525,600 Minutes and So Much More

save our starving children 1 save our starving children 2 stave our starving children 3Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives.  There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.”  This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning).  And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!

I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about.  By the hands of the few, many are saved.  So many good trees, bearing good fruit.  There is nothing more powerful than that.  It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal.  I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

: a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done

I started this post several times, wanting to be positive, a bit less controversal, and with propriety.  I couldn’t do it because I did promise a sense of wild abandon, so here goes.  I seem to take umbrage with almost every angle of the state of women in our world today.  I am sickened by movements to censure, mutilate, deny education, control and retract any advances made through history.  And yet, I take as much umbrage with a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and at the opposite end values a woman based on some prudish matronly definition of goodness.  Seriously people, what in the sam hill is going on?

Jesus set the standard so clearly in his ministry.  Women were of great value to him; especially women who chose his instruction over what culture restricted them to, check out the Mary and Martha story…( I blogged about it here, maryfrancesflood.com/2012/06/18/im-a-mary-and-not-a-martha/.  I think women owe Jesus a great deal for the place that he brought us to…and with that comes responsibility.  We, as women, must take a stand against those who would force us to lose the sacred ground that many fought so hard to attain.  So where the hell do I stand?

While I am plagued with fear when I hear most men speak of rape, whether on a college campus, foreign soil, a military base or from the mouth of a politician, I have to admit that I am plagued with as much fear at the cavalier attitude and sexually charged culture in this country.  While I think we should celebrate our physical bodies, I am tired of how sex inundates our culture.  I don’t want to see young women run around in their underwear, or clothing designed to cradle a man’s package.  While I am not a prude…I say EEEWWWWW!  The pervasiveness of sex in just about everything is a problem for me. Being a good lover by today’s standards is understood by sexual prowess and not in the way the gospel intended.  Getting better at sex will never help us get better at love…PERIOD.  And it won’t help us reclaim our power either.

I have thought long and hard about whether or not my attitude is based on my aging form and diminishing beauty…and then that very thought even pissed me off!  Who defined aging and beauty anyway?  Well, I include myself when I say we all had a hand in that too.  With age, I’ve gained great experience and education and was for a moment ready to hold those accomplishments at a lesser value than my aging appearance…and yet, in all truthfulness I understand why. We live in a culture that worships youth and marginalizes maturity.  Look at the amount of money that goes into physical beauty; the money women spend on achieving some skewed idea of youthful perfection is tragic.  We could save all the starving children in the world many times over, if we allowed ourselves to age naturally and dump our obsession with beauty regimens.

I’m not saying as women, we can’t try to be beautiful and celebrate our sexuality.  But if we aren’t working as hard for the standard the Jesus set, i.e. we are as valuable as any man, and are offered the same gift of grace, with the same expectations for our behavior…then we’ve failed on a massive level.  Let’s be better at loving, starting with ourselves.

Ask and Receive

law and prophetsI’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own.  The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost.  While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”  While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.

Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things”  God would never give us anything harmful.  I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify.  So how then, do we know what good is?  What follows gives us a clue.  Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”.  The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.

So what is good fruit?  Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power?  I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray.  Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree).  It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit.  Pretty much sums it all up.

Waiting at the Well

woman at the wellIn the Gospel of John, Jesus functionally begins his ministry at a Samaritan well talking to a woman.  I say he functionally began his ministry, because he had just left the desert from being baptized by John the Baptist.  So what a place to start: not only with a woman, but a Samaritan woman, and even more so, a Samaritan woman of ill repute.  What makes this particular event so powerful is that just prior to this conversation in the previous chapter comes the famous line he spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”  We never get Nicodemus immediate response, but from Jesus we get an inclination that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea: Jesus makes it clear that those who prefer the cloak of darkness and fear exposure of their wickedness are already condemned. So after journeying to Samaria, while his disciples had gone to look for food, he stopped for a drink of water.  What followed, (I will make you read it for yourself) was nothing short of remarkable…especially given the timing.

I think it is remarkable because he not only spoke to this woman of ill repute, but he talked to her as if she were anyone else of equal value.  She was the first person who, when told he was the Messiah, believed him right then and there. (Nicodemus was most probably still pondering the idea and the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman and concluded he simply needed to eat something). You see this is of utmost importance because he knew all about her disreputable past, appreciated her telling the truth, and then offered her everything, because she, like all those who came after her, were in need of and wanted everything he offered.  She wasn’t afraid of the truth, of being exposed.  And yet I still wondered, why her?  Jesus must have recognized a remarkable quality in her, because even though she was a woman of ill repute, when she went back into the village saying, “He told me everything I have ever done, could he be the Messiah?” they actually came.  She wasn’t afraid of her wickedness, like perhaps many of those who feared Jesus. She wanted the light.

What would his ministry have looked like had Nicodemus believed him right away instead of perhaps falling into his fear of exposure.  What if it was he who ran and said to the people “I have met the Son of man who will bring us eternal life”  maybe Jesus whole ministry would have transpired differently.  The Samaritan woman stood in truth when exposed and that made all the difference in the world.

Breaking Bias

Breaking bias

Full Definition of BIAS

1
:  a line diagonal to the grain of a fabric; especially :  a line at a 45 degree angle to the selvage often utilized in the cutting of garments for smoother fit
a :  bent, tendency

b :  an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice

 

c :  an instance of such prejudice

d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

4
a :  a voltage applied to a device (as a transistor control electrode) to establish a reference level for operation

b :  a high-frequency voltage combined with an audio signal to reduce distortion in tape recording

It seemed timely to post about bias because of the turmoil that is going on in Ferguson right now, that and a tortured call from my eldest son at 4 in the morning who, while trying to be the voice of fact and reason, was obliterated by a friend who challenged him as a privileged white person with deep racial overtones.  Understandably,  he is nothing like that, we didn’t raise him that way, but upsetting nonetheless.  It isn’t always helpful in the face of such raw emotion to be challenged on the lack of factual information.  Ferguson triggered a  powder keg of emotions that have been festering for a long time .  Justifiable or not, this kind of raw emotionally charged situation, already escalated by a media that capitalizes on frenzied, angry incitement and violence, has to be approached with the delicacy of a political surgeon, and not by online postings that polarize the situation further.  The horrible events that happened that day were so entrenched in a long history that none of us were directly involved in and can ever know accurately.  Telling someone in the throws of that kind of emotion to calm down or keep a level head, no matter how well intended, never sits well.

All of us are bias.  It is the inevitable result of a solitary perspective.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing…just a simple truth.  But to perpetuate that singular perspective by insulating yourself with only those who think like you do is how situations in Ferguson get out of control.  I’ve always told my children that true empathy must be rooted in caring for another plus factual information about something you’re not directly involved in because it will give you the necessary tools to help more effectively.  I had a great Evidence prof in law school that hammered that notion home: if information presented does not lead to the truth of the matter at hand, it should be excluded.  It is also why we don’t watch Fox news or MSNBC at my house…they are too biased, and often irreverently so.  I’m sure that will get me in trouble with some, but hey…I’m one of those fools who actually believes that the truth will set me free.

I don’t know how to solve the problems in Ferguson, it’s horrifying to watch and so beyond my wheelhouse of experience that it feels almost impossible to find the truth I desperately need to broaden my perspective.  Everywhere I turn I see bias that distorts whatever truth may exist out there.  That isn’t an excuse to forgo any conversation, because while I may never know what really happened there, I do know that addressing issues dealing with race, violence, police mistrust and the questionable way this whole crisis was handled have to be part of the solution.  I won’t say that level heads must prevail because that would be my bias…but I will say for those of us on the outside who cannot offer any solutions at this point, we should shut up and listen more, that would certainly go along way for the people of Ferguson.

 

Angels in Disguise

holy spiritIn 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.

Healing the Body

getting betterI 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.

 

 

 

The In-Between

roads-divergingWhile 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.

 

 

Where is the Love?

thunderIn all sincerity, I’m not sure whether it is having spring and summer occur simultaneously that has thrown my whole rhythm off, or the unbearable nature of events. from shootings, to the ravages of mother nature, to the quagmire of American politics.  I’m sad much of the time…not the cry your eyes out kind, or the can’t get out of bed kind.  The sadness I feel is like a dull ache based on recognizing a pattern that too many people seem to miss and not feeling like I can act effectually enough to stop it.

The pattern I speak of is fear, the kind of fear that is so deeply in-bedded in our nation that we have begun to suffer a rigor mortise of the soul, expressed in both subtle and obvious ways.  Most obviously, it is expressed in the kind of partiality that blinds one to solutions because national pride lately is only celebrated in opposition to something else, such as guns, the government, climate change, the poor, etc.  In more subtle ways is the complete lack of civil discourse between divergent views, and sense of entitlement that isn’t extended beyond a small group of like-minded individuals.  I know I’m personally tired of being written off, or pigeon holed into a particular ideology that I certainly am not contained by because I ask questions and try to look at a situation from a multitude of perspectives.  The political flavors of the moment are too honed into a blanket kind of hate, blame, and judgment of anyone who harbors a different idea than one’s own. Personal responsibility rarely enters the picture. What is most disturbing, though, is the religious imprimatur that is often used to justify such ignorance and fear.

Jesus says that the truth will set us free, and the way to truth is through him…and he is LOVE.  Love will set us free.  So let us practice love, first and foremost.  Fear will be our demise, if we don’t utilize the powers we’ve been given…  And so I offer a reminder of our greatest gifts:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13


1
 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

2

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

3

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4

3 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,

5

it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,

6

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

7

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8

4 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

9

For we know partially and we prophesy partially,

10

but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

11

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

13

5 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

With Privilege, comes Responsibility

privilegeI 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.

In the Blink of an Eye

illuminationLate 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!

Pray it Forward

praying handsYesterday I was just bored.  Bored with the cold weather, bored with life and its problems and bored with my prayers.  So I decided to change things up a bit and pray for those out there who don’t have the wherewithal to pray, who are too broken, too arrogant or just too ignorant to know that the necessary help is right there, waiting to be tapped.  I prayed so that their eyes may be opened, and their hearts filled love so they could see the world in a new way.  I prayed also that my judgement on what they needed would not factor in to the equation…because we all have a bias about what people need.  I prayed that God’s will be done and not mine, even if the outcome was to bless those that I don’t think deserve it, or challenge those that I believe do.  If a random act of kindness can create a ripple effect of kindness, think of what a random act of prayer can do.

The Subtly of Grace

power of emotionThis picture represents a simple idea, we can change a single molecule by our thoughts and words.  For more info on the picture check this link: http://www.whatthebleep.com/water-crystals/ But his ideas led me to what I had to say about the growing darkness in this world on a past post:

I remember teaching  moral issues long ago, when I tried to impress upon the sophomore class the subtleties in making a moral decision.  Right and wrong, good and bad are never really black and white, rather exist in often the subtlest shades of grey.  I don’t think they could quite get their heads wrapped around the concept, perhaps it was that the examples I gave weren’t very good, like distinguishing between taking a pen from someone’s desk or locker without asking, or the last piece of pie when you’ve already had your share.  Most scoffed at how stupid I was being, and rationalized quite sensibly, that a pencil is only worth a couple of pennies, or the person would never miss it, or justify that the person excluded from the pie really didn’t need it after all and they were just doing them a favor.  What I was unable to convey, even after I thought I stated it pretty clearly, is that moral behavior, in large part, is built by developing an ability to distinguish between shades of grey….and the way to do that is one decision at a time, regardless of how simple or inane they might appear.  What can I say, I was young…and wanted them to understand that as adults, we are an accumulation of choices just like these.  If the first impulse is to justify in your mind why an action is morally ok to serve any “want” at the time then it is a clear indication that your gut is telling you that it may not be.  I learned throughout the years from very wise people, to simply take a moment to weigh my options…which in truth most often takes a few seconds.  Asking before borrowing something or choosing not to be greedy only increases our souls acuity to recognize shades of grey.   Our brains also help us continue on a moral path by creating neuro-pathways, or shortcuts to respond to situations like the ones mentioned automatically after we repeat a certain behavior after a while.   I guess that is why bad habits are so hard to break…just ask my family…it’s to the point that whenever I even open my mouth to speak their eyes roll back into their heads, and I guess I can’t blame them.  For now it is safer to opine in cyber space. 

I fear in this time, we may be losing the ability to distinguish between shades of grey and the world is growing darker.  I don’t know if it’s because there is so much corruption, rationalized behavior, and greed that we’ve accepted that the growing darkness is inevitable (or its someone else’s fault), or if it’s because  up against such darkness it is easier to look so much better in comparison.   We do live in morally dubious times, and I think the place to start cleaning up all the pollution begins with our own choices…not necessarily the ones involving pencils and pie, but the ones that trigger the rationalization response.  I know I’ve had a hard time taking my own inventory when there are so many who don’t, but it has to start somewhere.  And I know that I am in no position to throw stones, but do hold myself obligated to develop my own moral acumen…because too many of our leaders and movers and shakers in our world don’t…and why the saving of the world may very well be left in the hands of  us ordinary folk…one choice at a time. 

So it is with Grace.  Sometimes I think we believe that real power lies in those who stand in the light of infamy and fame, those names that we are familiar with, who are known by the masses.  I think that is the greatest illusion of all, perpetuated by darkness to seduce us from recognizing our own power.  How many are looking for a savior on a white horse, fearless and strong with endless power and ability to slay any adversary?  There is a reason God chooses great leaders from the simplest and most ordinary people…it is within every heart to do great things.  Each of us has the ability to use the subtly of Grace and change even water…even if we aren’t around to see their impact in the future.  Never underestimate a single gesture of Grace…the darkness never does and that is how it grows as well.  The good news is that even the subtlest of light can cast away the darkness.  Be a light.  Change the world

By an Imperceptible Degree

baby scars 1baby scars 2Each day when I wake up and while I sit in my bath…(the only quiet time in my day because the testosterone at my house is unconscious…except for the new man kitty who dive bombed the bubbling water and totally freaked himself out and is lingering in the corner of my house somewhere soaking wet and hopefully thinking twice about messing with my zen time again…picture to prove my scars…) and think how I can make this day an improvement over yesterday…especially given that my yesterdays have developed a pattern of , well, let’s just say in terms of GPA, I would totally be dropping out right now.  So, I have taken a broader and more realistic view, and will hone my observation skills to view the almost imperceptible.  By the end of the year I will totally have x-ray vision…and said man cat will be claw-free and testosterone free.  Booyah!

Catching Fire

catchingfireIt 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.

marytexastexas staffmarygregg

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”.

Nice Guys Finish Last?!?

finishlineI 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.

Seventy times Seven

Seventy-Times-SevenYeah, 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.

My New Best Friend

malala_yousafzai_1374126230_1374126242Sometimes 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:

http://mtvnmobile.vo.llnwd.net/kip0/_pxn=1+_pxI0=Ripod-h264+_pxL0=undefined+_pxM0=+_pxK=18639+_pxE=mp4/44620/mtvnorigin/gsp.comedystor/com/dailyshow/TDS/season_19/episode_006/ds_19006_05_1280x720_3500_h32.mp4?tds_mobile_web&_fw_vid=mgid:cms:video:thedailyshow.com:429606&_fw_sid=The_Daily_Show_Videos_mob

You Want the Truth? You can’t Handle the Truth!

jack nicholsonThat 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.

Shadow Masters

plato-cavePlato, 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.