When Saying it “With Love” is not enough

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There’s this thing that’s super popular (particularly in Christian circles): When we have something to say to someone that is difficult for us to say – or difficult for them to hear – we like to start it off by saying something along the lines of “I’m telling you this because I Love you”.

Sometimes what follows is a sincere attempt to reveal a wound, or talk about a behaviour that we believe is hurting the person. It’s well intended, and the goal of the conversation is to help bring healing and reconnection. And our words, carefully chosen, aimed at the behaviour and acknowledging our own biases and perceptions that may be influencing our interpretations, actually produce the intended effect. And that is good.

Sometimes, the prologue is just an attempt to make ourselves feel better about saying something that is actually aimed at hurting, and creating shame and doubt and guilt in the person we are talking to, while manipulating their behaviour to meet our demands. That is not good.

But sometimes – most of the time, I think – what follows is something in between the two. Someone, with a sincere intent to help and heal, says something that instead produces pain, shame, guilt and deep hurt. Something that while truly well intentioned turns out to be a knife plunged deep into an already festering wound.

This hurt is even worse than that inflicted by someone who intended to hurt us. When we know someone is out to hurt us, it’s easier to let go of their words. It’s easier to walk away from a toxic relationship, to reason with ourselves that even though it hurts (and to be clear, it still hurts) that person is not our friend, and has no interest in our growth or happiness. You expect your enemies to try to hurt you.

But when the person who hurts us does so and we know they truly do love us, it makes us start to question ourselves. After all, why would someone who really loves us tell us something that isn’t true? How can they be wrong? Doesn’t it mean something that they felt so strongly that they had to speak up? Doesn’t is mean they must be right?

No.

It means they are human. It means they love us, but they do so imperfectly. It means they have their own filters that influence their perceptions, and sometimes – even when they have the best of intentions – they say hurtful things. They say true things in hurtful ways. Or they say untrue things in hurtful ways.

There is this idea perpetuated by our fairytales, by our modern conception of marriage, by our “me” culture, that if anything or anyone hurts you, you just cut it out. There is an incredibly popular book by Marie Kondo, where she advises that you go through all of your possessions one by one, and only if they spark joy do you hold onto them. (Side note: when it comes to stuff, I’m all for having less of it. None of it will make you happy) But what kind of an approach is that? To only hold on to the things that spark joy? If we followed that logic into all areas of life we’d get divorced the moment someone hurt us, we’d buy knew things as soon as the spark ran out from our old things, we’d only take to heart that which was joyful to hear.

Oh how many people live this way.

The truth is, often it’s the people we love most that hurt us most deeply, because their words matter more to us. It’s also true that sometimes the things that change us and grow us the most hurt in the beginning. There is much wisdom that comes from pain, and in my experience my deepest growth requires confronting painful truths in myself.

But when the words used are hurtful, or the message itself is wrong, is there any value in it? My answer is a resounding yes. The value is in teaching us to be humble, because too often we are the ones with those wrong words or wrong ideas. In learning and practicing forgiveness, the kind we find ourselves in need of every moment of every day. In opening a door for deepening our relationships even more if we are willing to tell the other person just how hurtful their words were, or helping them to see their own filters in the same way they tried to help you see yours. Growth is not a one way street.

And when we find ourselves as the deliverer of hurtful words and wrong ideas, the best thing (the only loving thing) we can do is to acknowledge the hurt that we were a part of – even if we had good intentions. To hear the other person’s point of view, and really reflect on where we might have gone wrong. To validate the experience of the one who feels wronged, just as we want to be validated in return.

Because sometimes saying it with love is not enough.

The hard part is figuring out what hurts because it’s wrong, and what hurts because it’s true.

Lord reveal to me my heart.

The Modest Feminist

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This past week I’ve been following an intense discussion about Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault and victim blaming. 

Mayim Bialik – an “aspiring modern Orthodox Jewish Woman” – wrote a controversial and highly maligned piece for The NY Times in which she seemed to connect her own beliefs about modesty with assault. I’m not going to spend a ton of time going over that piece, but briefly she made some very problematic correlations between her own escape from sexual assault and the fact that she is what she refers to as not a perfect 10, someone who focuses on developing her brain not her body, and someone who dresses and behaves modestly. I think people very rightfully called this piece out for all the problematic ways it tied victimization to dress and behavior, and how it very erroneously labeled itself as a feminist view.

But the entire debacle got me thinking about the topic of modesty in general. One comment I saw in response to Mayim’s piece was that one cannot hold an ethos of modesty and also be a feminist: that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. And I suppose, based on the most common notion of modesty, that statement is true.

In general, most public discussions of modesty are focused on women more heavily than men. Dress codes are predominately concerned with ensuring that women don’t show too much of their bodies so as to become a distraction. Whether that’s spaghetti straps, low cut tops, high cut bottoms, things that are considered too tight… the message is always that women’s bodies are both inherently sexual and inherently problematic, and that men need women to cover themselves up in order to be able to control themselves. We see this all over our culture, from school and workplace dress codes, to public campaigns aimed at protecting yourself from unwanted attention, to television series like “Counting On” – a continuation of “19 Kids and Counting” highlighting the growing Duggar clan and their Uber patriarchal worldview embedded in their conservative Christian beliefs. This representation of modesty is absolutely counter to any sort of feminist worldview, and in my opinion absolutely harmful in the ideas it continues to perpetuate both about women’s bodies and about men’s apparently animalistic sexual instincts. It contributes to rape culture. It sets up women to be responsible for the actions of men. It’s not ok.

Before I continue, I need to admit something. I believe in modesty. 

I grew up in a church that taught me about the type of modesty discussed above. It was almost always presented to me as about honouring the holiness of my body, but with the added need to protect myself and to not “tempt your brothers or sisters” (the brothers and sisters are in Christ – not biological, for those of you not familiar with church speak). You can imagine that this concept of modesty did not sit well with me long before I considered myself a feminist, and certainly after. In my late teens I had pretty much stopped going to church, and while I held on to some fundamental belief in God, I disposed of everything else. I was certainly anything but modest. For me personally, my times of greatest immodesty coincided directly with my times of least self respect. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT WHY OTHER WOMEN CHOOSE OR REJECT MODESTY – I can’t speak to their realities. I am only telling my own story here. 

As I started to return back to my faith, but this time cautiously trying to think through it all, I kept coming back to modesty. Because it had always been tied to harmful patriarchal ideas, I really had no idea how to navigate my feelings. On the one hand I felt it was a fundamental part of embodying my faith. Not in a turtleneck and long skirts kind of way, but more a maybe I don’t want my boobs to be covered by a 1/4 inch of fabric because it makes me feel like I’m disrespecting myself kind of way. And even in that, I felt uneasy, wondering if feeling like I was disrespecting myself was somehow the product of being told I needed to hide my body FROM MEN. 

I wasn’t sure what to think about modesty. I spent nearly a decade trying to figure it out. Why did I still feel compelled by the idea of modesty, and how could I reconcile that with my understanding of how harmful traditional conceptions of modesty were? Was it even possible to believe in modesty and feminism?

Modesty isn’t anti-feminist. Modesty, at least the kind focused on sacredness instead of sexuality, has nothing to do with controlling someone else’s behavior, or with making you more worthy. 

Modesty as it was intended is about honoring that which is sacred. That being the human body. Each human body, male and female. It’s about recognizing that the same sacred nature of God that required men to hide their faces and cover their heads, to stay behind the curtain because the sacred was so overwhelming – that same sacred nature is embedded in our very flesh. Many of the rules imposed over centuries are most assuredly patriarchal. But holy modesty is not about the rules – it’s about recognizing and honoring the sacred God who lives in us, not just spiritually but physically. 

The relationship between God and our physical bodies has largely been lost in modern Christianity. It’s one of the many things I so appreciate about my Orthodox Christian faith: the recognition that my flesh is as much a part of my story of redemption as my spirit is. And modesty as I now understand it is about accounting for this reality and honouring that which is sacred. Because encountering that which is sacred should not be something casual. It requires attentiveness, thoughtfulness, trust, respect, and holiness. 

There is nothing shameful about my body, and my worth is not increased or decreased based on my modesty. It’s my recognition of the sacredness of my body that increases (or decreases), and my requirement that I honour that which is sacred as a response of thanks, humility, awe and respect to the God who lives within me. 

Glory to God. 

So, About that Being Gay…

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Being gay. It’s the ultimate discussion of our time. Our churches are publishing statements, holding conferences, amending or reaffirming their creeds.

The truth is we have become pretty obsessed with the sexuality of our congregants.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. In a North American culture so dysfunctionally obsessed with and simultaneously repulsed by human sexuality, it makes sense that at some point our churches would need to figure out where they stand in the mess. And as our culture marches towards removing all labels and leveling the legal playing field, the church with all its sticky fingers in politics and law is forced to respond.

I’m not someone who thinks these discussions are a waste of time. I’ve heard people on both sides of the coin lamenting the ongoing focus on the “issue” of homosexual attraction, and declaring the seemingly endless discussions a waste of time. “Stand firm in your conviction!” they both  cry. “It’s betrayal to entertain the disgusting rhetoric of the other side” they proclaim.

Not to get off topic but this knee jerk unwillingness to hear things we find offensive may be the root of so many of the issues we see in our culture today. But moving on…

I’ve struggled a lot in the past with where I stand on this one. I think if you profess to be a Christian who believes the Bible is the word of God and that Jesus is the Son of God, you don’t have a choice but to struggle. What I mean is that there is no getting around the fact that the Bible does talk about homosexual activities and attractions, and that the things it does say (though not a ton is said) are not positive. Unless you’re willing to simply dismiss it outright no questions asked, you will inevitably find yourself needing to figure out what to do with both who God is and what his word says. And so I have.
In all my years of searching – which to be clear are ongoing and will be never ending – I’ve read so many different defenses on both sides. Some make more sense than others logically speaking. Some are more developed, others more emotional. But I’ve never really found one that quite encapsulated where I find myself. So, in an effort not to change anyone’s mind but more to add to a rich and difficult discussion, I’m going to attempt to lay out at least in part my thoughts.

I should note: my position is personal. It doesn’t align with my churches position, nor do I view myself as some infallible authority. But for reasons I will explain, it’s not certainty I’m looking for.
1. The Bible does talk about homosexuality and it’s not good.
I’ve seen a lot of arguments that do one of two things in trying to refute this point. First, they argue the Bible isn’t talking about homosexuality at all. This one falls apart pretty quickly if you do any sort of digging. It’s so easy to find interpretations to back up what we want to believe. It’s more difficult to recognize and admit when things are being manipulated beyond reason just to tell us what we want to hear. The Bible definitely refers to homosexual behaviour, and the discussion of it is definitely not good.

The more common and more compelling argument is that while the Bible does talks about homosexuality, it isn’t talking about the kind of consensual, loving, committed relationships we see today. There are many great discussions on this – both in books and online – so I won’t regurgitate them here. This argument doesn’t really hold up if the claim is that there were no committed, adult, homosexual relationships known to the Biblical authors during their lifetimes. Particularly Paul. There are examples of these kinds of relationships throughout history, even though it is true that many of the homosexual relationships during the writing of the Bible, both old and New Testament, were more predatory in nature. What does hold up: there were no examples of Christ centred, monogamous, committed homosexual relationships. And despite one argument I have read that if Paul wanted to single out specific types of homosexual relationships and not universally condemn them he would have, you can’t differentiate between things that did not exist.

 

2. The Bible barely talks about it so it’s not a real issue.

This argument is also pretty popular. The idea is that if God thought it was important he would have talked about it directly (Jesus doesn’t speak directly to homosexuality though he does speak more broadly on sexual immorality which throughout the Bible is treated as encompassing homosexual behaviour) and he would have talked about it more.

This doesn’t really hold up either, though. There are lots of things that aren’t talked about a lot (child rape, human trafficking, bestiality, racism, to name a few) but no one would claim they aren’t an issue or that they are just small things to be brushed aside. In Christ and through the Bible we get to see and know God – a God who infiltrates every aspect of our lives. The point of the Bible isn’t to lay out piece by piece every single answer to every single question. This would be impossible for us to comprehend anyway as God will always ultimately remain the greatest mystery beyond all human comprehension. Rather, the Bible and the man who was the word made flesh exist to reveal to us the true NATURE of God, and bring us into relationship within which we can come to know and live the will of a God we cannot fully comprehend. In other words, we need to shift our focus away from picking apart what was and was not mentioned, and focus on the nature of God that is being revealed, because only through communion with Him, and truly having our own nature replaced with His will we be able to see His plan for us and all creation.

 

3. Being gay is not a choice.

I think this part of the debate is what really separates for me a position which I think can logically be supported and one that cannot. Let me explain.

Whether or not being gay is a choice only really matters if you are arguing that BEING gay is a sin. And if someone is arguing that BEING gay is a sin, they have already revealed a fatal flaw in their understanding of God, of scripture and of human nature.

There is nothing in the Bible that says being gay is a sin. As I mentioned above, there is absolutely and irrefutably condemnation of homosexual sex in the Bible in some places. But at no point anywhere does it say that being attracted to someone of the same sex is sinful.

If all it took was for us to be tempted to do something we shouldn’t to be condemned for it, we would all be screwed. It also makes no sense that the temptation itself is sinful: Jesus himself was tempted many times. His perfection wasn’t erased because He was tempted. He remained perfect because He didn’t give in to the temptation. So if you are going to argue that experiencing same sex attraction is in itself a sin, you’ve already lost the argument.

Another element of this part of the debate is whether being gay is a choice or not, or how much of it is nature and how much is nurture.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no proof yet that sexual orientation is entirely genetically predetermined. I think the thing many people skip over is that even where something is genetically encoded, almost universally our environment still interacts with that in order to produce the final result. Spending a ton of time debating this point doesn’t really make sense either because if you believe being gay is sinful, your answer to biological predetermination will be “nature is inherently broken”. If you believe acting on homosexual feelings is sinful, how those feelings came to be is irrelevant (the argument in that case being that you can be born with an addictive personality and while not fair, we all have sinful urges we struggle with that we did not choose, but that we still have a choice in responding to).

 

4. Being gay is not God’s original design for nature, so we must reject it.

I believe that this belief underpins any position opposed to homosexual behaviour. A close examination of scripture, especially of the creation story, reveals a compelling narrative of a perfect creation that is gendered and complimentary. The recognition of God’s original plan for creation as being both monogamous and male and female is probably the most compelling in my opinion. I have a hard time buying the arguments that try to claim the gender of Adam and Eve are irrelevant, or that our notion of marriage doesn’t come from this understanding of creation. Whether or not you take the creation story literally, it’s a pretty universal Christian belief that God did, in fact, actively create “male and female” in some way and at some point in time. A universe that doesn’t account for God as creator is simply not a Christian one.

So if I find this so compelling, where do I stand?

 

This is going to ruffle some feathers on both sides, but I think it’s important to be clear for the sake of others who may struggle the same way I did.

 

I believe God made us male and female, as companions and help mates. I believe a perfectly balanced and complimentary pair of humans was his original creation, reflections of different parts of His whole, split into parts.

I believe gender is real (though I think the social constructs we have piled onto it are total BS).

I believe God is not male or female, but that both male and female genders are reflections of him.

I believe creation was broken. I believe creation is still broken. Sin pierced the garden of Eden and infiltrated every single part of our world. There is nothing in this world untouched by this brokenness.

I believe that homosexuality is a product of a broken world. I believe it is one product of the fracturing of all of creation. I believe with this fracturing came a fracturing of gender from biological sex, and the role of gender in creation became muddled.

I believe shame is in itself a product of brokenness, and is not something we are intended to feel simply for being part of a broken creation.

I believe that in Christ, all of creation was opened up to the possibility of redemption, and transformation.

I believe that being gay is not something that requires repentance. I believe that acting on your homosexual feelings is not something that requires repentance. I believe that as with all things, giving ourselves to Christ means allowing him to take what we are – in all our brokenness (and we are ALL broken – gay or not) – and to work in us and through us for our edification and sanctification. And to His glory.

I believe God can infuse Christ-centred gay relationships in the same way He can infuse Christ-centred straight relationships, and use those relationships to reveal Hinmself more fully to the people involved.

I believe most importantly that I AM NOT GOD, that the more I come to know Him and his nature, the more I am humbled in my lack of knowing.

I believe that the Bible speaks clearly on homosexual acts being wrong before Christ’s redemption entered the world, that Paul couldn’t speak to a Christ centred reality that did not exist, and that God didn’t stop revealing Himself and his plans for creation 2000 years ago.

I believe God‘s nature is unchanging but that His relationship with humanity is dynamic and as with any relationship, the dynamics of our relationship with Him change in conjunction with our own change and growth. Just like our relationships with our children look different when they are toddlers than they do when they are adults, so too our relationship with an unchanging God looks different based on where we are at in our own growth. Things that are not permissible in infancy become permissible in adulthood. An unchanging nature of God does not preclude a changing relationship WITH God.

 

I don’t know if I’m “right”. But I don’t need to be right. I don’t need to be certain. I need to be a reflection of Love, a messenger for grace, a conduit for mercy. I need to strive always to know God more. I don’t believe it’s ok to just say “do whatever, God will judge”. I do believe we need to struggle with what God has shown us in Christ and in scriptures, because those are two of the most profound ways God has revealed Himself. We don’t get to just dismiss it and say “whatever works for you”. But wrestling with these questions also should not distract us from living out the incomparable, unending, unconditional Love God has showered on us all and has called us to pour out onto one another. Without condition.

 

We don’t need to condone something to love someone. They are not mutually exclusive. And we don’t need to find certainty on a subject to know that grace and compassion are indisputable.

 

If you don’t agree that acting on homosexual feelings is not a sin, then focus on showing love to the people you disagree with, because you believe that God will reveal Himself and his plans to them if they know Him. If you’re so certain you are right, then your number one desire should be to facilitate in any way you can their getting to know the God who is driving that certainty, so that they can come to understand too.

 

And they can’t very well come to know a God whose house they’ve been locked out of, now can they?

Ethnic Cleansing

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We need an ethnic cleansing. 
A cleansing of, a stripping off, 
the trappings of culture and nationality, of pigment and pigheadedness, that we cling to trying to make ourselves more worthy, more deserving, more entitled to. 
As if they could. 
As if by making someone them, we can make ourselves more us. 
As if we are somehow shrouded in the right to be, to breathe, to walk by virtue only of things like melanin and creed and histories we made up. 
We walk around as if every waking moment isn’t what it is: a gift of pure grace to which we hold no claim. How can something be stolen from us when it didn’t first belong? 
We hold no claim, so we distract ourselves by saying that it’s them not us that should be grateful. Or giving. Or just gone. 
We are so terrified of the unspoken knowing that it is not ours that we fight for more, believing life is finite both in breadth and depth and there are only so many that can hold it before it is depleted.
We cling to wealth, and land, to skin and stone, to anything we can make ourselves believe is tangible enough to grab.
But life is intangible. Life is unclaimable. It’s infinite but only insomuch as it is shared. We must be dispossessed of it before it can possess us, and imbue us with all the gifts it has to give. We must let go to take hold. We must release our claim on it, so that it can claim us completely. 
We need an ethnic cleansing. Release us from ourselves.

The Platitudes of Privilege

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”Keep your chin up – it will pass”

”You just need to dig deep and work hard”

”Being too tired, too busy, too poor – these are all just excuses. Stop making excuses”

”I put myself first. You need to put yourself first too”

 

How many times have you heard a variation of these phrases? 10 times? 100 times? More?

 

I have this theory. My theory is that the more privilege you have, the more likely you are to both hear these words and to say them yourself. God knows I have said these things more often than I’d like to admit over the years, most often in my youthful and self-assured days where I was invested in acting like I had all of life figured out. And my life filled mostly with middle class, light skinned friends seems filled to the brim with these kinds of sentiments.

 

I know I’m being pretty hard on you right now. After all, you realize that these platitudes skip over some of the nuances of people’s lived experiences. But you say them because there is still enough truth that they make sense. And your intentions are good too. It’s not like you say them maliciously, to put people down or to just make yourself feel better.

 

Actually…

 

Ok, maybe you don’t want to admit it (I know I hate to admit this) but let’s cut the BS, shall we. We DO say them because they make us feel better.

 

The thing about these platitudes is that not only are they simply NOT TRUE for most people, but they aren’t really about helping someone else either. Not really. They are phrased to make us feel like they are about the person we are talking to. “I want to encourage him! No one wants to hear ‘yeah, this sucks and it’s probably going to suck for awhile’. “I want people to experience the same happiness and success I have, and the only way for that to happen is if I tell them how I got to where I am today!”. “Look, I know you want to find some hidden evil in everything, but I really just care about her enough to give her the tough love she needs’.

 

Even writing that is a painful echo of my own self-justifications. But that’s all they are. My own “reasons” (read: excuses) that I give so I can keep telling the world how in control we all are, how in control I am.

 

Because that is what we are saying, at the core.

 

“Keep your chin up- it will pass”: YOU can get through this, you just have to wait it out long enough. Your self-determination and my self-determination are more powerful than anything that can happen to us. Bad things don’t outlast us if we don’t let them.

 

“You just need to dig deep and work hard”: Hard work is the answer, and we get to decide how hard we work. In fact, I am where I am because of how hard I worked. Sure, there were other factors, but I was the deciding factor. And you can be your deciding factor too.

 

“Being too tired, too busy, too poor – these are all just excuses. Stop making excuses”: I used to make excuses too. But I decided one day that excuses wouldn’t cut it anymore. And dammit, when I made that choice, everything changed and I TOOK CONTROL of my life. Because we are all in control at the end of it. We get to decide how we deal with life. We get to decide to have a can-do spirit and a positive attitude. We get to define our own success. If you are feeling stuck that’s on you. Stop making excuses: I did and look at how much control I have now. It’s all me baby.

 

“I put myself first. You need to put yourself first too”: At the end of the day, we need to take back some selfishness, invest in ourselves, gives ourselves permission to put ourselves first. It may not seem like an option but believe me – it always is. You have the power to decide to look after you.

 

Did I lose you yet? Was it hard to read that? It was hard to write it. The defensive voices in my head have been screaming since paragraph 3.

 

We like to feel like we are in control. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s… human. We want to feel like our feet are firmly planted on the ground and the only person who can take them out from under us is us. And when something comes and knocks us over, our first instinct is to try to get back up. Back on our feet. Back where we are deciding when we will and will not stand.

 

So it’s not your fault that you want to feel in control and you want to use every opportunity to remind yourself and the world around you that you are. It’s what we like to do, us humans. But it’s not real. And knowing that it isn’t, it’s your responsibility to do better.

 

Control in our world is largely (as much as control is a possibility) a product of various forms of privilege. Wealth allows us to determine where we live and when: we choose the houses that suit us, the mortgages that give us the most flexibility, the neighbourhoods with the best schools and the most convenient proximity to work, and we move when it works for us. Skin colour allows us to be blind because we can walk into any store and not be followed by the staff, never fear for our lives just because we got pulled over for speeding (or for no reason at all), and have the best assumptions made about who we are, our education and our intentions based solely on the fact that we woke up light skinned. And if you happen to be male, you most likely won’t get asked in an interview if you are done having kids yet or how you’ll manage to balance work and a family, and your job prospects won’t depend on having a calculated answer. You’ll never have to worry about hiding your pregnancy so that you don’t get fired before you qualify for maternity leave.

 

These are just the big and obvious ways that privilege gives us control. Privilege that has little to do with our behaviour and a lot to do with the things we are born with and into. And the more ways we hold privilege, the more control we have both in reality and appearance.

 

But where we go wrong is in what we attribute our control to. We think we are in control because of the choices we made to get ourselves there. We tell ourselves the reason for our successes is our choices. We both intentionally and unintentionally ignore all of the ways in which things we have no control over at all have gotten us to where we are.

 

When you don’t have the default control of being white and middle class, it’s harder to make the mistake of thinking your choices give you more power than they do. Every day you are confronted with the reality that no amount of keeping your chin up will erase the overt and systemic racism that works against you every time your dark skin is seen. Digging deep and working hard seems laughable, when your parent’s have each worked 3 jobs for your entire life but they still couldn’t afford daycare or a college education so you don’t even have the base opportunities to get the kind of work that will get you out of your “bad” neighbourhood. You want to scream at the people that tell you your exhaustion and busyness and poverty are just excuses while they spend 3 hours a day on social media working on their iPads from their overpriced coffee shops while you serve them their 11am daily fix of caffeine working your second of 3 minimum wage shifts for the day trying to pay off the debt you incurred when your wife left you with 4 kids and a high school diploma. And putting yourself first isn’t an option – not because you don’t care enough about you but because there is literally no one else around who can take of everything long enough for you to have a time out. No one to share the burden, but a million people willing to tell you you need a break.

 

It feels good to tell someone they have some control, because then we feel like we have some control too. Some of us believe it more readily than others: I suspect most of us recognize on some deep and terrifying level that most of our control is really a facade.

 

But who wants to be the one to say “it sucks right now, and it may keep being awful. This might not get better”.

 

The thing is, if that’s all we say, we are still missing the most important part of all this. Realizing we aren’t really in control of much of our lives is step 1. Realizing we say these things to help ourselves feel better as much as to help other people feel better is step 2. And step 3? Step 3 is recognizing we don’t get to be in control. We just get to be out of control together.

 

‘It sucks right now, amd it may keep being awful for a long time. But I promise, I won’t leave you alone in this.”

 

It’s easier to tell the other person they are in control because then we don’t have any responsibility. We let ourselves off the hook for each other’s well-being by saying it ultimately comes down to each man choosing for himself. But that’s not reality. Reality is we aren’t in control of very much of what happens to us. We aren’t in control of most of our successes. We aren’t even in control of many of our failures.

 

But it we are too often in control of the failures we let other people endure. We too often are in control of allowing someone’s failures to consume them, to stack one on top of the other as we sit back and watch and think to ourselves “they need to start taking responsibility for their choices. Tsk tsk.”

 

We need to start taking responsibility for our choices. Not because we control our outcomes, but because one of the few things we have the power to control is whether we are going to let our brothers or sisters be alone in this uncontrollable world. We can’t stop their bad choices, or the things that lead to them. But we get to decide how we are going to be with them in the midst of their pain and hardship.

 

Next time you you see someone suffering, try something new.

 

“I don’t know why this is happening to you, and why it isn’t happening to me. I am not more deserving or wise just because things have worked out in my life. I don’t know if or when the pain will stop. All I can promise is that I will do my best to stand with you in it. I won’t leave you alone.”

To Sarah

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Today I found out I lost a friend.

Depending on who you are, you may tell me she was no friend at all. 

I haven’t seen her face to face in 15 years.

I haven’t spoken to her in person or over the phone in 15 years.

When I did see her in person every day, I hardly knew her. I rarely said hello. I never gave her a hug. We seemed to have little in common. 

So how can I say she was a friend?

A few years ago, I reconnected with her on Facebook. Yeah, that evil, news-manipulating, capitalist sell-out, anti-social “social” networking site that is the root of all evil and the source of so many present day issues. That place that takes us away from the people and family we should be paying attention to, that serves as nothing more than glossy fake snapshots of our made up lives meant to impress one another. That one.

The thing is, that place that so many condemn is where our friendship grew. In my carefully cultivated circle of Facebook friends, I built a world that connected me to people from my past and present, around the globe, and made them a part of my every day life. In ways that would otherwise be impossible, I was able to become part of an intentional community  that cheered me on, comforted me, challenged me and ultimately changed me. Instead of an echo chamber of back-patting clones, my Facebook world is inhabited by a diverse neighborhood of liberals, republicans, anarchists, atheists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, feminists, pro-life advocates, pro-choice advocates, monogomists and polyamorous, bisexuals, homosexuals, asexuals, Asians, Native Americans, Europeans, North Americans, South Americans, college educated degree holders, high school drop outs, philosophers, mechanics, seniors, millennials… Each person brings a unique experience, a different perspective. For the most part, my Facebook world is filled with laughter and moments of joy. Sometimes we are angry – at each other or at the world. Occasionally we carry each other in grief. Almost unfailingly, we walk together with mutual respect and the common thread of decency. 

This world I have created is one of my most sacred spaces. As an introvert, my online community has given me a space to be real and raw, to interact when I can and how I can, and has opened doors that would not otherwise be open to me at all. 

Sarah was one of the pillars of my community.

Through the years, her voice was one I came to seek out again and again. When we agreed, her reasoned responses driven by her unfailing kindness challenged me to not forget those on the other side and to seek out their voices in order to increase my own understanding. When we disagreed, she did so with respect and grace, and taught me the importance of making sure I remember to speak with and not at those who may think differently than I do. 

While kindness and acceptance underwrote everything Sarah did, she was not afraid to speak up and speak out strongly against the things she viewed as wrong. She spoke passionately about women’s rights, against racism and homophobia, against bigotry and religious intolerance. She believed in a Loving God and she reflected that Love into every corner of her life… and into my life too.

Sarah was a loving wife and mother. Anyone who knew her knew how much she loved her family. Her two beautiful boys just so happened to make their way into her life through adoption, and man were those boys the luckiest kids around. She spent so much of her online life talking about the joy they brought to her, and you can see from her many photos the deep joy she brought to them in return. How few of us get to be loved like that. 

Sarah also came from a blended family, and often brought up her relationships with step parents and parents alike. It never seemed to occur to Sarah that the extra people in her life were anything but a blessing, and where so many others struggle to find enough room to let everyone be loved, Sarah’s heart seemed 10 sizes too big for all the room she had in it. 

I talked with Sarah many times over the years, mostly about the meaningful stuff, the kinds of things that have no easy answers. Even when I wasn’t a direct part of her discussions, I would read along as I always knew she’d have something insightful to add. I like to think once in awhile I challenged her in the way she challenged me, because otherwise it seems far too one-sided a gain I got out of the deal. 

The one thing I never did was take the time to really spell out to her how much she’d come to matter in this online world of mine.

And now I can’t. I don’t know what her email is in heaven.

Sarah, if you can read this between your choir sessions with the angels and your Torah lessons with our Jewish Jesus, accept my apologies for waiting too long to tell you all this. Thank you for making my world so much better. Thank you for letting me be a part of your circle. Thank you for helping me become a better person.

You have no idea the hole you have left in my Facebook world, and in the hearts of so many. 

We promise to take care of your boys as best we can. We promise to never stop telling them about you, to never stop teaching them the same lessons you taught us. May we be as kind to each other as you have been to us.

I promise to keep you alive in my life. 

I’ll see you on the other side. Make sure you save me a spot in the circle. 

Chrysalis (The Story of Me)

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I was born free.

Small, and strong, and steady I stepped out into the world. Bright eyes and clenched fists, clothed in the light from which I had come. Fearless.

I grew. In size and in spirit. I launched myself forward, certain that others would catch me, because we were all light. We all came from light. We were all bound by the sameness that hid beneath our skins. Skins didn’t really matter. It was just there for decoration. You know, to keep the world from being too same. God doesn’t like boredom.

I grew. The light was all big and shimmery – like the fireflies I’d catch on summer nights in the fields nearby. Those fields with all those fireflies. That was the closest I ever came to seeing what God sees. Millions of tiny lights all calling to each other, like a dance, like they all needed each other to shine their brightest. I was one of them. My insides shone through my skin.

I grew. I kept holding to my lightness but sometimes it would sputter. Sometimes other people’s lights would sputter too. I didn’t want to see that, to be confused by a light that could go off and on. I thought light was part of us all? I thought light was me?

Who was me? Was I light? My light got smaller. It wasn’t, like, I flipped a switch. It was more, like, my switch got flipped. I mean, I got flipped. Like, everything got turned around and I didn’t know which way was on anymore. Like, I got scared, and couldn’t see the way I was supposed to see and I just kept looking and looking for the light in those people and the light in myself and it was, like, I forgot how to see it at all anymore. Like I was alone, and I had no light. What was light?

I got smaller. I started to hide from the people. Because the people couldn’t be trusted anyway. No one could be trusted. Sometimes people would say light things and they’d turn their torches on me and I’d go blind. And I couldn’t see them but I knew they were laughing at me, all exposed and small. I knew they saw me, saw me in my skin. My gross skin that I just wanted to rip off, but I couldn’t because it was me. It was all of me. All we are is skin.

Skin and bones.

Bones are white. I remember something about white being good and light being gold, and maybe if they can see my bones through my skin my skin won’t matter as much. Maybe My white white bones will be enough to hide behind.

I got smaller. I hid behind my bones. I hollowed them out and shrunk me down and stuck myself inside of them. No one can find me in here. It’s dark inside my white, light bones. It’s safe.

I slept.

I slept for hours. For days, and months and maybe even years. I slept inside my hollow bones. I slept inside my darkness. It ate me up, until there was only one bite left to eat. One bite of me, inside my hollow bones. One bite of me, and the dark opened up its mouth and scooped me from my hollowed out bed and…

I woke up. I moved my tiny shoulders, all hunched from all that hiding in those hollowed out bones. I stretched my toes and wiggled my fingers and opened my eyes. I peered out through the hands of darkness, not sure if eyes still worked when there was nothing to see. But there wasn’t nothing. There was something. There was this something behind darkness, that blinked once, then twice, then blinked again. On and off and on.

My tiny eyes got bigger. I sat up now, my limbs unraveling, quicker, then quicker still, my body getting stronger as if willing me to stand. It kept blinking, that something behind the darkness. Incessantly. Blinking on and off and on. “I AM NOT NOTHING” I heard it say. My ears grew too, it seemed.

I grew. I stretched. I clawed at darkness, clawed for the something.Trying to find space inside myself I stretched and stretched, my skin suit growing tighter around me. My skin suit; my skin suit that was more nuisance than necessity. Why had I thought it was the me in me? Skin doesn’t really matter. It’s just there for decoration. My God, just skin is boring.

My God. I grew from God. But what was God and who was God and why was God and where was God?!

The blinking stopped.

I saw the light. And I grew. I grew in size and spirit. My skin suit split as I grew and grew, and still I grew. And with me, the light grew too. The light, all big and shimmery, was everywhere. I stood there with my skin all off, all shredded and limp, and the me of me exposed for all the light to see. The me of me all big and strong. Bright eyes and clenched fists. Clothed only in the light from which I had come.

Fearless.

I was born free.