In a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.
So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.
That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul. The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.
Karma has been a huge thing in my life, you know the concept of what ever you put out in the universe comes back to you tenfold. I embrace this philosophy in particular, not only because it inspires hope in doing what I think is right regardless of whether or not my motivation is apparent, but also because the universe has seen fit to keep my comeuppance to about 10 seconds, when I don’t do what I know is right. I’ve learned that it is much easier to just tell the truth, be honest and accept responsibility when necessary. I know that God understands me to the core, and also that as pig-headed as I can be, I generally learn my lesson.
A while ago, (the spiral perm says it all) I was hired to speak at a large city church about perspective, being wounded and forgiveness. There were to be a few hundred people there, and my talk focused around an elementary school teacher I had, that according to my recollection had treated me quite unfairly (she once made me stick my head in the desk to suffer the humiliation of Eve). Thoughts of her always made me feel sad and wounded, and it was truly my first experience of being judged as a “naughty girl” I even think that I was going to forgive her at the end of the speech.
Just as I was about to take the pulpit, the pastoral minister approached me and said that someone had seen my name in the bulletin and wanted to say hello before I started. I know you know exactly who it was. It was that teacher. She literally ran over to me, grabbed me in an embrace and said that she always wondered what happened to one of her favorite students, yeah, I know. I was baffled. How had she retained such different memories? I was completely thrown off my game and gave one of the first extemporaneous speeches of my career. I can’t even remember what I said…except that once I realized that my hurt was more personally manufactured than an actual occurrence, I immediately began to wonder how many people out there remembered me as “that person” who was a cause of pain, and was completely clueless about it.
Perspective is a funny thing. Sometimes we are completely unaware of what we are throwing out there. What we may see as good and right, maybe hurtful to another. I am always mindful of that when I walk in the world. I trust the universe will always let me know when I need clarity. Now, when I think of that teacher, I am mindful not to waste emotional energy on perhaps a flawed perspective. She has become a part of a great life lesson instead of a lingering memory of a hurt little girl.
I take all the struggles in the world a bit too personally because I do believe that none of us is insulated from the pain, that we are all connected to each other. When I look at the world and try to see it as the body of Christ, I see so many wounds in need of healing. I see the different parts of the body fighting for supremacy and importance. I am reminded of what Paul said in the first letter of Corinthians: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, let all parts share its joy”. So, a midst a tumultuous and suffering world, part of my regimen of zen is to take stock of the things that cause suffering, but also those things that I can honor and celebrate. In so doing I can be more effective in creating peace and balance, not only for myself but the world.
While I realize that I am just one person, I also know I am only as effective as I believe I can be. I know how easy it is to give into despair and hopelessness given all that bad that happens every day. The past paralysis of my face is a good metaphor (almost fully healed, by the way). When one gets too immersed in the pain in the world, and I see it every day as part of my job, it’s easy to turn to an isolated insular state of existence. That is what Paul commands us not to do. So, I breathe, take in some quiet and look to the healing that I’m surrounded by every day. Since it feels like I am at our clinic all the time, it’s easy to for me to be immersed in the function and bypass the miracles that happen here each and every day. We are blessed to have an amazing group of patients who are already keyed into the magic that happens at our clinic. Some you out there may have heard of us, some have not. But I do know it is a true center of healing and wellness in the world.
I know there are plenty of testimonials on Steve’s blog, which you can link to from this site as well as on his you tube channel. I would have linked them all, but for some reason, I couldn’t embed the links into this post. All I know, is that Edling Chiropractic is an incredible place of healing in a world that too often, puts cost and convenience above health. I am surrounded by the many lives our clinic has touched every day, and I know there are countless more that we could help. I am grateful to Steve for patiently working on my autoimmune issues and bringing my smile back. I am grateful for all the successes we see each and every day, and the wonderful people who are committed to their health. As many of you have been challenged to do on Facebook, being grateful abates the overwhelming despair that works so hard to take over our lives and wreck havoc on the body. I am lucky to be part of Edling Chiropractic, and proud of the work Dr Edling does. My smile is proof.
While I don’t claim to stand in the middle on every issue, knowing how passionately I feel about some things, I do venture there all the time. Mostly, because I don’t trust my own bias. I have learned throughout all my studies, in theology, education, leadership, and the law, that a singular perspective rarely reveals a complete truth. Looking at an issue from inside the shoes of an opposite view can reveal a lot. I have to admit I’ve understood a greater truth when I’ve ventured off my polar end and visited the other side of an issue. What saddens me the most is that I get the distinct impression that acknowledging bias is akin to admitting a deep weakness or lack of faith in one’s ideals. Even more so is the judgment from both ends that to venture off my post is being a flip-flopper or worse yet, a challenge my commitment to this country.
Looking at a problem from a 360 degree angle is the best way to understand it. I have said it so many times before that I’ve begun to wonder if too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid offered by those who simply want to perpetuate the vitriol. I am sickened by our Congress, just sickened, with law suits, temper tantrums, and hypocrisy. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are problems in this country, and I believe it is not unpatriotic to make that statement. We are not the best anymore. It is not the fault of our president, or the 1%. We all have had a hand in the mess we are in, created by this horrible partisan war that is so stuck on blaming someone, in the most horrible fashion I might add, that we are no different than the Hatfields and the McCoys. The response no less stupid, childish, and dangerous and plays to the weakest flaws of humanity.
So let me share these conclusions after hanging in the in-between: guns are a problem in this country…too many people have died, especially children. So, second amendment extremists: just shut-up. And to the invasion of privacy by our government: knock it off, we are not the Soviet Union. Regarding the income disparity: The 1% have too much power, because money does talk…period. To those who are struggling: I know how you feel, but working hard and innovation does work, feeling sorry for yourself and succumbing to being a victim does not. I am amazed and proud how many helping hands are out there for those who are willing to invest in themselves and not rely on someone else fixing the problem. I have honestly come in equal contact with innovative wealthy and poor, who are great hard working people who should be honored and not pigeon-holed into a stereotype. It just isn’t fair. But I’ve also met my share of slimy, entitled assholes too, both wealthy and poor, who would sell their soul for a better piece of the pie. Neither end can claim freedom from skeleton’s in their closets…humanity is just too flawed.
What I worry about the most, though, standing in the in-between, is how little outrage there is, beyond hating the president, and immigrants, guns and the 1%, for the future of our children. Sure, I’ve heard both side make claims that it’s the children they are fighting for, yet our public schools are still failing; children are deteriorating, both physically, mentally and spiritually. The programs that could help them never come to fruition because there are too many powerful lobbies that keep standing in the way…and personal bias. Our children are our greatest resource…we should be investing the most money in them, yet we don’t. Any way you look at it is always a bad thing to allow children to fail.
There is one concluding issue I want to address while I am standing in the in-between. It is a balancing act to hold true to a principle and yet remain open to the best way to handle it in a country of varied principles. Yet, for this great American experiment to continue working, that is the most important commitment of holding a governmental office. I know that those elected can’t always support my personal agenda, most intelligent people would understand that. And I don’t use the word intelligent lightly…because I think there is an astonishing lack of intelligence in government today. There is a definite blurred line when it comes to who has the proper training and credentials to run for office. We should demand only the best and brightest to take on the complicated business of running our country…which is why I take great offence to people like Joe Blow who think they can do a better job, just like I wouldn’t want a plumber to do surgery on me, any more than I would want a plumber as a president. I mean no disrespect to plumbers…I trust them implicitly by having them fix any and all problems at my house. As one who studied law, though, I do believe that lawyers better understand the intricacies of all that the constitution demands and are better suited for higher office. That is my personal bias, challenged quite often, which is why after my venture to the in-between, I learned to be open to those who are committed to service because they are called to do so…but only after they become prepared by understanding the workings of government and putting personal agenda’s aside for the whole of their constituency. That is a rarity today…it just is. Sound bites from positions on social media and cable news prove how little understanding there is about how government works. It astonishes me, more than I can convey. The people who claim to think they can actually do a better job with so little background is as bizarre to me as the same person thinking that they could perform surgery, without the proper training… I believe that to the bottom of my heart….I took government and constitutional law…it’s hard, for a reason.
The one final thought I would implore those who embrace their own polarity, don’t buy into the bullshit that those on the other side are evil. They are not. There are wonderful people on both ends who want the same thing and are grown up enough to hammer out their difference to come up with greater solutions. Go find them.
I tell my sons this all the time. Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that. As much, however, is not. I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others. I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice. I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.
I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily. We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters. We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ. We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.
I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”. With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.
Late last night I received news as I anxiously set my alarm so my son and I could witness the blood moon lunar eclipse that a high school friend of mine had died this past summer. It completely took the wind out of my sails, since I had literally just done a search for her on the internet. Most probably the obituary didn’t come up because I included her maiden name in the search, and I felt horrible that I hadn’t had a chance to reconnect like I’ve done with many other friends from the past. Those of us messaging in that moment talked about a reunion of our Young Life friends, a group I was involved in during high school. So many good memories, and most importantly, so many building blocks that were essential in becoming the woman I am today.
We don’t celebrate those friendships like we should. I missed the chance to tell Ardy how much she meant in my life, I will try harder to not miss other chances that come my way. So here is a challenge: post a shout out or memory of a person who influenced you, and thank them…I’m sure you will make their day!
It has been awhile, for good reason. I am woman caught on fire. In the last two weeks, the archdiocese I spent more than a decade working for, and the University where I received much of my training, released the lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors. The pastor of the first parish I worked for was on that list…and some who I have personal knowledge and experience of that should be on it were not. While my relationships with some of these men did not fall within the perimeters of the alleged abuse, it was still abuse. Suffice it to say that the rage I feel is based on countless power struggles during my tenure with the archdiocese that I believe impeded my ability to do the job that I was hired to do, called by God to do, and ultimately became the central reason I walked away from ministry. Given my personality, I always knew that I would have some difficulty working for the Catholic Church. I was an attractive, smart, strong willed, vivacious, intelligent woman. For those of you who think I should also include egotistical and arrogant to the list…yeah well, given all that I sacrificed during those years, believe me, while my list of vices may be many, false humility and lack of objectivity aren’t part of the list. Anyway, what matters is that given who I was and what the church was at that time, I knew the road would never be easy, and I took extra precaution to live a very pure life, to which I never strayed. But I never thought for one minute that I would be immersed in such a deep struggle between the sacred and profane. I can’t even regard them as people anymore at this point, because the manipulation and the mind games were so malevolent that even in the face of knowing rationally that something was way off with whatever situation I faced at the time, often I was the one left feeling like the sinner and they, the saint. I learned to work with blinders on just to survive, but I was too angry so I moved out of parish work to teaching after that, which didn’t turn out much better. The suggestions that perhaps if I dressed more appropriately for my profession, the rumors that went around never would have started. Shortly afterwards I cut off my hair. I’ve included some pictures to prove I didn’t dress like a whore, nor did I dress like a nun either.
I thought long and hard about what details to share, but I don’t think that would serve any purpose other than just more titillating proof of the kind of abuse that occurs in an environment of ultimate power, and fueling even more hatred won’t offer answers, just annihilation. The girl I was at the time wouldn’t like it. She would be embarrassed, humiliated and hurt, and just because she may have not been the typical theologian she deserved the respect she worked hard for. Still, after all this time, I don’t hate the church…I worked with too many wonderful and spiritual people during my time there. I do however hate the path the church has taken, and I can’t walk down that path anymore. For me, I knew I needed help finding clarity…that was what therapy was for, and given that the therapist knew I had never been sexually active at the time, said that I had all the symptoms of someone who was the victim of sexual assault, only on a spiritual level. She helped me see there is a much deeper dimension to the kind of power struggles I faced, and lost. I didn’t appreciate until I read those lists of names what a deep toll being a victim of spiritual, sexual assault took on me. I had many great plans and ideas back then, to manifest the Gospel in new and exciting ways, but I just got worn out and gave up. Meeting my future husband and moving to the woods of Wisconsin saved my sanity, which remains tenuous because I live in crazy town (too many men, too little common sense).
It is my hope and prayer that Pope Francis can not only clean up the mess, but begin to heal the many wounds caused by the hierarchy. But until I see evidence of that change, my faith life remains catholic…with a small “c”.
This has been an overwhelming week. Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope. I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels. The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring. In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us. Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul. Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many. We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need. From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all. I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community. Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.
I hate this phrase. I hate the message that it sends, that nice guys aren’t winners, that in order to “win” you have to be an asshole. It really all depends on perspective though, doesn’t it? The greatest success of a race is always to be the first one, the fastest, grabbing the brass ring, the big payout. What if that isn’t the real success of the race at all? What if what we have traditionally defined as coming in first, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if focusing on first so much, that you bypass other significant events that make crossing the finish line so much more evolutionary? I think of all those people who took shortcuts, cheated and lied to be first, and whose only focus was on the line itself have really lost the race entirely. What did that really get them except for a moment of glory that soon tarnishes because the truth always eventually comes out anyway…and they never really know and understand the difficulties of the lessons they’ve been able to conquer along the way…they just skipped that part. Nice guys don’t finish last…they may finish later, but with a whole lot more.
Yeah, I know Congress’ rating is at an all time low. I certainly can appreciate that. Now, what do we do? Yes, we can make our voices heard in the next election, but there is something that must be said first. I’m sick of vengeance politics. I don’t think the founders believed that problem solving could occur in a vacuum, and that is what vengeance politics does…it exists to punish and control. Those who declared what just happened in Washington “a battle” should not be there…period. We need people who first and foremost recognize that there are a multitude of issues and opinions in this country and don’t feel the need to vilify everyone who is different or shares a different ideology than they do. We need people who can empathize with others, who are committed to diving head on into difficult negotiations and find solutions to problems that affect everyone, and not just improve the livelihood of those who are like-minded. We need people who put the people over their political ambitions. Most importantly, we people who can forgive when they feel slighted and stop this monolithic grudge holding. I am sick of it. How else can we bring the greatness back to this country? While I understand that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, those actions can’t cancel each other out either. Our faith should serve as a moral compass and courage under fire…not to stand in arrogant righteousness. I am praying for those who embrace those qualities to come forward…I hope you do too.
Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless. This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her. We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage. Kind of makes our government look foolish…No? When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail. Watch this link from The Daily Show:
That is one of my favorite movie lines from all time, and it was what popped into my head when I worried about how to continue my discussion on illusion. I thought of using “breaking bad”, but since the series just ended, I didn’t feel right usurping any searches that way. While I think the first instinct for most people is that they would really like the truth, to see it, know it and live it…I have to be honest and say that I don’t believe that for a minute.
I didn’t sleep much last night, and as I often do, I prayed hard that God may break any illusions that may hold me prisoner, and to bless me with even greater truth. And that is exactly what God did. Except not at first, at first there was just silence…so I turned on the TV, as I often do when I can’t sleep. As I pressed the guide on my remote, there was a movie on called “Desert Flower”, thinking that it might be an opportunity to get an answer to my questions, I watched it. It was about the life of Waris Dirie, a super model who suffered the humility of female genital mutilation, or female circumcision and became the world’s foremost crusader against it. I’m not shifting gears into this heroic struggle, but there was a point in the film, when she flashes back to when she was a three year old girl, playing and kissing her mother and the graphic horror of what happened when held by two woman who mutilated her without anesthesia . I sobbed long and hard, of course as a mother at what pain and horror that baby went through, and because of the horrible subjugation of women that still occurs around the world. Through my tears, though, I still wasn’t ready for sleep, so I kept watching T.V.
The movie that followed, was called “The Magdalene Sisters.” It told the stories of four young women in 1964 Ireland who labeled”fallen” by their families, were sent to Magdalene Asylums to suffer manual labor doing laundry and other penance as appeasement for their sins. The abuse and humiliation these young woman suffered all under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church, was just as painful to watch. Again, I don’t want to talk about that injustice right now either. Here was my uncomfortable truth: In this moment of time, I have it unbelievably easy, I have control over my body, my mind and my voice, and I won’t be punished for it. I am free to choose the life I live and choose what I want to believe, the operative word being “choose.”
While it is not perfect, my country allows me this freedom. I am grateful for it, and proud to live as an American citizen. Of course, that isn’t the greater truth. The greater truth is this; All of our voices matter. We, the people represent different ethnicity’s, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, intelligence and gender. That is why we have a republic, a representative government. Coming up with solutions that will represent all of us is tricky and hard. I think Congress has forgotten that fact. In this crisis I have become biased, and angry that one small group of people thinks that their voice matters more than anybody else’s. So I’m using my voice to declare loudly, “Knock it off! put your dicks back in your pants and pass a CR to reopen the government. Quit pointing the finger at each other and COMPROMISE! and that doesn’t include what has already been made into law and upheld by the court. DO A BETTER JOB. QUIT CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR ONLY THOSE THAT THINK LIKE YOU DO AND TRY AND WORK FOR US ALL FOR A CHANGE…that is what we elected you to do.
To conclude, let me just say that I had to be reminded of how little power many woman have around the world before I was challenged to exercise my own. I will do better.
Plato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions. As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes. Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall. What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.
It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life. So I won’t say it. Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself. The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle. Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too. So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on. I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form. The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them. It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are. And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away. There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice. Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet. It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever. But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks. The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit. If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic. Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life. What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better. A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence. Real change happens in the heart. Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.
As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System. One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand. The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime. Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.
Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today. Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television. It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue. It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective. It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room. Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?
There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument. Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong? Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere. Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying. Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen. Ego thrives on illusion. I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).
Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point. There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk. Even in these situations discovery may happen. The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them. Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference. We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point. Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination. Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.
What do we do when you face another whose claim to truth is as definite and passionate as yours? In this time of such great polarity about so many issues, from health care to gun control, how do we bridge the gap? The first step for either polarity is to learn to see things a new way. No matter how passionate the belief in one’s truth may be, each individual has only one set of eyes, one pair of shoes. What would it take to step over the line, stand in another’s shoes and see things from another’s eyes? Would our take on truth be different? I think it would. If our love of truth could be put ahead our love of being right, I think we would all walk a center line. But right now, that isn’t the American way is it? The American way is to never engage in civil debate, but pursue one-sided conversations, or passive-aggressively on the internet that are vitriolic in nature and usually sorely misinformed, Even our news media is far less concerned with facts than pushing people farther and farther apart so that the middle isn’t even visible after a while. What ever happened to facing our differences head on, and, like adults, work together to solve our problems? Isn’t the nature of our Republic based on representation of all its citizens?
Truthfully? There aren’t enough people on either side who want a solution…they just want to be right, and have the world be exactly as they see it. I am disgusted by the despotic and disruptive actions of Congress, and I truly believe that they will end this great American experiment if ordinary people don’t step up and show them how it should be done. I don’t think the members of our representative government have the necessary critical thinking skills to engage in civil, broad-based problem solving. I guess that’s why I’ve been talking about Love so much. It is the only power source strong enough to drive us to a middle ground. Yet, I also understand that love has also been taken hostage by religious institutions that are more concerned with control than spreading the Gospel. So claiming a faith as a champion of love doesn’t work for me anymore, you have to live it, allow it to be the source and force of every action. That is the only way. For now, I don’t care what your religion is, but I do care that you use it as a wedge to further your singular views. Real love brings people together, like the body of Christ. Hatred and fear do the opposite, remember that when you denigrate or berate another’s point of view, especially in the name of God and Country.
One of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school. One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her. Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.” The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.
The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly. For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief. For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was. Please save the explanations. There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.
So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace. Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden? Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit. What about Adam’s culpability, though? Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)
Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness. There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them. It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company. It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation. If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.
Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence. Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though? In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size. So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since. Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing. The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?
Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth. The direction of the game of life had been set down. In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made. The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.
Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men. There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from. How many women are in “high places,” positions of power? Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country. One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights. Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not. But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?
While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women. Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile. What is up with that? History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate. In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity. St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way. They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.” My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.” My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”. Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there. Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes. And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.
But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind? Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant. It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell. These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.
Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all. Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified. It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between. There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create. If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them. Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints. Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers? Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not? Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off? There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind. We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule. I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.
It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not. It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe. What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine. Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are? Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation. It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that. Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them. It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward. Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else. When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.
Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy. Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow. Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down. They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too. None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree. Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.
So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives? Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin? Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe. If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations? If there were no darkness, could we truly know light? It’s the same dilemma with good and evil. Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine. That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.
While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action. What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth. The atmosphere became not one of learning, but of debating who was right. Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding. Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers. The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.
So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal. Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict. Again, it all turns on perspective. One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process. It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter. The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes. There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers. I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is. We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.
As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change. The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should. As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change. The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will. The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties. There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.
Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious. I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention. And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are. Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter. I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration. For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor. And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.
So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”. When you’re done reading, go for it. Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else. Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head. Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you. Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me. Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it. That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.
Things that I know are true:
1) Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.
2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.
3) One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.
4) What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.
5) Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.
6) The opposite of love is not hate, but fear
7) What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
8) Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.
9) Real power has nothing to do with control.
10) Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.
11) Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.
12) Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.
13) Vengeance never brings peace.
14) Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.
15) I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.
16) Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.
17) Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.
The phrase “common sense” means native good judgment and is derived from the Greek koinē aesthēsis which refers to the totalperception of the five senses. If you have senses, then those of you who read this have, potentially anyway, as much common sense as anybody else. The problem lies in the execution. Like any other gift, native good judgment must be exercised. Over my lifetime, my mother and father constantly challenged me and my siblings to use good common sense, and it’s never been easy considering the world we live in. I never forgot those simple edicts that came from my parents: “If you eat all that Halloween candy, you will get sick”; “If you wait until the last-minute to study, you probably won’t really understand the material and not do well on the test”; “If you treat your siblings like crap, crap is what you will get in return.”; “The most important lessons always contain some form of difficulty.” Those pearls of wisdom created a strong base for much of my decision-making as an adult, (that and scoring the 97th percentile in an aptitude test measuring common sense…which I’ve bragged about before). Common sense should also never be confused with intelligence-it is not the same thing. Some of the most intelligent people I know actually seem to be lacking in common sense. Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, they really should give diplomas for that kind of smarts. The scarecrow discovered that the only way to increase the wisdom of one’s native good judgment is not by always doing what one is told, but by figuring it out on ones own and actually taking personal responsibility for those choices that go awry.
Taking personal responsibility for the choices one makes and developing common sense are intimately connected. Unfortunately one can’t develop without the other. Based on what I observe in the world at large, be it politics or religion, common sense is on hiatus. It has simply left the building. And that is the root of much my of my anger and sadness about the world today.
While in college, I had the chance to study and to meet Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor at Harvard University who was well-known for his theory of moral development. In his theory, there are three levels of moral development with two stages within each level. Kohlberg also maintained that individuals could only progress through these stages one at a time, in order, without jumping any stage. The first level, termed “pre-conventional” is generally found in elementary school age children. At stage 1, (ages 1-5) children behave according to socially acceptable norms created by an authority figure. Obedience is compelled by threat of punishment. At stage 2, (ages 5-10) right behavior means acting in one’s own interest, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” The next level, “conventional,” is where most of society lies. Beginning with stage 3 (ages 8-16) right choices are based on being a “good boy/girl or doing what will gain the approval of important others such as parents, teachers or friends. Stage 4 (ages 16 and above and if they reach it, where most adults remain) is defined by abiding the law and fulfilling one’s obligation of duty. In this stage, leaders are assumed to be right and individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved. People who break rules, deserved to be punished.
What I found most disturbing was Kohlberg’s conclusion that only about 20-25% of today’s adults (most in their late twenties) ever reach the last level of moral development, labeled “post-conventional.” In stage 5, people do recognize the underlying moral principles served by laws, and if a law no longer serves a good purpose, they actively work to change it through legal and democratic means. Respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules is still important, but an individual uses only legally acceptable means to make changes. Less than 1% of adults ever make a stage 6 moral decision. Kohlberg believed, theoretically, that civil disobedience was often how a stage 6 moral decision distinguished itself. In this instance, breaking a law in defense of an individual right can be justified. Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws and accept whatever consequences may come.
It is the kind of strength of conscience that defines Kohlberg’s sixth level that led me to conclude that developing one’s native good judgment is a necessary step in reaching the latter stages of moral development. It is by exercising and honing one’s native good judgment that acts as a moral compass in not only determining what rules we are going to live by, but gives an individual the internal fortitude and certainty to actually live by them.
In the Judeo/Christian tradition, we are taught that human beings are created in the image of God so the obvious conclusion is that we should have a great deal of faith in our native good judgment. If we are going to continue to evolve as human beings it doesn’t make sense to think that by questioning cultural rules we would encourage anarchy, rather, it should encourage just the exact opposite. It is often through questioning that truth itself becomes clearer and that clarity will ultimately shed light on what rules are working in each individual life. Of course any challenge to these rules most likely leads to conflict but, it was and still is from this kind of vantage point that I make most decisions to co-direct my destiny.
As I mentioned before, exercising the senses to develop that inherent native good judgment is a must. Lack of use weakens our ability to use them and leaves one vulnerable to outside influences. Of course, there are many reasons that all of us have, at times, chosen to disregard what we know to be true, subjecting ourselves to a whole other set of unhealthy rules. Catholic school taught me that they were the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. There are a host of others, to be sure, but these seven are as good as any. Knowing what rules serve a higher purpose doesn’t mean that I was always capable of listening to that inner voice and adhering to them—which is normal because sometimes the best way to learn is by making mistakes. Note the distinction between discovering what rules are good to follow and actually choosing to follow them; it is very important. Obviously, the proof is in what kind of choices we have made in our lives thus far and the people who influence us on a daily basis. However, the more adept we become at using native good judgment, the more difficult it becomes to fall prey to those deadly sins.
It would be inaccurate to assume that “proof” of using native good judgment will always result in being labeled “good” by society. In thinking of my own childhood a little poem comes to mind: “When I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad I was clueless.” The ditty needed changing because sometimes challenging the rules means embracing the willingness to accept judgment as being bad. Being labeled “naughty” by some of my teachers perhaps was the inevitable result of not behaving as little girls should, meaning I always spoke my mind and never stopped barraging teachers with questions about things that were difficult to wrap my young brain around. Mind you, I never wanted to be bad; being arbitrary just didn’t come naturally. All I wanted to know, if I was expected to act a certain way, was the reason why. Perhaps one of the results of questioning the validity of the rules we follow is to turn up the volume on those innate sensibilities. So, what does this all mean in practical terms? Stay tuned…
For a moment, imagine the point in time when humankind’s consciousness became aware of itself. The phrase, “Let the games begin” comes to mind. From that point forward, complete with cutthroat competition for an elusive prize at the end, whether it be immortality or eternal life, humankind has been in a race against itself up the evolutionary ladder. Throughout history, humanity has also established cultural rules by which to play. The rules may not be listed as clearly as they are in a Milton-Bradley game, but they’re there. Face it; rules are important to any game especially when the stakes include life and death, and in many cases, heaven. I don’t have a problem with living by cultural rules, but I do take issue, however, with who made up the rules we are supposed to live by and what it takes to win. For the most part, history has been retold by a pretty select group of people, usually men of European background. Why is this fact important? Because there is a symbiotic relationship between whomever holds power, who records history and who has made up most of the rules. The result: defining the appropriate way to observe the world.
Because men have made up most of the rules simply means it has never been a level playing field for anyone that is not in this majority. Don’t get me wrong, I love men—a lot, so much so that I married one and gave birth to two. However, in order for me to embrace my full potential and become that unique ingredient in making a better world, it was and still is a necessity to challenge and question cultural rules, regardless of how far women have come in our historical journey, there is quite a distance left to travel. Dreams begin their genesis in a form that is as small as a mustard seed. And it is often the perimeters and basic assumptions created by cultural rules that are the biggest impediment to a dream’s development. As a woman, I am certainly aware of what impact they had on mine. It is sad to think of the dreams that may have died because they weren’t able to thrive a midst the rules imposed by one’s culture.
A favorite philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said that in investigating any philosophy of an era, there will be fundamental assumptions that adherents to that philosophy will presuppose, even if unconsciously. These assumptions appear so obvious that the people adhering to them don’t even know they are assuming them because putting them another way has never even occurred to them. These assumptions also color the way in which we observe the world. Eternity with God in heaven for those who follow the right rules and eternal suffering with the Devil in hell for those who don’t are two simple examples.
Since all of us are a part of, potentially, many different philosophical groups (religious, political, economical, etc.) it is important to ask what the fundamental assumptions of these groups are, and how are said assumptions are translated into rules, and by following said rules, who exactly benefits? Perhaps the most important realization of our time is to consider the possibility that our assumptions about the world are deeply flawed or at least inaccurate, and by critiquing them, there may be a new way to see and appreciate our place in the world.
Essentially, the problem is not that there are conflicting perspectives but that there only seems to be one “right” one that should prevail at any given time. Whitehead also said that goodness and badness are relative to those fundamental assumptions endorsed by a ruling majority. Given that we all experience life differently, how logical is that? And although there are also perceptual inaccuracies based on race and sexual orientation, I am not the person to discuss them here. Since I am Caucasian, female, Irish, Christian and heterosexual, and this blog is about my observations, I can’t really speak to their perspectives. However, since male and female go beyond race and sexual orientation, and are universal to being human, hopefully anyone can resonate with some of the fundamental assumptions that exist, involving gender.
All of us are rooted in a gender that is male or female. While the argument regarding nature vs. nurture still exists, my own personal experience has shown me that biology does affect perspective. I tried to steer away from gender oriented toys when my sons were small, but no amount of influence on my part to raise them outside gender stereotypes could change the fact that they would rather sleep with a car than a teddy bear, they loved dirt more than anything, they figured out how to pee in the woods before the toilet, and no matter how hard I tried to keep guns out of the house, they made them out of anything else they could find. I don’t believe in the nature side of the argument in a definitive sense but let me remind you these are my observations.
Scaling it down to the simplest form, look at how gender rules surface every day. One need only look at the amount of literature that has been put out trying to help men and women understand one another. Since spending the last several years in a household of men, my husband, two sons, it has become even clearer to me that the world they observe isn’t at all like the one in my head, and is most often the source of conflict in our household. None of the men in my life think like me. (I’m not sure anybody does, but for the sake of conjecture let’s just say one of the reasons is because I’m a girl) They march to a completely different rhythm. The world for them appears to be just one big continuous playing field, one competition after another. The rules they live by are not the same as my rules. More than anything, a woman’s perspective regarding the rules of our household is not wanted or necessary for their happiness. They do, however, know what happens when I am unhappy…life can become pretty miserable. As a result, they choose to include my rules sometimes, not necessarily because their lives will be enhanced but just so that they get to live-period. And if on my small level, I have to fight to include my rules in our household, it isn’t surprising at all that our cultural rule makers still disregard women in general.
So, let me just describe my personal jumping off point in shaking the foundations of this historical king of the hill that society has been playing, so to speak (notice the game isn’t called queen of the hill). For a certain amount of time I held all rules suspended; not so much as an excuse to wreak havoc, but to use a girly metaphor, more to clean out my own cosmic closet and get rid of all the stuff that no longer fit or was, to put it bluntly, just tacky and outdated. Arguing in favor of any particular new paradigm that only benefits me and trying to shove it down anyone else’s throat will never work. The reason for starting here, challenging the established rules and assumptions of our present time, had a lot to do with my own personal development. It never made good sense to follow a lot of rules blindly, especially those that were oppressive, simply because I was born female.
Here again was my first step, and probably the most difficult: accepting the challenge to break away from my own belief systems and rules, and entertain the possibility that they may not have served me all too well, not just from a place of indulgence but of personal fulfillment. From this standpoint, there was absolutely nothing to lose except, perhaps, the realization that I might be wasting precious time. If your own life is hunky dory then stop reading right now, no harm, no foul. But if deep down in your spiritual self you also find there is a sense of discord created by the rules you’ve followed up to this point, then read on and try what I did. Personal beliefs should at least be scrutinized every once in a while, even if it only acts as a reminder of why we started following them in the first place. A function of free will is not to embrace matters of belief blindly; Jesus told us that “if you seek, you will find.”
It doesn’t seem logical that questioning the rules that control our lives would have any effect on real truth, especially if the questions stem from a desire to further understanding. It’s worked for me because I question everything (which contrary to my catechism teachers turned out to be a very good thing) and my faith in God, myself and humanity is even stronger as a result. Culturally, asking “why” after about the age of three usually labels you a trouble maker, and I’ve had to deal with that unfair moniker most of my life. Remember the phrase “misery loves company?” well, perhaps enlightenment loves it just as much; the kind of enlightenment that is predicated by artfully and continually asking questions. There is nothing greater than being in the company of people who want to know and understand as much as they can.
It never occurred to me to get hung up on the notion that even if an individual did disagree with some of the rules imposed by modern culture,that said individual lacked the power to do anything about it. No personal evolution can take place without individual choice regarding the rules that one follows. Changing cultural rules may not be easy, slavery and women’s suffrage being only two examples, but the alternative is to choose a life burdened by cultural rules that not only dash ones personal dreams but all the dreams out there that were dependent on your unique perspective. Has anyone ever told you that the world will be a better place for everyone if you were able to live your dreams? That my happiness may hinge on yours? I didn’t think so. Hopefully, by the end of this little essay you will entertain the possibility that there is everything you can do about changing cultural rules. So for now, don’t worry about changing anything, just take a deep look at what makes you tick, and let go of the rest.
So what does one do in the absence of any system of belief, live by the seat of one’s pants? Well, yes, I guess. What it boils down to is that people are inherently really quite sensible about which rules are good for them and which rules are not: whether we have the strength to listen to that sensibility and follow it is another matter entirely. In order to begin perceiving the world from a higher, spiritual place, it was necessary for me to master the inherent gifts God had given me. And let me tell you there have been plenty of times when I wondered if I had any at all—and that concern turned out to be a gift in itself because it forced to me to keep my eyes open and pay attention and embrace some good common sense…but I’ll leave that for next time
So how does one apply this immutable force in everyday life? Is there some sort of mechanism or practical application that can aid us in harnessing the power of love? Organized religion, whether or not it seems to be the most obvious choice, is only one place and it doesn’t always do the best job. It appears to have fallen victim to “there is only one true perspective rule.” Let me tell you that admitting that love may not be harnessed through organized religion, gives me a great deal of sadness.
The portrayal of love in literature lifts up and celebrates its bond between sex and desire, but as I learned in Catholic school, this dangerous mix also offers, potentially, a lot of sadness. I understand that love and desire can be a lethal combination, but if King Solomon and Shakespeare are correct, it can also greatly enhance human life. Another wise teacher told me this about love and attraction: “Attraction is like a beautiful coat. We are all brought into the world with a certain beauty, like a beautiful coat that catches a certain person’s eye. But it is, after all, only a coat merely attracting someone to the true essence of a person. Truly, how can a simple coat compare to the beauty that lies underneath?”
Seeing love as an immutable force also dispels another assumption I had about love: for love to be true, reciprocation is necessary. In fact, reciprocation should never enter the equation. In the First Letter of John, in the Christian New Testament I used to ponder this line: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins”. We should never choose to love expecting that it will be returned. Loving another should be open ended and fearless, for John continues, “Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear. And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not perfect in one who is afraid.” 1 John 4: 7-9. When we love without fear, the consequence often inspires reciprocation but it is in no way contingent on it. Love should never be withheld when it isn’t returned because then love’s true power becomes squelched (just ask any parent). It was enduring the experiences of unrequited love where I learned the most about love’s true nature and was transformed as a result. Those experiences may have caused burns but it was also those experiences where I began to discover how to wield love’s energy effectively. Love is often most powerful when it continues to propel us forward even in the face of opposition. When you look at love this way, the phrase “love your enemies” begins to make a lot more sense.
As an individual, the most important insight that I gained through all my trials was that the power to love on my own would always be deficient, leaving me vulnerable to harm. With God, though, who, is love, my heart is augmented with a power that knows no boundaries. I’ve truly found that even with the limited capacity humanity has for a full understanding of its nature, when openly and embracing the love of God, we are transformed. For me, being burned isn’t so much of a concern any more because I have become flame-proof. That is quite a statement to make and I have never been quite as confident to say it as I am now. In consciously praying for God to assist my simple heart, I get results. I can’t explain it any more clearly than that, except to say for those of you who may believe that I’ve just embraced another illusion, that the results I get aren’t anything I could have foreseen. Of course there are always set backs, but the knowledge and experience of its power never goes away. It’s like riding a bike—once you learn how, you never forget.
As a parent, I also have the opportunity to experience love on an even greater level. Throughout the lives of my children, i have engaged in many things that as I single person I never would do, from boy scouts and camping, to endless amounts of time in my car and sitting on my ass while they fulfilled simple dreams. I always talk about life in crazy town, and with three men I have very legitimate reasons for saying so. But love is a little bit cray-cray. When we put personal desire aside for the sake of one we love, amazing things can happen. I was never transformed into a person who enjoyed the activities of the men in my house—in fact I still wouldn’t choose them for myself. Yet some how I am still renewed and transformed. It is hard to put it into words, but like the Grinch I really feel my heart grow 10 times its size, even if it is for just a few moments.
The discovery here may seem to be a simple twist of the language, but it really isn’t. If we are to harness the great power of love, it has to be done in the way love intends, not the way we intend it. This may seem paradoxical, at first. How can one harness something by relinquishing control? We can’t change the nature of love any more than we can change the nature of fire. We, as human beings, place way too much emphasis on what love should look like, rather than simply allowing it to propel us forward. In the face of that, remember, any expression is incidental. Opening my heart to love means forsaking all fear and trusting that some power greater than I, knows what to do. When love is the true conduit there is no mistaking the power that will flow through. It is truly empowering. In order for love to move us, we must place our own will aside, because there is too much risk of being burned if we don’t.
Thinking of the moments in my life where I felt love in its purest form move me forward, usually isn’t a Kodak moment. It usually meant reluctantly letting go of my personal will, and moving through the tightness in my stomach that meant I was moving into uncomfortable territory and watching what unfolded. The result was always amazing, even in a tough love situation. The clarity of those moments can never be questioned it is just so pure. When I allow the force of love, which for me is God, replace my small and imperfect heart, the power of those moments is truly death-defying.
My favorite Gospel is John’s. It is my favorite not so much because of his poetry, but because of the great lengths to which he goes to help us understand love’s true nature. For Christians, the death of Jesus on the cross is clear evidence of a love and devotion that continued even in the face of rejection by almost everyone. It also strikes at the heart of God’s attitude toward human beings. It isn’t the only story of a god so benevolent that he makes a sacrifice, but it surely is the best one (in my humble opinion). It also may feel like the love bar is set too high for us lowly humans. To utilize a power that strong may take some practice.
Here is something that must be said. Simply stated, my faith in God is central to the way in which I observe the world—but that is just me. Although devout, I wouldn’t describe my faith as typical. I know I’ve said this before, but as a theology student I was given an assignment to find a biblical passage to represent my faith…my choice?: King David dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant—draw your own conclusions. In the rash of religious fundamentalism that has taken hold of many in today’s world, I am almost a bit embarrassed to share my passion and devotion to God for fear of being pigeon-holed as an advocate for some of the idiocy that has come out of some religious fundamentalists. However, this post can be helpful to anyone regardless of where they are in life’s great journey or what philosophy or theology they embrace. My purpose here is to simply help people reflect on, and have a stake in how they choose to observe the ordinary things in this world because it matters more than you may realize. The many Christian and other spiritual images I use serve to illustrate what I have learned, and they just seem to make a lot of sense to me. More than anything, it is faith that God is behind me at all times that gives me the strength of this conviction: All things, are indeed possible.
Let me say this: the connections I’ve made based on how I observe the world have led me to new ideas which have resulted in becoming an effective force for change (or a force to be reckoned with depending on the day). Simply put, I found that most of the materials necessary to live out the movie in my head and the answers to my life’s questions came wrapped in ordinary brown paper, free for the taking. As much fun as it is to believe that a secret society, centuries ago, has buried the secret to happiness in countless riddles all over the globe, the truth is that it has been right in front of us all along.
The key lies in how to observe the ordinary: using ones own cosmic imagination to see everyday raw materials as essential ingredients in creating something greater, to achieve ones dream. I may just be stating the obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t even begin to use the simple things that are right in front of them. They look, but do not really see. The growing sense of fear and despair in the world is all the proof that I need to bring a message of hope. Observing the world as one that is evolving into greatness shapes the very way one moves and creates in it. This is not just another take on “attitude is everything.” When I use the word “observation,” I’m not speaking about a passive action, rather, one that is the root of all creation and growth. I, in my ordinary-ness, am as essential a factor in the world’s equation for success as any president or king, because my observations are unique to me alone. And because they are unique to me alone, they can be the exact ingredient necessary for my greatness somewhere else.
Another observation I’ve made is that too many people want to bypass the middle of any process. We live in a day and age where the easiest route is always the best route, regardless of the cost. Having status is far more important than the process by which one attains it. What happens when one is given something too easily, without the opportunity to earn it? In an age where technology has made all our lives so much easier, perhaps we have lost the motivation to work hard…for anything. That may be a hard bit to swallow, but there is evidence out there to prove my point. I find the amount of money that goes into gambling and lottery pots around the world staggering. It is certainly more than the GNP of many third world countries in the world. What really is the end result for bypassing the middle where all the hard work is and jumping to the end? I think part of the reason that we want to bypass the middle is that there is a subtle underlying message today that tempts us into believing that life shouldn’t be hard, that there are ways to bypass any difficulty and that if you can’t fix it within a moment’s time, throw it away and buy something better. Sadly enough, there are more than enough individuals out there who have, to put it bluntly, just stopped moving period, forcing the rest of us to find our way around them.
I would also venture to say that most people out there have, at times, considered themselves to be inconsequential when it comes to making an impact on the world. They don’t see themselves as an essential element in something much greater. It is this belief that has created the grey cloud that is obstructing clear sight. I am here to say this: the roots of colossal change lie in the smallest and simplest things which often go unnoticed by the naked eye. When you bypass the middle of any process, you miss all the important stuff. It is the mustard seed approach that Jesus spoke about: taking something small and seemingly insignificant and learning to have faith in its potential, to put forth the effort to nurture it and see its place in the distant future, far after it has left my circle of influence. Like the beauty of our DNA’s double helix, every single element is essential in creating the blueprint that becomes a human being. It is the compilation of many different elements that expresses our potential. Why not look at our human family the same way?
Being in the middle of a process can also be, at times, tedious, hard work, full of uncertainty, and time-consuming. It also demands a great deal of humility and faith in the work being done and the process as a whole. It is my hope to give credit and encouragement to anyone in that middle place, where the effort is not glamorous, but is no less essential than finishing the job. All of us, at one time or another has had the tedious job of passing a bucket. Columbus may have been credited for discovering America, but when it came to the discovery of chocolate he was just a middle man
From my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot. Being in the middle has had its advantages. I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc. Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope. It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation. There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it. In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.
And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either. However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized. After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution. No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it. So let me use another sense to focus on the problem. Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing. I’m not being modest. I really can’t sing. But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not. Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol. Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing. The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for. Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional. Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now. The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt. Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so. When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.
Bad things happen, to be sure. The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional. Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try. The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation. For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk. Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.
The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising. What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health. Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being. Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also? Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group. Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal. The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.
The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food. The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different. Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential. Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful. It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe. The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional. The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way. My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.
In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition. It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor. And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.
That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either. It’s important to preserve subjectivity. Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas. So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does. This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head. What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.
The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen. Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step. This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk. It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world. If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest. As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless. Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.
Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream. Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only. Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement. When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance. Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval? The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me. Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.
While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum. We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience. And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success. Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping. Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.” The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s. How often does that thought come into your heads? How often to do you start your day with this thought: I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true? Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God? I thought so. So, let it start now. Be cosmic chocolate to someone. They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.