Saturday, June 30, 2018

Turning the other cheek

I'm always surprised at how weddings and funerals can bring out the worst in families. Or it can bring out the best.

Major life changes that we celebrate with family are times when we must be with people whom we may disagree with either politically or socially or religiously. There are often unresolved issues from childhood that become more prominent when so many expectations are heaped upon these gatherings. 

I also look at major life changes (weddings, child births, funerals) as a way to start over. To be a uniter not a divider. To find the spark of love that you once had for each other and capitalize on it.

My husband teases me all the time about my love of logic and science. He calls me Spock which I just love. But I often lead with my heart when it comes to people. I am easily hurt and disappointed by people when the hand I extend to them in welcome is slapped down. It doesn't happen often but when it does I am reminded of the story in Matthew's book in the bible about turning the other cheek.

I don't consider myself to be a Christian in the accepted definition. I don't believe in the traditional Judeo Christian god or believe in heaven. My spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and are grounded more in humanism and transcendentalism with a good dose of astrophysics. None of that truly matters. I should be judged by how I live my life and how I treat people - especially people who are in need.

In that regard, I am a Christian. I try to follow the example of Jesus and others who came before and after him who didn't just talk the talk but also walked the walk. 

So turning the other cheek is a bit of a conundrum for me. Although I feel that I need to be respectful of others beliefs (as long as they are not harmful) and always try to lead with kindness, I am also not a pushover. 

Was Jesus a pushover because he turned the other cheek? Did his violence in the temple make him a hypocrite? I think about these things when my extended hand is pushed away. 

Where is the line between being forgiving and losing your self respect? 

I have no problem drawing that line with friends and coworkers and others. But with family it is much more complicated as walking away from one person affects others you care about. I wonder too how much I am expected to give up in order to keep the peace. Why my hurt is somehow less important than someone else's.

There are no easy answers. As a Unitarian Universalist I live by a set of principles, not a creed. We have as our first of seven principles: we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I often refer to this as "the fucking first principle" when faced with someone who clearly is not a good person and I am holding my anger in to deal with them respectfully. 

As times go on and our nation embraces anger more easily, the first principle and Matthew's story become more present in my thoughts. Do I owe it to EVERYONE to be respectful and kind when they are not either of those things to me? 

If a family member knocks me down over and over, am I not living my beliefs if I fight back? Even Jesus had his limits in the temple.

When I agonize over these choices I often come to a place of peace. Because those I am agonizing over are not agonizing over me. They dismiss, they judge, they "other" me. But I take the time to consider my beliefs and hold them up to a mirror. 

Maybe I will never have a temple moment but that doesn't mean I will not hold others actions up to their own mirrors. And maybe that's where grace lies. Not in lashing out, not in turning the other cheek, but in being honest and respectful in the face of people who use their beliefs to harm. 

I might not be a Christian but I am nonetheless christian.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mentorship Matters

I shared these opening words at my church this morning. I share them with you here:

It’s hard to fall asleep at night when there is so much uncertainty in the air. Every day yields another crisis that leads me to deep worry and even sadness. Somehow lying awake in the dark trying to make sense of things is my way of thinking I can fix it all by worrying about it.

Turning worry into action is hard for me given the limited energy I have. I’d love to hit the streets in protest, march with activists, visit politicians’ offices, attend planning meetings for social reform. But I’m left with the strong emotional reaction to political events and no significant outlet which is hard for a passionate person like me.

So … what to do….

The American culture has always placed a lot of worth on action as a force for change. And there’s no denying that a concerted effort like a revolution can work. So maybe, for me and others like me, the challenge is to redefine the concept of “action” in a culture filled with very public “doers”. 

We often overlook small acts when faced with a large problem. We forget that chipping away at a wall can change it. We don’t have to knock it down to affect its height. 

Being part of a peace-seeking community no matter how small is an important act and the first chisel strike to that wall. Within this community we are given the opportunity to positively affect others. In my volunteering with youth here I started the act of mentorship years ago which for me did not end with high school graduations. 

The small act of offering advice and support, and just being there for the latest generation of doers is action. Chipping away at the walls that impede their progress toward changing the world is chipping away at the walls facing all of us. 

I find that the only thing that helps me worry less when bad things happen in this country is reading the social media posts of the youth that have been mentored in this church. I have to weed through some less-than-uplifting comments from my generation to find theirs but there they are. 

January was National Mentoring Month but the act of mentoring our youth here is something we do all the time. It will never appear on CNN but It is an important act that arms the next generation with the chisels they need to knock down those walls. Don’t think they can do it?  Just watch the youth from Parkland, FL.

I light the chalice today for the quiet acts that we do to change the world and the recognition that small acts done today can make a big difference in the future. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hillary and Melania and the MeToo Movement

It's not always what's said that defines a moment. Sometimes it's what's not. 

Donald Trump's well publicized cheating with a porn star while his wife Melania was home with a baby - and then paying for the porn star to keep quiet - is to some just another scandal for our latest president.

I have seen sadness and support for Melania both online and with people I speak with - on both sides of the political aisle. She is the victim here and no one I follow on Twitter or other social media sites has said otherwise. I'm heartened that even hardened liberals who rage at Trump have not gone down the wife-bashing road which unfortunately can happen when a husband cheats. 

This heartening moment might be brought to you by the MeToo movement but I think that's too new a phenomenon for it to have had that much of an impact that soon. So my mind has wandered to other potential reasons.

I am reminded of the time that Bill Clinton cheated on Hillary. She was not pregnant at the time and he did not pay off a porn star though he did cheat with a White House intern. 

But when Bill was found out, the comments around the water cooler and around the media was about how Hillary was somehow to blame for at least part of it. She was demonized by conservatives and even some liberals who portrayed her as (if you'll pardon my street slang) a cockblocker. She was a wife who must be a turnoff in bed. Who could blame Bill for being oversexed when he had HER to go home to at night? This was long before the dawn of social media but it was a very prominent discussion at the time.

So now comes Melania. A pretty, demure ex-model who knows her place and stands by her man with her head down and her eyes averted. 

How different she is from Hillary who had a successful career before (and even after) her stint as First Lady. Who jumped into the health care debate at her husband's request and tried to work with Congress to enact a universal health care bill while First Lady. She was and is strong, smart, and vocal. She is not a tall, thin body type and probably stuggles to keep weight off as many post-menopausal women do.

I was lead to wonder by the difference in the two women and the difference in the treatment of both when their President husbands cheated publicly. 

Let me be very clear about one thing first: I am not advocating that Melania be treated poorly because of her husband's cheating. She is a victim in this scenario. Just like Hillary was.

My observations are more about why Hillary was and probably still is looked at as part of the problem with Bill but Melania is not. 

You won't be hearing that Melania is someone a man wouldn't want to take to bed. You won't be hearing that Melania is too outspoken and successful and therefore must be emasculating to men. You won't be hearing that it's no surprise that her husband cheated on her since the person he cheated with was more attractive than her.

And therein lies the lesson.

In this time of MeToo and Time's Up, let's not forget what isn't said. And how what isn't said speaks volumes about our perception of women. Even now. 

My only hope is that the lack of blaming of Melania is about how far we (especially men) have come this past year in our respect for women. And not about how pretty and quiet women still catch a break when strong and vocal women do not.