From Terminator to Tender: The Journey to an Open Heart

Light-in-Heart I heard Susan Piver at the first “Awake in the World” conference run by the Shambhala Mountain Center.  In a sea of voices, two stood out to me very clearly – Dr. Jan Chozen Bays who taught on mindful eating (that’s for another post) and Susan.  After her presentation I followed a link to The Open Heart Project. I liked all the words on the website (particularly “free”) and I knew what all the words meant except for the title.  What does it mean to have an “open heart?”

Fast forward two years.  I have been a member of the Open Heart Sangha for over a year, took refuge vows, and have a wonderful practice including meditation and a dharma talk every day possible. I am growing in spiritual health and balance. But the question continued to nag me. What does having an “open heart” mean to me?  So – in January, after months of pre-study – I made it my New Year’s intention to be more open-hearted – whatever that means. Think of this as my “first quarter review” of this amazing journey.

 Hope or Fear?

In our monthly dharma talk Susan said something that helped me frame this odyssey into words I can type.

“We don’t experience people for who they are. We experience them through two lenses: the lens of hope (Will they be kind to me? Will they love me? Will they leave me alone? Will they accept me?) or the lens of fear (Will this person hurt me? Do I need to keep them away from me? Does the way they act make me feel good about my life or bad about the world?).”   Susan Piver, “Walking in Each Other’s Shoes” 4/1/2016

Hope or fear.  For the vast majority of my life fear wasn’t just my lens, it was my survival technique, my protection, my intuition and my daily bread. Even when I’ve approached someone with hope – it was laden with protective fear (“Enjoy them, but don’t get attached. Pain can come any moment.”).  For me – to live as an open-hearted person is to find the middle ground between hope and fear – to see others as they are, and to share myself as who I truly am (in this moment) as well.

People First

That might sound like an obvious statement or the advertising pitch for some awful soul sucking corporate entity – but for me it is quite a revelation. I hate people.  I spent my first career as “the minister who hates people” only to go into my second as “the writer who hates people” and I fear I am soon to be known as “the Buddhist who hates people.”   It isn’t really hate, of course. It is fear. Coming from a confusing, cold, and often cruel childhood – I tend to look at new people like this:

 

Terminator Vision

Emphasis on “Defense Systems Set”

Once I’m done scanning, I’ll either engage them in conversation or politely fade into the nearest wall never to be seen again. Like the Terminator, I quickly collect all the facts, intuition, and observations then make a determination.  In regard to that small group in my circle of friends I often say, “my life is by invitation only.”  What I mean is – “If I let you into my world, you have passed a screening that would make the Department of Defense’s top security clearance seem like a elementary school hall pass.”

My fear of pain, and people, has allowed me to put most human beings behind a wall of ideas, things, and systems. I noticed this one day when I was listening to a dharma talk on impermanence. We were supposed to be reflecting on how we know about impermanence from our experiences. After a few moments of silence the teacher listed all the people he had lost in his life, including his parents. I was thinking, “I’ve been through 4 laptops in 6 years.”

So impermanent

So impermanent….

Why?  Because it would hurt too much to think of the people I have lost – to death, to disagreement, or just the inability to stay connected. So – the open-hearted me had to stop, recall, feel the loss and then the warmth of gratitude those folks had been in my life in the first place. In order to open my heart, I now try to do the following things:

  1. Look at the person, not the perception. Instead of scanning people for anything (clothing, hair style, political party bumper stickers, accents, big crosses or small pearls around their necks) that might indicate they already disapprove of me, I just try to listen to them. Just as cats always head straight for the one person in the room who doesn’t like cats – people have always flocked to me with their stories. Instead of disinterested listening or suspicious cataloguing, I ask open questions and feel compassion for their victories or defeats. Instead of a collection of dangers or perks – I’m seeing them for who they are.
  1. Look at the person, not the idea. This has helped a lot during our tense political American Spring. I have a diversity of people in my life (confession: for someone who hates people – I adore and am delighted to share space with lots of very different people who I love). Among my friends are several ardent Donald Trump supporters. It would be so easy to argue, chide, or reject the memes they put on facebook. With an open heart I see – these folks aren’t ideas – they are people. They just want to be safe. They want to be hopeful. They want to be heard. I’m not going to vote the same as they do and I reject almost everything Donal Trump stands for,  but I am going to see their value as people, as friends, as beings – when we go to the polls, and beyond.
  1. Look at the person, not the problem/puzzle they carry. Long before I took refuge vows I was a recovering “fixer” and puzzle solver (Yes – I was that kid in high school who would take someone’s rubik cube, solve it, and put it back in his locker). I rarely let someone get the whole story out before I offered advice, insight, prayers or promises.  I have learned, over time, to listen and not “fix” overtly. In my head, however, is a rocky rushing river of “She just needs to,” “If only he would,” and “Why don’t people just…”  Having an open heart means putting the person first, and letting the puzzle wait until someone asks me to help. Even then,  I try to help people see they already know the answer and provide support and encouragement instead of prescriptions and control.
rubiks-cube-world-record

Helpful Hint: Just like life – you line up the colors with the center square, not the sides.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of my open heart – much like a flat rock skipping across a lake touching down momentarily then flying off to places unknown. It has been challenging, frightening, illuminating and satisfying.  The big fears – that I would be hurt, that I would look silly, that I would lose the few people I’ve let in – have not happened. The big joys – that I would be butterfly free with no doubts or issues floating on white clouds of relationships  – have not happened either.  I’m not depressed or elated, idiotic or wise, boundless or captive. I’m just me.  That’s the best part of all.

 

 

Photo Credits:
  • Top image from Tinybuddha.com
  • Terminator pic (c) 1984 20th Century Fox
  • Laptop/Rubik’s cube – Public Use photos.
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The Boomerang Effect: Prison Rape Jokes Harm The Victim not the Perp.

Time-to-StopSo, have you heard the one about the guy who sold foot-long sandwiches going to prison? Of course you have. Everyone has. At least 3,000 times. Since the news broke about Jared Fogle’s arrest for child pornography and sex with minors I have yet to see a story that didn’t have, “He’s gonna get his foot-long…” (or some variation thereof) in the comments section (and sometimes in the story itself).

Stop it. Just stop. It’s not funny. You’re not funny. And what’s worse – you’re hurting the very person you claim to be standing up for – the victim of rape or abuse. Jokes and “I hope he gets what he deserves” kinds of comments don’t make you witty, insightful, outraged or even righteous in that Old Testament “eye for an eye” kind of way. It just makes you someone who is  either fixated in the adolescent world of fart jokes and Dick’s Last Resort or who doesn’t think about what you say for more than 3 seconds. Either way – grow up, and wise up.

Rape is Never Okay

Let’s just be clear:

  • It is not okay for a child to be raped.
  • It is not okay for a college student to be raped.
  • It is not okay for a spouse to be raped.
  • It is not okay for strangers to be raped.
  • It is not okay for police officers, prison guards, or judges to be raped.
  • It is not okay for the homeless, the helpless, or prisoners to be raped.

When you suggest otherwise – when you rationalize your bad humor or horrible human rights thinking with, “well, that person should get what he/she gave others– it’s justice. Let the perp see how it feels.” What you are really saying is rape is okay.

  1. Rape is okay if it teaches you something. The message is that violating someone’s body in the most foul way can actually do them some good because they will now have empathy with their victims or at least feel what the victim felt. That’s idiotic. You aren’t creating solidarity with victims. You are just creating another victim. Many people are in prison because they were child victims who were already “taught by rape.”
  2. Rape is an acceptable form of punishment. Rape hurts – the body, the mind and the soul.To suggest rape is some kind acceptable way to punish anyone – even a rapist – is to not only advocate cruel and unusual punishment, but to reinforce the idea that authority (either by badge or by mob or by strength) has the right to inflict this on another human being. No one has that right. Ever.
  3. There are people who deserved to be raped. For the victims of sexual assault this is the worst message you could possibly be sending. Victims already question themselves and blame themselves for what happened to them. Unfair and untrue, their wounded minds bombard them with statements like:
  • “I shouldn’t have been wearing that.”
  • “I shouldn’t have gone to that party.”
  • “I shouldn’t have argued with him about the credit card.”
  • “I shouldn’t have stayed home from school sick.”
  • “I shouldn’t have let him give me that ice cream.”
  • “I shouldn’t have sent that Snapchat.”
  • “I shouldn’t have said, ‘no.’”

At the deep bottom of those questions is this one sick statement over and over – “I deserved to be raped.”

So – along comes Internet Iggy with his dumb joke about prisoners “deserving” to be raped and all it does is give more fuel to the victim’s already raging internal fire. Guess what? You got 30 likes on your funny comment and re-victimized a person struggling with recovery. Bravo.

Learn before you burn

Before you jump on the jokester express and send a survivor of rape back into the flames for a reminder of their brutal experience, take a moment to learn to something.

  1. “Eye for an Eye” – even in its biblical glory – did not mean people got to poke out each other’s eyes. Jewish laws stated that you must “compensate” someone if you take something. So – if you poked out someone’s eye – you have to, in some way, repay that debt. A perpetrator being raped doesn’t give anything back to the victim but more regret.
  2. Your frustration is showing – A big part of the comment has to do with America’s continuing dysfunctional relationship with the justice/prison system. We want people who rape others to be punished and we are never satisfied that sitting in a jail cell for five years, or five hundred years, is enough.
    1. It isn’t. There isn’t enough time in the world to make up for rape. Prison time is a case of “we do the best we can with time – one of the only tools we have.”
    2. Prisons are not lush. Much of public frustration is the TV/Movie fed notion prisons are some kind of weird country club where inmates sleep all day, have cable TV and get free everything. That’s a huge myth. As a pastoral care provider and HIV/AIDS tester I have been many jails and prisons. They aren’t lush. They aren’t comfy. Everything costs. Some prices are higher than others.
  3. Real change happens in policy making, not pain. You don’t like the way the system we have works in terms of rape, prison, and punishment? Fix it – by voting (in those small local prison board and mid-term elections you have to leave your house for), by advocating for real justice, by learning about what the judges you elect believe, and by being active in state politics. That’s how things get changed.
  4. Jabbing at the perp doesn’t do shit for the victim. Remember those people? The ones who got hurt? They don’t need you out there laughing it up or saber rattling about the rapist (who seems to be getting all the attention). They need you:

To listen to them.

To hold their hands.

To encourage them to seek help.

To remind them you still see them as the vibrant wonderful people they are, not just “rape victim.”

To help them journey from victim to survivor.

To help them journey from survivor to thriver.

To advocate real justice.

To love them and be loved by them.

I realize this personal blog isn’t going to challenge the big wide world of the comment section any more than people discovering the Kardashians have no viable talent is going to keep them from being written about online every day forever. But, like all people of good mind and conscience, I hope. And I hope it can make you think about messaging, and at least stop saying or stop “liking” or “forever reblogging” this painful boomerang.

If you read this all the way through – you are probably already in the category of “I don’t say that.” or even “I don’t say that, anymore.”  In that case – teach it to someone who still does.


The Buddha, The Beagles and Me

I started out peacefully meditating. I ended red-faced and screaming. This is my journey to awareness. There are other journeys – sweet jasmine filled ones, rough battle worn ones, soccer mom howling in the middle of the donut shop ones, rain soaked back alley ones – but this one is mine.

I wanted to make the tenets of Buddhism a part of my heart in a real and lasting way, not just pretty words I remembered seeing on facebook printed over a lotus flower. There are 3 direct doors to my heart: Cathy, Bacon, and Writing. This was a job for writing, and an excuse to buy a new fancy looking journal.

Soooo many blank pages to fill...

Soooo many blank pages to fill…

I decided to hand copy a translation of the Dhammapada, the Pali collection of the basic sayings of the Buddha (real ones, not those fake posts about depression) one stanza a day until the entire thing was written in my journal and on my soul. Each day I would meditate on the verse. What a great plan. Until….

We are the harbingers of doom - and snacks.

We are the harbingers of doom – and snacks.

I opened the translation by the Venerable Ananda Maitreya, turned to the first section and began to write, “Mind is the forerunner of all actions.”

Briscoe the Beagle: <hitting the door with her tail> I want out.

Me: In a minute.

Briscoe: <thump, thump, thump> I want out NOW.

Me: Fine.

Put down the pen. Get up and head for the back door.

Briscoe: <running in a circle under the fireplace mantel> Don’t forget the treats.

Grab a treat. Open the door. Out goes the beagle. Back to my chair. Deep breath.

“All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.”

Briscoe: <Woof Woof Woof> I want back in.

Me: You just went out.

Briscoe: <WOOF WOOF scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch>. I want back in now

Me: Okay, okay.  Shut up.

Dog in. Sit down. Deep Breath, Deeeep Breath.

“If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows,”

Briscoe: <Thump thump thump> I want back out.

Me: YOU JUST CAME IN!

Briscoe: <Woof Woof Woof WOOF WOOF WOOF> I’m not going to stop until you put me out.

Me: I’ll put you out, alright, out for adoption!

Out of chair. Open the back door. Briscoe runs into the other room.

Me: You wanted out. You are going out!

Briscoe: <doing the cute head-to-the-side thing> I don’t really know what I want.

Me: <rattles treat cup> Here.

Briscoe: <runs to the door> Yep. I totally want that.

Me: And stay out!

Sit in chair. Breathe in the love, breathe out the pain, breathe in the love…

Belle the Beagle: <Woof!> If Briscoe went out, I want to go out.

Me: Really? REALLY?! Buddy, do you want out, too?

Buddy the Beagle: <head down, curled into a ball> I’m happy on the couch. And, why are you yelling?

Belle: <Woof> Hellooo, I still want out.

Buddy in. Belle out. Sit down. Drop Dhammapada on the floor. Pick it up. Breathe. Breathe.

“As the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.”

Belle and Briscoe: <AROOOOO AROOOO scratch, scratch, scratchety scratch.> We want in!!!!

That’s the moment I reached awareness. Standing at the back door in a pair of Batman pajama pants, holding a copy of the Dhammapada screaming, “Stop howling, dammit! I’m trying to be enlightened! “

The next five minutes involved a loud, rabid monologue about why the Dalai Lama doesn’t have beagles, how Tara Brach can speak in that serene, wise voice because she hasn’t spent half a day trudging through Food Lion picking up dog food and spotty bananas, Pema Chodron ‘s face shines like the sun because she don’t have a dishwasher that sounds like the space shuttle taking off every five minutes, and while I don’t have to chop wood and carry water, I have let the dogs out 3,000 times and fill the water bowl.

When the yelling was over, the energy expended, the emotion expressed, and the hyperbole stretched to its outer limit, there was a moment of beautiful, transforming silence. My breath returned to normal; my soul reset to calm. My first world problems slithered back to their proper perspective. Bliss at last.

Buddy: <thumping tail on couch> Um…I never got a treat.

Share the treats. It's the beagle way.

Share the treats. It’s the beagle way.

Life is a beagle. No matter how pure our hearts, how high our aspirations, disciplined our practice – life is going to bark, wag, beg, howl and bring its cute happy chaos into our spiritual moments. In fact, if we miss the point of all this meditation and intentional living  – life might just entirely derail us. Because the point is:  Life is what all this meditation is about in the first place.

Creating compassion – for ourselves, each other, the earth, sky and sea (and beagles) is why we meditate.

Letting go of attachments – to things, expectations, debts, judgments, grudges, and pains is why we meditate.

Overcoming suffering – from unmet expectations, loss, fear, empty spaces that we think should be filled is what meditation is about.

The Dhammapada – the words of the Buddha – don’t come alive in us while we sit on our cushion. They blossom through the ear shattering, annoying, distracting howls of life. Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, and even the Dalai Lama go through life too. The only difference is they embrace it instead of suffering it. And so should I.

So for now I will practice on learning how to accept, let go and be(agle).

“Mind is the forerunner of all actions.

All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.

If one speaks or acts with a serene mind,

happiness follows,

As surely as one’s shadow.”

Dhammapada, Verses 1 and 2.

Walk in Belles Park


White Privilege is just the Symptom. Fear is the Problem.

privweb What do we blame when we look at the spilled milk? The elbow that bumped it, the glass that broke,or  the floor the glass broke upon? Why is that floor so hard anyway? Who was supposed to be in charge of that floor?  What do we not blame? The real cause: gravity. It’s gravity that pulls the glass to the floor. In fact, gravity is the unrecognized, unindicted reason for all the spilled milk.  Why don’t we blame gravity? It’s too big, it’s too formidable. It’s the law.

In response to the tragic death of Michael Brown, the riots that followed, and continued pain and persecution on both sides – we have found plenty to blame. The officer who shot an unarmed young man, the few protesters out of thousands who wanted to cause trouble, the overly militarized and poorly trained police, or (the vilest claim of all) the young man himself.  In distillation, the blame coin has two sides: “criminal aggression” and “white privilege.”  What are we not blaming? The real cause: Fear.

There is no doubt this is a case about white privilege and criminal aggression. But the unrecognized, unindicted cause is fear. 

  • What causes an armed police officer to shoot at an unarmed citizen? Fear.
  • What causes the police department to hide his identity for a week? Fear.
  • What causes people to assemble rocks and bottles to throw? Anger, brought on by fear.
  • What causes you to bring a tank and war weapons to a protest of people carrying rocks and bottles? Fear. (Can you truly say a group that shows up in a tank armed for the apocalypse is NOT acting from fear?). 

Like gravity – it goes deeper, deeper, and deeper. 

  • Why does a police department in a community of 20,000 HAVE a tank? Fear (the ridiculous fear of terrorism, no less. Not even a statistically likely fear).
  • Why does a police department in a town nearly 70% African-American have a 94% white police department? Fear.
  • Why does white privilege exist? Fear. As we get closer and closer to the day that white people are not the majority – we get closer to both a reckoning of our ancestor’s past bad actions, and a challenge to deal with the new majority, for whom we have left nothing but the example of oppression. Instead of building bridges, we make walls harder to climb.

Fear based violence

Fear explains both the roots and the branches of this poison tree. One of the questions I see in the comments of articles (I know, I know – never read the comments) is – “How can the police not realize almost every person in the US has a video camera in their pocket?”  Why would a police officer harass journalists and NOT expect it to get out?  Why would a police officer answer the question “What is your name” with “Go F Yourself,” and think he wouldn’t be caught?  

Fear.  The wisest, most world building decisions we make as human beings come from love. The worst, stupidest actions we take come from fear.  

So instead of conservative media lambasting that we must bow to authority, or liberal hand-wringing over being able to recognize the destruction caused by white privilege but not knowing what to do about it – here’s my thoughts: 

Conservatives (looking at you, Fox News) – learn the difference between asking a question and making an attack. Questioning the actions of police in an event isn’t “lack of support” – it’s the presence of accountability. Only an idiot would suggest authority cannot be challenged when it is possible it is in the wrong. 

Liberals (Looking at you, Think Progress) – Get off the cross. Stop being the martyrs to the issue of while privilege and whining that you have it, but don’t what it, and don’t know how to get rid of it.  No one is blaming you, and no one cares if you feel blamed. Fight the fear and injustice around you. Speak of white privilege in terms of it’s wrongs – not that you have it. Do something real. 

Minority Communities – Recognize the fear, anger, pain and frustration building among you and refuse to turn it on yourselves. Stand together, walk together. When a fellow member of your community lashes out – reach to him or her with a healing hand that knows the pain and an inspiring hand to make a difference. Challenge the wrong, not each other. Celebrate your courage. 

Majority Community – Fight your fear and forego your addiction to power. Let others in. Be transparent, accountable, and responsible – whether you are a police officer, a store clerk or a journalist. 

Here’s a thought: Since the police department clearly needs some racial balance – put a white officer and a black officer in every patrol car together. That way – no one is alone, no one is afraid, no one is in a “He said/He said” situation and fewer people get hurt. Don’t have the budget for that?  I know of some tanks and weapons you can sell. You don’t need them or know how to use them anyway. 

Gravity – we are stuck with (unless you’re with NASA).  Fear is a choice.  Only when we challenge the fear that comes packaged to us every day – the Big Mac Meal poisoning our souls – will we see the end of white privilege, criminal aggression, bad decisions and grieving communities.


I’m Not Saving The World (And I Feel Fine)

 

My favorite strip from the great comic "The Non-adventures of Wonderella"

My favorite strip from the great comic “The Non-adventures of Wonderella”

An introvert to the core, I imagine talking about myself or what I’m doing to be like offering a refreshment to a friend. I pour a bit of myself out and hand it to them with a heart full of best thoughts. Lately though, I’ve noticed the following phenomenon:

“So, Rev. Kellie, what are you doing now?”

It’s an easy, innocent question. In the last twenty years I’ve been a computer technician, chaplain, minister, and HIV/AIDS counselor. Two years ago, that changed. I open myself up and fill the glass cheerfully.

“I’m working as a commissioned freelance writer.”

“Oh.”

I thought I was handing them a glass of bubbly champagne about the job I really love. Turns out, it was a cup of lukewarm milk.

“You’re doing spiritual writing?”

“I write fiction novels that are paid for by a broker who sells them to publishers. I just finished writing a novel of my own I’m shopping to agents as well.”

“I see.” The milk swirls in their cup. They close their eyes and take a drink, just to be polite. “What kind of novels? Christian Fiction? Inspiring stories?”

“Mysteries, thrillers and romance.”

The milk is sour.

“Sooooo – How’s Cathy???”

Standing on the shoulders of writers, artists and creative people before me, I see the disparity of respect the general public seems to have about a career in the arts. The problem isn’t that they don’t value the written word – most my friends are readers, theater goers, and people who invest in art. Hell, I even hang out with deviants who like opera. And still, it’s always the downcast eyes of disappointment (or the open comments of derision) I encounter. For some reason, if a person isn’t involved in a “saving” profession his or her job is meaningless at best and a waste at worst. Why is that?

If my life had a FAQ page, it would read like this:

“Don’t you miss the ministry? I’m sure it was more rewarding.” 

I made a choice to change vocations. Ministry didn’t leave me at a bus stop and promise to come back later. Oddly enough, ministry isn’t just a job I had. It is the life I live, the gifts of listening, wisdom and love I offer, and a part of me at the cellular level. I miss the pulpit sometimes, and it was rewarding. But so is living every day with gratitude, open to what’s in store.

“HIV/AIDS work burns so many people out. Are you doing this to refill the well?”

I didn’t burn out on HIV/AIDS work. I’m still very passionate about prevention, treatment and counseling. My agency closed. When that happened I had an opportunity to try something I loved and wanted to do. Not every career change is the result of desperation, depression or lack of personal spirit. Sometimes, a new door just opens.

By the way – working in the field of HIV/AIDS isn’t what burns people out. Working with a lack of resources due to poor community support and resistance to sexual education until you are banging your head against a wall with a brick you had to pay for yourself is what burns people out. If you think HIV/AIDS work is so rewarding and wonderful (it is!) FUND IT!

“I thought you enjoyed helping people.”

I hate people. No, wait. That’s just at parties. YES – I enjoy helping people. You know what helps people? Having an hour a day to turn off their brain, shut out the world and read a good story. That helps people. And, when I’m not giving them a break with a tale of corporate espionage or star-crossed lovers – I help them by continuing to pray, care, teach and talk to them.

“You probably love setting your own schedule. That way you can kayak whenever you want. It’s cool to take time to play while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.”

Here’s the thing: I work longer hours, with less time off, and less flexibility now than I ever did working in the church or non-profit sector. I have deadlines. I have word count requirements. I have to research, proofread, write, proofread, re-write, proofread, edit, proofread… (i.e. – writing is WORK). I balance my life with friends, family, exercise and daily meditation all of which is required to keep me on an even keel because I work so darn much.

“Wow. You’re a writer? That’s surprising. I never thought you’d be interested in a job like that.”

Really? REALLY?! You know that sermon you said taught you so much? I wrote it. The romantic wedding homily that made your mom cry and your dad hide the fact he was crying by claiming his allergies were bad? I wrote it. The soft, kind words I sent in cards and said in visits as a hospice chaplain – yep, I wrote that stuff. The curriculum for Sunday schools, church camps, and retreats? I wrote it. The speeches on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS –I wrote them. HIV prevention programs modified from CDC Evidence-based Interventions so they fit my HIV population – I wrote the modification, budget, work plan, evaluation AND epidemiology report. I’ve been writing my whole life.

That’s the point – writing (and the other arts) are all around you. They are part of your everyday life in ways you never see or imagine. I don’t have to be pulling someone out of a fire, sticking needles into cardiac patients or teaching children about sets and subsets to be making a difference, or to be satisfied in my career choice. I don’t need my job to validate my worth. Humanity – and the Humanities – is work enough.

Quote from Dr. Martin Luther King at his memorial in Washington, DC.

Quote from Dr. Martin Luther King at his memorial in Washington, DC.

It’s a good thing to appreciate and honor people who risk their life, their sanity, their bank account, or their being to save, help, or reach someone. It’s a better thing to appreciate and honor people just because they are people, worthy of love, respect and celebration in their own right.

The ways we invest in humanity vary from person to person. Some do it through work, some do it through play, and some doing it just by being. Find your path and follow it. Allow others to do the same.

Judge less.
Open more.
Feel fine.


Dear PC(USA) – Now that you’re here…

Presbyterian History books will show that on June 19, 2014 at the General Assembly the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA) passed a resolution defining marriage as “two people” and will allow their churches to perform weddings for two people of the same gender in states where those are legally recognized. I have Presbyterian friends and fellow church members on both sides of that decision.

I’ve seen celebration, elation, tears of joy and facebook posts of victory since this historic vote. I’ve also seen more than a few “hand-wringing” posts about inevitable conservative backlash, church splits, and angry members.  I’ve read the dour comments about how this is possibly the end of the church/bible/world.  To both sides I feel the need to say – “relax.”

To the ones who think the PC-USA just became the most ground-breaking amazing religious body ever, and to the ones who think this vote is the fourth horse of the apocalypse – a little perspective. In reality, all this vote did was give you the right to celebrate something I’ve already had for 15 years.

You see – I didn’t wait for your permission slip – while you were discerning, learning, discussing and cussing – I fell in love, had a wedding, adopted pets, built a house, got legally married in Canada, and built a beautiful marriage based in love and trust.  I’ve been married for 15 years to my amazing partner. I’m elated you finally made it to the reception. I’ve got a table saved just for you.

late to party

Please don’t mistake me – I think it’s great the church made this decision. Particularly for my clergy friends who have known celebrating marriage for couples in their church family on an equal basis was the right thing to do. It’s terrible when your own church blocks you from doing something God sets in your heart. For them I am truly grateful. Yet when all the horn blowing, rainbow waving and tears are done – please remember – while you have been busy trying to become the church that “allows” my marriage, I’ve been married – wondering if you’re the church I’d allow to marry me.

So I encourage you – to do a few things in your effort to put the horse back in front of the cart. The church I want to celebrate my marriage is a church that:

  1. Accepts all people as children of God and celebrates love for all of them equally.
  2. Encourages healthy marriages based on communication, forgiveness, and love instead of roles, rules and “tradition.”
  3. Seeks justice as a promise over judgment of people.
  4. Admits the damage, wrongs and harm done previously and works to amend it. In other words – don’t just say, “Oh, you’re okay now.” Tell me “I’m sorry.”
  5. Moves forward without fear, regret, and sorrow over “the loss of those who don’t agree.” If you married one person but spent most of your newlywed energy worried about another woman you made mad, your happy days are numbered.

So welcome to equality, new arrivals. Enjoy the feast and help clean up the dishes. Since the dinner’s been waiting a while- it’s the least you can do.


At the Corner of Grace and Justice

grace and justice  I did not know her, but the death of Meg Menzies haunts me.  It reminds me how fragile, beautiful and fleeting life can be.  My friend Bradley knew her and his grief makes my sadness double. Another friend knows the son of the Dr. Michael Carlson, the drunk driver who killed her,  and her witness to this tragedy deepens my sorrow.

On Monday morning at 8:15 AM a young mother of three went for a morning jog. She was an experienced runner, on the correct side of the road – doing everything right. A drunk driver – a medical doctor on his way to work – lost control of his car and hit her. She later died at a local hospital.

The facts are clear. The grief is unfathomable.

Enter the media. Enter the social media. Enter the dialogue.

He needs to go to prison forever.

Other people have been killed on that road. It’s  Richmond’s fault.

 He was driving under the influence with alcohol and pills in the car!

He says he had been drinking the night before.

He blew a .11 at 9:00 AM. What was he the night before???

He takes chemotherapy. That means the effects of alcohol last.  

No, that means he probably shouldn’t be drinking and definitely shouldn’t be drinking and driving!

He is a good man. He didn’t mean to hurt anybody.

He was going to work as a doctor while intoxicated. He was definitely going to hurt someone.

He has had a lot of loss in his life.

Now we all have loss.

Then it trails off into a weird fight about Obamacare and birth control…

Quickly the posts are hijacked by people saying we need remember both sides and feel bad for everyone involved. By Sunday the preachers are writing messages and giving sermons about grace – forgiveness for everyone.

 “Grace, Grace, Grace,”  the preachers say. “We must pray for him.”

“Amen, Amen,” the sheeple bray. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

(Does it every strike anyone else that it’s not comforting to hear if it wasn’t for some kind of divine intervention we’d all be drunk drivers? Can no one make a better decision?)

Here’s the thing:  I don’t want to pray for Dr. Michael Carlson. I want to punch him in the gut, slap him in the face, spit on his medical license and THEN I will freaking pray for him. Because I am human. And that’s okay too.

Fast grace isn’t really grace. It’s like fast food – a cheap, gross knock-off that isn’t really food for the soul and doesn’t make anything better in the long run.  We need to process before jumping on the grace train.

At some point the church needs to let us feel what we feel and express what we express. Don’t damper our anger with what we should feel. Surround us with safety so we can feel what we do feel. Stop cramming grace down our throats and start giving us permission to learn to reconcile feelings, faith, and fate.  Give us wisdom, examples, and time. We will get to grace.

It’s normal for preachers to talk about grace. But – when are we gonna talk about justice?

There is nothing that will bring Meg Menzies back to her family. But there should be justice for the person who took her away. Folks were furious when he got bail less than 24 hours after her death. They want the trial today and the life in prison without parole to be sentenced tomorrow.  There is a lot of frustration with a system known to be unbalanced by things like race, money, and status.  Those folks need to slow down too.

Fast justice isn’t really just. Our flawed system is all we have – and it may actually work better when the raging crowd isn’t turning the crank.

It’s a challenge to all of us when Grace and Justice seem to come at each other in perpendicular tension. At the corner of Grace and Justice stands the truth.

The truth is: Meg Menzies is gone too soon. Dr. Michael Carlson killed her.

 And all the rest will take time.

Time to be angry.

Time to be sad.

Time to honor her.

Time to hold him accountable.

Time to learn from her life.

Time to learn from his life.

Time to let God forgive until we can forgive.

Time to forgive.

Time to love…

Time to love…

Time to love…

In the end, as much as we all grieve the unfair loss of this young woman, we will always be thankful for the time she spent among us and the way her love – for God, for her children, for running, and for the world made us want to love too.

In the end, whether Dr. Carlson gets a slap on the hands and six weeks in rehab, or prison time to reflect on the nature of selfish bad decisions – I commend him to the legal system in which I have no power.  But I will continue to hope that the arc of history really does bend toward justice – whatever that means in this case.

My partner Cathy is running for Meg like thousands of others on Saturday.  I can’t run – but I am running in spirit.  I hope you will move – in some way – too.

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