vilified. The thing that befuddles and concerns me most deeply is to see good intelligent people fall prey to this kind of nonsense just because it suits their color or symbol of the moment. The leverage we give these groups instead of truth or principles they are supposed to stand for, is one of the greatest evils of our time.

And yet, how do you address it? It has become so difficult to have an discussion at all about people who strike such polarity in our world. It never used to be a big deal to have friends that held different beliefs than I did…not so anymore. So rather than conquer the great white elephant in the room, let me ask you this: To whom or what are you pledging your loyalty? Do they represent your values, and would you stake your soul on it? These questions shouldn’t be answered easily, because there is just too much smoke and mirrors out there that the truth must be fought for. Expecting loyalty should take time, patience and experience. If the behavior doesn’t measure up, or isn’t truthful, then cut them free and look elsewhere. My loyalties may be few, but I believe they are worthy of my fidelity…until they are not.

 

Truth and Free Will

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I’ve been thinking a lot about free will and choice in these days of such tribulation. I’ve pondered, studied and applied (to the best of my ability) the lessons of the story of the Garden of Eden that speaks of the origin of free will and sin. In short, a choice was made to defy God and eat of the tree of knowledge, and innocence was lost…and if I’m truly honest, I’m OK with that. I would rather choose God, choose my path and choose all that comes with human fallibility on my own than live in a world of perfection without having the choice to be there. I say that because it means everything when you choose something for yourself, and not have it imposed upon you. And with that freedom comes a responsibility to accept the consequences of those choices, because that is how I evolve. I also embrace the help that God offers, in humility, because I acknowledge the limitations to my human perception and ability to move as far forward on my own as I would like. I believe that whatever I put out into the world comes back to me tenfold, which gives me care and pause to keep me on the straight and narrow road I choose to walk on. We are all fallible, flawed, and yet free to move in the world in the way we choose even within the limitations of circumstance and physicality because no one controls our souls or thoughts. Even how we choose to follow God, at its core is a personal responsibility. We can’t hide behind God to justify our behavior no more than we can blame the devil…because we have the freedom to choose. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for every choice even in the midst of horrible circumstances, not knowing better or even in the midst of enslavement. (which, in the story of Adam and Eve, God says: “See! They have become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!”) While in any given circumstance our physical choices may be restricted or limited, we always have the freedom to choose how to respond to them. We can choose goodness, or not.

With that said, I fully realize that the freedom to choose our physical destiny fully is not available to everyone on this planet, its just not. I think the choices to restrict freedom are being imposed out of fear and all the ramifications that come with that choice. There is a part in the story of Adam and Eve when they realize they are naked, and they hide. I think of even the most powerful people in the world in that position in front of God, when stripped down to just their nakedness not protected by wealth or status or embellishment would feel the same way as Adam and Eve did. I know I do, and I am thankful for that…I, in truth, really am. The reason? Because, sensibly, I know we all have flaws that we cover with a variety of subterfuge because of a skewed belief that if we do that the rest of the world won’t see how flawed we are, except that the rest of the world is flawed also. I find it tragic the length to which people will go to fake who they are or make excuses for who they are not. I refuse to do that. Instead, I choose to be a work in progress, flaws and all, give credit to God for the blueprint that is me and work desperately hard to make sure my choices are good ones, and when they aren’t, take responsibility for them and move on.

So, in the light of free will, I choose to celebrate that sacred fault of the Garden, choosing more to see it not as original sin, but the ability to recognize good and evil and then consciously, to the best of my knowledge and belief, choose good, choose God…which differs based on an individual’s perspective. And because we all have a different perspectives, work within those differences unless and until I think goodness is threatened and find ways to rectify it. I think this is why the tone of Jesus’ message is based on love, and not a regimented set of rules or judgments. Loving God with all your strength, treating your neighbor as you would yourself, and loving the least among us, and being prayerful,  helps us recognize that while others also have free will and face circumstances we may not understand or appreciate, and the choices made may have a ripple effect outward, there is a good way to respond to them and an evil one, even if those choices are not black and white but on a spectrum. At our core, unless you are a sociopath or severely mentally ill, knowing what is good and what is evil is the burden of free will, and simply hoping you are doing good does not make it so. To abdicate responsibility for your status by blame, by excuses, by rationalizations, by out right lying is choosing against goodness. And while none of us can equivocally define what goodness is all of the time, in time, if we choose to evolve, we should get better at recognizing it. Lastly, Good and Evil are not shaped by public opinion…that is the truth.

 

 

More prayers for you on my Birthday

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Today, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I arrived on this planet. Today I feel joy because: I am surrounded by a loving family, I am empowered by a loving God, I choose love as my focus and energy, and I embrace truth. justice and the American way 🙂 So here goes…

  1. I pray you be kind in thought, word and deed…the world is in desperate need of your kindness, make it your superpower.
  2. I pray for you to stand for truth in all that you do, especially when it may appear to be against your own interest, watch how it can transform that moment. In truth there is always greater freedom. Lies deteriorate God’s Kingdom in this world and we have the power to stop it.
  3. I pray you come to realize how important you are to the fabric of this world. Your golden thread holds many other threads in place to show and become an even greater beauty. Never underestimate God’s blueprint, every thread is counted.
  4.  I pray that you release fear in your life. It is a source of animosity and judgment, and inhibits your ability to be all that God intends for you to be. Find comfort in knowing that when God is for you, nothing will come between you and God’s power.
  5. I pray your eyes are open to the wonder of God’s creation and that you can take precious moments to let the beauty of our world sink in and nourish your soul and  in so doing you recognize your own beauty.
  6. I pray you see clearly the impact you have on those around you and that your love, hope, faith, kindness and truth do influence and affect them. I pray that you’re open to receiving the same from them. I know sometimes its easier to give all those things out than receive them.
  7. I pray that you can ask for forgiveness as well as forgive others for any intended or unintended  hurts. Most importantly I pray that you forgive yourself. We are all imperfect and our journey on this earth isn’t about being perfect but growth.
  8. I pray that you find happiness and contentment in all you do, and if what you do doesn’t make you happy, I pray for the strength to find what does and do that.
  9. I pray that you find a way to laugh everyday, it will do your brain good!
  10. I pray that this next year we all find ways to rise above all the negativity and work together to build the Kingdom of God. And I pray we remember every day that all things are possible through God

Truth and Love

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We love, because we were loved first. This is my foundation, my starting point for everything. I would not be me without this truth at my core. This axiom directs everything I do, and sustains all my hope in dark times. It took the vast majority of my focus and energy as I moved forward in my faith life as a young girl and woman to wrap my head around this central truth of Christianity: I am loved by an omniscient God, who is the source of all things…me, and by the sacrifice of Christ I have eternal life. Scripture says that we are born anew, we become infinitely more. The struggle of my lifetime is in the manifestation of and how the world expresses love. How do I stand out as the recipient of supranatural love? There are these verses that have helped guide me on my journey:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1John: 18,19

But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39

For God so loved the world that he gave  his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. John 3:16

Historically, I think Christianity has forgotten that the core of our faith isn’t the accumulation of power and wealth, dogma, edicts or an exclusive club that closes off the power of that love and sacrifice to other faiths. It  isn’t about structure or rules. The core of how we express our faith is in Jesus last command to his disciples: “They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” John 13;35. Sadly,  I would say that after all this time we have failed in that regard.

The truth about love, is that we have let human frailty, human insecurity, our fears, injuries and judgments, redefine what love is. As a society we seem to have decided that love must look a certain way, must be earned, or extended to only a privileged few, and that is the biggest of all lies. In truth it is the exact opposite. What we know about love is that:

it is patient.

it is kind.

it is not jealous.

it is not pompous.

it is not inflated.

it is not rude.

it does not seek its own interest.

it is not quick tempered.

it does not brood over injury.

it does not rejoice over wrongdoings.

it rejoices in the truth.

it bears all things.

it believes all things.

it hopes all things

it endures all things

Love never fails.

 

That is what love looks like. It never says that it only for the beautiful or the young. It never says anything about being sexy or hearts or being soft or frilly. It is a force as stern as death (Song of Solomon) it’s free to everyone, there is no shortage because its infinite source is what we attest to believe in…God. While love may move our expressions, it is not defined by them. Love is so much bigger than our expression of it. Like music, its melody changes with each individual and situation. When love is the guide, it not only changes how we see the world, but how we live in it. It is only when we do that, that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples…by how we love. It never fails. Humans fail, but love never does…because God first loved us…and that is the best truth.

Truth and Complicity

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My stomach grows increasingly tight, often triggering my autoimmune symptoms as I move forward in my year of truth…and I’m not even half way through. “Be careful what you pray for”, is a statement that I find both disconcerting and freeing at the same time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to move fearlessly into the future with truth as my primary weapon of choice to break down the lies and illusions that seem to be well, just everywhere…and I’m certainly not just projecting the lies that exist in the outside world because I face my own every day, I have to say, just in case you see me as some self righteous lunatic. I know it is hard to come face to face with personal truths, but as Jesus said: “how can you point out the speck in another’s eye when you can’t even see the plank in your own”. I am also aware of an intrinsic flaw in my character of being so intense about something that I can get in my own way. I hear my fathers voice daily telling me to lighten the hell up…and breathe, for God’s sake. And then say, “All will be well, and the manner of all things will be well” (Julian of Norwich) and try to move on and forward. We are all works in progress, right? So here goes…

We are surrounded by lies. There are powerful people in the world that are making it their goal to obfuscate the truth almost everywhere you turn, often to avoid being held accountable for their own actions, even if it ruins lives. And, based on a dream I had last night, we are all complicit if we don’t take every measure to verify and fact check what we are hearing every day. If you only get information from one source and use that source to bolster the unchecked rhetoric flying around out there because it  validates your world view and personal bias, blame and bent (and it can come from just about everywhere, from politics, to healthcare, to education) then you are being complicit in the attack on truth. There is no justification for the willful blindness that perpetuates itself throughout the media. And yet I am astounded everyday at the next new attack on the truth and how easily people are willing to just comply with or ignore it.

Try and think of it this way…God is the truth, and in my faith, Jesus is truth as well and even died for it. So, every time you believe a lie by your complacence and not by naivete or ignorance, you act in defiance of God, and when you condemn the truth because it challenges you, you condemn yourself and you turn from God. It. Is. As. Simple. As. That. For if believing in and following some self serving myth that feeds ones basest desires is more important than working hard to find the truth of the matter at hand, then you are being complicit in those lies. What good are the moments in scripture when Jesus rails against the liars and hypocrites if none of us are willing to stand in those very same shoes as if he is railing against each of us individually? Love of God is expressed through word and deed, which is why Jesus was so hard on those in leadership positions who looked so holy on the outside but were full of evil on the inside. My original post for today was about truth and love, which will have to wait until a later date. In truth, I didn’t want the backlash of what my heart really needed to say: if you can’t stand up for truth, you don’t stand up for God. It sounded just too mean. and talking about love is much nicer…and then I had a dream:

I was in a crowd of people who were basically talking crap and spreading rumors with no questioning of their validity or factual basis. I felt I had to say something, and it was a bit lame or innocuous, like “you really shouldn’t be talking about people like that”. I left the room and then I became the one they talked about…and I lost it. I went back in the room and railed against all I know from all I’ve learned in my life and I made them answer my questions about whether what they were saying was accurate, good or kind. They said nothing and sat there stunned. I felt better.

I don’t really think deep down most of us want to be complicit in a culture of lies…but it has become too easy to do so. When life is good financially, or when a lie benefits you personally its too easy to look the other way. That is simply unacceptable. For our actions and inaction have consequences. And if you’re like me, you want to be on the right path, and never become complicit in perpetrating lies and illusions. So when I am unclear (which is a lot of the time) I always use a prayer of Thomas Merton to give me solace when I’m unclear what to believe:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone