Author Archives: tinamarierees

A Public Service Announcement

There has been plenty of sexual harassment reported lately, and it has led to a rash of comments by certain men who think that they are under constant threat of being reported for sexual harassment for saying the smallest thing to a woman that she doesn’t like.

I understand this fear and its origin.

If you honestly think that you are in constant danger of being reported for sexual harassment, it’s probably because you are entirely unaware of how to treat other people as human beings. People who violate the boundaries of good behavior with potential sexual partners (male and female, straight and LGBTQIA) tend to violate boundaries with friends, family, and total strangers as well.  In other words, if you don’t know the difference between unwelcome sexual advances and coffee room talk, you probably don’t know the difference between general harassment / bullying and making pleasant conversation with friends and acquaintances.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Think back to the last time you observed someone being inappropriate with a coworker, or with a server in a restaurant, or with another person in a bar/club. Wasn’t the person being inappropriate in general? Wasn’t the person spreading their bad behavior over several people (although they may have put most of their ire onto one person)?  This is because people who choose to be jerks tend to do so with just about everyone, and their friends are the type of people who have a high tolerance for hijinks, rude comments, and generally crappy behavior.

It would be easy to label these kind of folks as “gigantic jackwagons” and just move on. The thing is, folks who violate boundaries need to remain employed to pay their bills. They need jobs and housing and transportation just like the rest of us.  I can’t help but have a little sympathy for their boundary violating little selves and so I thought I would help them out a bit.

Here we go: If you are disgusted with the snowflakes who can’t take one little comment about the size of their butt, this post is for you. If you are all about telling others that you’d like to ‘tap dat ass’, this post is for you. If you have ever taken a picture of your penis and sent it to someone who you aren’t currently dating, this post is for you. If you tend to open mouth, insert foot, and end up sitting in Human Resources for ‘counseling’ about your behavior, this post is for you.

Aren’t you sick and tired of getting in trouble when all you’re trying to do is get your freak on just a little?  Of course you are!

Everyone wants a little love every now and then, and so I’m going to provide you with a few easy guidelines so that you can get all the love you want without getting fired from your next job. (This post assumes you’ve already been fired a few times for previous behaviors.)

A caveat: these guidelines are written for men, but understand, if you are a woman who has boundary issues and tends to behave badly, these guidelines apply to you as well. Just change the words to fit whatever gender and sexual attraction schema is appropriate for you, okay?

Okay! Let’s get started.

The Guidelines in Detail

#1  Keep your genitals covered at all times unless you are in the restroom or in your bedroom at home. You may reveal your genitals when visiting the doctor, but only after the nurse instructs you to remove your clothes, and only if the doctor/nurse actually needs you to reveal your genitals.  If for any reason the doctor actually needs to see your genitals, please do not be waving it around like it’s a conductor’s wand when the doctor enters the room. For God’s sake, read a magazine to pass the time like everyone else.

#2 Do not send pictures of your genitals to anyone who doesn’t directly request that you send them a picture of your genitals. No request…no send.  Better yet, stop taking pictures of your genitals. Normal people don’t do that. If they want to see their genitals to remember what they look like, they go to the restroom, remove their clothing, and look down.

#3  Keep your hands to yourself unless you are tapping someone’s shoulder to get their attention or have first asked permission to hug them. If they grant you permission to hug them, that is the only type of contact that is allowed.  Wrap your arms around their upper back and affectionally and gently squeeze. If your hands are on their breasts, that is not hugging and you need a tutorial on “back versus front.” Do not grab their buttocks because hugs are an upper back kind of thing; not even Nicki Minaj has a butt so large that it reaches her upper back.  Again: hugging is an upper back kind of thing. It is important to remember that your hands are not to grab any part of the person or their clothing, so do not touch their bra straps. Do not unhook their bra. Do not snap their bra. Leave the damn bra alone.

#4  Do not sexually proposition your coworkers unless they have already agreed to go on a date with you.  Asking someone for sex is not the same as asking them out on a date. Dates involve going to dinner or seeing a movie. Do not ask someone if they want to Netflix and Chill unless you are under 23 years old and look like a frat boy.

#5  If you sexually proposition someone on a date and they say NO, that is their final answer, do not ask again. If the person says no to sex but agrees to see you again in the future, you are allowed to ask them for sex the next time you have a date.  Again, if they say NO, that is their final answer and you have to wait until the next date before you can ask again. One date, one sexual proposition, only one answer needed. One…that’s it. If you ask over and over like a little boy pestering his momma, you’ll get about as much sex as a little boy gets from his momma, which is to say: none. Not. One. Drop.

#6 Sex toys are only appropriate as gifts when you are giving them to someone that is currently in a sexual relationship with you.  Do not give sex toys to anyone who is not currently sleeping with you. Do not give sex toys to an ex. Do not give sex toys to a neighbor. Do not give sex toys to your coworker. Do not give sex toys as a means of propositioning someone. Remember: If you are not grown up enough to use your words to ask for sex, no soup for you (so to speak.)

I know that I’ve used a lot of big words in this post, so I’m going to sum up the guidelines in a few easy to remember statements.

The Guidelines (Short Version)

  1. Keep your wiener in your pants.
  2. No really…keep your wiener IN YOUR PANTS.
  3. Keep your hands in your pockets.
  4. When it comes to coworkers and colleagues: Keep your mouth shut.
  5. Take NO for an answer, even if you’re dating her.
  6. If you aren’t in your bedroom, put the sex toy AWAY.

This has a been a public service announcement for morons and cretins. We sincerely hope you get a clue.  SOON.

P.S. If you are going to take care of things yourself, do not involve other people who are unwilling and stay away from potted plants. Harvey, this means YOU.

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This is the Thanksgiving of Our Discontent

Over the last few weeks we have heard an onslaught of accusations and allegations of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment against famous and powerful men. Power players in Hollywood, politicians, comedians and actors, and now even well-known journalists and newsmen.

As a former victim of sexual abuse, you would think that I would rejoice to see the powerful brought low for their crimes against the powerless and the helpless, for their abuse of their power and how they use their money to cover up their crimes and silence their victims.

Strangely, no.

Instead I am disheartened and hurt.

Bill Cosby was a childhood hero, a funny man who made my parents and I laugh; a man who made me believe that good old family values transcended race and economic status.

Charlie Rose was a journalist and newsman that I felt restored integrity to the trade by avoiding infotainment and sticking to the actual news, reported with honesty, focusing on what was already known and not wild conjecture.

Al Franken was a comedian whose comedy I adored (ah, Stuart Smalley…you are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people do like you!). I tended to agree with his politics, and I respected his choice to give up a lucrative career in entertainment to enter the ugly world of politics. I had high hopes that he would bring a voice of reason to what had become a highly conservative and reactionary Congress.

All fallen…them and a dozen more.

It hurts my heart to have trusted and believed in the integrity of men who proved unworthy of my faith and my admiration.  And yet…

I am reminded of the mighty statue with feet of iron and clay in Daniel 2:21-45.  In this passage Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzer, and he tells him:

“As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay.  As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.”

I think Daniel might actually be describing the American government as it currently stands, but that is another blog post entirely.

Traditionally, the saying “feet of clay” is meant to convey the fragility of power and the ways that the powerful often fall when their flaws and weaknesses—their feet of clay—are exposed.  The weak clay, unable to hold up the gilded image of themselves they have projected to the people, breaks, and down they fall, disgraced and broken.

The mighty are often slain on a sword of their own making.

This has been weighing heavily on my heart for an entire week.

Then this morning I went to yoga. Yoga is an interesting workout because it is simultaneously active and meditative; you focus on your breath and on honoring your body and its limits while pushing that same body to the edges of its limits and holding it there.

Strength in peace and peace in strength all while honoring weakness and frailty. The perfect balance.

Our suggested intention for our practice was gratitude, and so I listed the things I am grateful for as I moved through the poses.

Family. Friends. A loving church family.

My husband. My children. The family that we have created. How that family has persisted in trial and trouble, and how we nurture each other during those times.

The health of my body.  The chronic illness that keeps me humble and mindful of my limitations.

Gray hairs, and a life long enough to see them begin to sprout on my head.

Then I moved beyond the obvious and began to think of all that had been dragging me down the last few weeks. I decided to try and find gratitude even in that and was pleasantly surprised.

I am grateful to live in a nation where half the country hates the president but trusts that our nation is strong and steady enough to endure the effects of his administration and move on to elect a better/different/equally flawed leader in the next election cycle.

I am grateful to be a part of a culture that is changing and becoming unwilling to endure endemic racism and sexism. I am grateful to have born two children into a new generation that has no patience to wait for changes to slowly come over time; in their mind it must happen NOW.

I am truly grateful for a society that allows its leaders to fall, to repent, and to find grace and place in society again.

I was born in the early 1960s, a time in this country’s history when there was great social unrest: race riots; a president and his brother had been murdered; a great social leader had been assassinated.  The whole country heaved and spasmed with change that lasted over several decades as people of color and women fought for equal rights and equal opportunities.  It seemed like the fabric of our country was being torn into shreds.

Yet here we are, fighting even more battles as we uncover abuses of power and continued racial and sexual discrimination and abuse.

God has made us stronger than we realize, and our greatest blessing is that we can not only endure such painful change but grow and become better because of it.

So this Thanksgiving, after you express your gratitude for your obvious blessings, express a little gratitude for the mess that things seem to be at this moment because God is still working on that mess, and only God knows what good He will bring out of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and yours!

 

And She Kept Dancing

Several years ago I worked with a client who was dying of stage 4 colon cancer. Cynthia** came to me because she was afraid of dying, and as a Christian, she felt that she shouldn’t have to be afraid of death. I promised to help her the best that I could and agreed to meet with her weekly.

To begin our work, we examined our inner images of death, because the mental images we have for death provide a vivid picture of how we conceptualize death and how we feel about death. Images of skulls and coffins came to mind for Cynthia, which both of us thought was kind of hackneyed and meaningless—and therefore not very helpful. I on the other hand, found myself immediately flooded with images of skeletons holding guitars, dressed in mariachi clothing.  I get it: I live in the Phoenix area, and Halloween is closely followed by Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations; there are sugar skulls everywhere. Still…when did Death go all Mexican on me? When I told Cynthia how I couldn’t shake the image of a guitar-playing skeleton in mariachi clothing, she and I laughed for a good five minutes.

Counseling is much like a winding road, and Cynthia and I ended up spending a lot of sessions talking about the clinical trials she had joined in hopes of extending her life. We talked about her family’s fear that she would die before she got a chance to live a full life, as Cynthia had never married or had children. At this point, Cynthia had given up on those dreams and was just trying to live long enough to help her family accept her impending death.

One of the tricky things about counseling is that the longer you work together, the closer the friendship becomes. A client once described me as “a paid friend who helps me cut through my own BS and get real” and this is actually a very good description of the counseling relationship. But sometimes there is no BS to cut through, and then your counselor is the paid friend who encourages you to say out loud all the stuff the rest of your friends are afraid to hear. I did my best to be that kind of friend for Cynthia, and we spent many of our sessions saying a lot of very scary things about life and death and terminal illness.  We did a lot of good work in the first few months that we met, but we struggled to achieve the goal she set when she came to counseling: to stop fearing death.

Cynthia and I had been working together almost six months when the inspiration of the Holy Spirit spoke. An image came to me of two women in the late 1940s, close friends, dressed to the nines,*** and heading to a dance, both hoping to meet the man of their dreams. When I say they are dressed to the nines, I mean the whole enchilada: hats, gloves, dress coats, elegant beaded purses, high heels, stockings, fancy dresses, pearls and jewels. I pictured two absolutely stunning women who were ready to dance the night away. I imagined them arriving at the party; very quickly one of the women meets an incredibly handsome man and begins dancing. Seeing her friend dancing so happily, the other woman quickly realizes that her friend needs help; she approaches her and says “Hey! Give me that purse! You can’t keep dancing holding on to that purse. I’ll hold it for you.” The dancing woman hands over her purse gladly so that she can keep dancing the night away. A few songs later, her friend approaches again. “Hey! You’re going to melt if you don’t take that coat off.  You can’t keep dancing in that coat!”  And so the dancing woman hands over her coat, and then later her hat, and then her gloves, and then her high heels, each time relinquishing them so that she can keep dancing, so that she can keep savoring every moment of this spectacular experience.

Keep that image in mind, because I want to remind you that in life, there are many moments—we usually call them milestones, or rites of passage—that are one-way doors. Once you pass through them, you can never go back. For instance, graduating high school is a one-way door. Graduating high school is the official entry to adulthood; never again will the entire community you live in collude to help you succeed. Once you graduate, the community considers you are an adult and in many ways, you are on your own; your success or failure is up to you. Likewise, getting married is a one-way door. Once you are married, you will never be single again. You might be divorced or widowed, but you will never be single ever again. The same is true of parenthood: once the baby is born, no matter what happens to your child, you will always be a parent.  Though we mostly fail to recognize the gravity and irreversibility of these moments, one-way doors represent the death of our old self—a self that is lost to us forever, a self that can never be regained.  In this way, death has been with us from the very beginning of our life.  We experience hundreds of little deaths as we pass through the various phases of life; as we age, we lose parts of ourselves that can never be regained or retrieved, except in memory. Strangely, it was graduation from college that revealed this truth to me, as I realized that I would probably never again have the luxury of being so self-focused.  The previous four years of my life had been focused on gaining knowledge and skills, preparing for my career, and developing close friendships that would sustain me as I moved on to the next phase of my life. I felt that I would never have another period in my life that would be this self-focused and uncomplicated, and as excited as I was to graduate, the moment was soaked with bittersweet sadness because graduation marked the end of this part of my life forever.

The truth is that we can’t avoid these losses. I mean, really, who wants to be a high school student for the rest of their life?  Many of the one-way doors we pass through in our lives are based on our deep desire to move into another phase of our life; most of the time we choose to step through that doorway on purpose. In order to embrace the parts of life that are coming towards us, we have to let go of what needs to pass. We cannot be young forever. We cannot be a carefree child and still have the rights and privileges of an adult. Basically, if you want the good stuff of life, you have to let go of the old and move forward into the new. Our lives are one long list of little deaths, one after another, mostly gladly accepted so that our lives can continue to grow and change and evolve.  Without these little deaths, abundant life isn’t actually possible.

And now we are back to the two women at the dance. The dancing woman is YOU, loving every minute, cherishing the dance of life.  And Death is your close friend, coming to you again and again, prompting you to let go of what you no longer need, to let go of what must pass from your hands. And once you hand something to Death, you can’t have it back. Let go of that coat, and you will never have it again; Death will hold it for you so that you have it as a memory, but you will never have that coat again.  Death comes to take these things from you, not because she is a cold, heartless, witch (you understand me) but because Death knows that this is the only way that you will be able to keep dancing. Don’t you understand? Death votes for life, every single time!  One thing after another, Death comes to take things from you so that you will go on in the dance, continuing to enjoy all that life offers as you pass through milestones and birthdays, marriages and children, careers and retirement, aging and disability.  Death stands there, waiting for the next moment when you need to let go, to let something pass from your life. She comes to you gently, encouraging you to let go and keep dancing.  Death waits on you and never leaves you, just so that you can go on dancing. Death is not the enemy! Death votes for life every time.

At the very end, Death comes to take her friend to the dressing room. After all that dancing, Death knows that her friend is sweaty and exhausted; it’s time to get out of those clothes and shed that stupid girdle that has been made her flesh ache more and more as the dance went on. That ache was almost unbearable by the time they left the dance, and Death is eager to free her friend from her pain. And there they are, Death and her girlfriend, in the dressing room pulling off the sweaty clothes and that damn girdle. Any woman who has ever had to take off her tight foundation garments knows what this is like: you pull, and you tug, and you huff and puff and it seems hopeless and yet you and your friend are laughing so hard you can hardly breathe. And outside the door of the dressing room is the woman’s dance partner and all of her friends from the dance.  And they knock on the door and they call to her: “What are you doing in there? Are you okay?  Are you sure that you’re okay?!”  But the woman can hardly answer anymore, or maybe she does but not in words that her family and friends can hear with human ears. Death finally helps her friend shed all those clothes and her earthly flesh that was becoming so uncomfortable…and that beautiful woman opens the dressing room door, and all her friends are gone.  She finds an entirely different group of people waiting for her; it’s everyone who left the dance before she did. And Death…Death doesn’t follow where she is going, because she is going on to an entirely new life; she is joining the dance that never ends. Death doesn’t get to follow…she hangs behind, holding on to everything her friend used to be. Death says to her friend, “Don’t worry about me. Go on! There’s so much more where you’re going.  I’ll be fine.”

Death votes for life every time, here on Earth and again in the next life.

Death votes for life every single time.

Death is not the enemy. Cancer is an enemy. Heart disease in an enemy. Addiction is an enemy. There are plenty of enemies that must be fought, but Death is not one of them. God sends Death with us to be our lifelong friend when we are born, because Death votes for life every time, and only Death can usher us back into His arms in the end.

I write this for my friend who is ready to begin this final journey. Cancer is her enemy and I hate cancer more than I can tell you. I am doing my best to make my peace with Death because Death is doing the best she can to help my friend to her eternal home. I pray that Death takes her time with my friend because so many of us are not ready to let her go.  I pray that God grants her a little more time in this dance, because while it is nothing compared to what is coming, this dance is sweet beyond words.

 

**Cynthia is her real name. She died in 2010, and tell this story to honor her life, our friendship, and the work we did together.

***For you youngsters, ‘dressed to the nines’ means dressed in your very fanciest clothes.

Now You Know

Mindfulness.

This is a word you’ve probably seen pretty often lately, as it seems to be the latest technique for dealing with all sorts of ills: anxiety, eating disorders, stress management, addiction, emotional dysregulation, and depression just to name a few.  Add meditation to the concept of mindfulness and you have just identified the hot, new trend for young, urban professionals.

There is nothing new about mindfulness or meditation. People have been practicing both for centuries. What has gained them both so much press is that medical professionals have come to recognize the power of both techniques for improving overall health (i.e. lowering blood pressure) and reducing pain; mental health professionals have long used these techniques to help their clients reduce impulsivity and act according to their values instead of the strong emotion of the moment, which is a powerful means of increasing self-esteem and the likelihood of choosing positive/effective actions.

All this to say, gee…this mindfulness and meditation thing sure is useful!

Despite the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation, most of us are not using these techniques on a regular basis because they take time and effort to practice and master—and most of us don’t have enough time or energy to master even one more thing, so it Just. Isn’t. Happening.


My youngest daughter posted something on Facebook yesterday that really caught my attention. She said “If, when I was little, someone told me how much of life is going to work just so you can pay rent and taxes and be able to go to the doctor, I probably would have savored those years more.”

For just a moment I struggled with the urge to tell her that simple observation would have given her a clue if she had only bothered to pay attention to how much work her parents were doing!

I thought about accusing her of being bone-headedly stupid, but the truth is that I didn’t pay any more attention to the difficulties of adult life during my childhood than she did during hers.  I decided that the problem is endemic to childhood and especially to being a teenager, and this reminded me of a specific morning when I was teaching Sunday School to a bunch of high school students.

That Sunday one of the boys in the class was complaining that his mother wanted him to help her clean the house just because he was on Spring Break.  “If she wants to clean the house, then she should do it herself! Don’t make me something just because it’s what you want!”  Then he repeated the mantra of children everywhere: “I can’t wait until I’m an adult. I’ll do whatever I want to do all the time!

I kind of lost my composure for a moment and blurted out “Do you really think that your mother wants to clean the house?!” To my utter shock, he said yes. Still having no composure, I said “Are you on drugs?! NO ONE wants to clean the house! Ever!” He actually had the audacity to ask me why his mother cleaned the house if she didn’t want to do it, since she was an adult and therefore could do whatever she wanted to. So I explained to the class that adulthood is about doing the many things you have to do and need to do whether you want to do them or not…with occasional moments of ease when you get to do what you’d like to do. Then I pointed out that if their parents didn’t clean the house on a regular basis they would quickly be living in filth and unsafe conditions. Then I made it clear that neither their mothers nor their fathers particularly liked going to work every day, nor did they like paying bills, or doing yard work, or doing laundry. I told them that most parents would actually prefer to do the same things that their kids want to do all day: sleep in, play video games, hang out with friends, go shopping, watch a movie, and eat food that somebody else prepares. I made it clear that their parents were not getting to do what they wanted to do very often at all.  I wish I could show you a picture of their crestfallen faces. I think I might be personally responsible for destroying their dreams of an adult life of ease, and I’m not sure that it was the kind thing to do since they had so little time left to indulge that dream.


I did post an answer to my daughter, admitting that her father and I tried to tell her how difficult adult life would be, and revealing that she was consistently unwilling to listen to that truth. I also let her know that she would say much the same thing once her children were born, except in reference to her life with her husband before children. I also told her that she would say the same thing again in reference to raising her children, once her nest became empty.

It’s that old adage: hindsight is 20/20.  You only realize how good you had it after you no longer have it, whatever ‘it’ is.  This is not news to anyone over the age of 20.

Except that I’m not sure that that this is how it’s supposed to be.

And this is where I return to the subject of mindfulness.

Our culture is so focused on productivity and problem-solving that our lives have become driven by our to-do lists.  Each day becomes a marathon of trying to get it all done, with increasing levels of efficiency and task mastery as we grow older, which only lets us cram more onto our to-do list, at least until we reach our mid-60s and need to start slowing down a little.

You’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again: we have become human doings instead of human beings.

I don’t have the solution to alleviate our busyness or our endless to-do lists, but I do have an idea about how to stop the endless cycle of looking backwards, longing for a chance to truly appreciate what good thing that we didn’t know we had, now that it’s gone.  And no, I’m not going to try and sell you a meditation CD that will increase your levels of gratitude or insist that you sit with a raisin for five minutes, focusing on its texture and appearance, and then five more minutes giving yourself a chance to truly taste a raisin.

Can you tell that I am just a little frustrated by the ways that we teach mindfulness?  I knew you could.

How about we just take a minute to pay attention to the good things in life?

I don’t mean the house/apartment/rented room you live in because that’s obvious, and if you aren’t grateful for the roof over your head, this blog isn’t going to do you any good.  I understand that we often forget to be grateful for what we have, but that’s not what I trying to say. I’m trying to shoot at the root of what my daughter talked about in her FB post: the habit of only valuing the fullness of our life after that part of our life has passed.

This problem…this is a part of the human condition. We like to identify our material possessions and our relationships as our blessings (because it’s so obvious) and consign everything else to the ‘meh’ category, wishing we didn’t have to deal with it.  But it’s the stuff in the ‘meh’ category that we will miss the most once it is gone.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

When you’re busy plunging, how often do you think about how fantastic it is to have a flush toilet that functions?  We don’t thank God for the sewer system often enough.

When your life becomes an emotional mess, do you ever think about the ways that your challenges and struggles illustrate to you exactly who your friends are? Trust me, you’ll know who your real friends are because they will show up (either physically or emotionally) to give you support in the midst of your difficulty.

When you are stuck at home with bronchitis or the flu, do you spend any time thinking about your body and how hard it works to keep you going…and how infrequently it breaks down? Ask anyone with a chronic illness how quickly they came to appreciate their previous health and what they now call their ‘good days’…and you might suddenly realize just how many good days you have in the average year.

When you are refereeing a fight between your children, or arguing with your teenager, or grounding your tween for bad behavior, do you ever stop to think that these moments—these frustrating, disappointing moments—are the grist in the mill that will help your child become a decent adult?

You can complain about the crap in your life—and broken toilets and bad breakups and the flu and disobedient kids are crap—all that you want to. It’s okay to call it like you see it. Crap is crap. I’m not asking you to pretend that life is all rainbows and unicorns.

What I’m trying to say is that we need to become mindful of the goodness that is inherent in the daily crap in our life.

We need to take a solid minute to be grateful for the obvious blessings and then another two or three minutes to be grateful for just how crazy life is, for the things that frustrate us, challenge us, and make us exhausted. Trust me…in their absence we will look back and say “If I had only known…I would have savored those years more.”

Well…now you know. Savor the life you have NOW…not just the obvious blessings, but the whole doggone mess.

This is your mindfulness minute for the day. Thank you for reading. I’m going to go clean the dog poop out of my backyard, and think about how I wouldn’t have to do this if I didn’t have two little Shih Tzus who love me, love me, love me!

I thank you Lord, for the crap. Literally.

#metoo

This last week has been difficult for me, as I have witnessed the flood of #metoo posts all over my Facebook feed.  I don’t have words for the intense feelings I felt as I scrolled through page after page of women giving quiet testimony to the ways that we have been objectified, threatened, intimidated, and abused by men.

It would be easy to rail against men right now, to get righteous and start condemning the sinners.  God knows the despair in me—despair that I feel for my daughters and my sisters and myself—causes my soul to stomp and scream and demand justice.

But the truth is that there is not enough justice in the world to stop my soul from wailing, mostly because I cannot even get my own husband to understand what it feels like to be a women in a country waging war against women’s reproductive rights, against our right to be sexual whenever and with whomever we want. Despite many times of trying, I cannot seem to help my white, middle class, well-education husband to see the myriad of ways in which women’s rights are slowly being dismantled and destroyed.

Understand me…I married a compassionate, kind, respectful man who has never violated a woman in his life…nor would he purposefully discriminate against anyone. And that is a part of the problem.

I believe it is his innocence that makes him utterly blind.

Let me explain.

The biggest problem that this society has isn’t racism, or sexism, or ageism or size-ism. It isn’t body shaming or bullying or microaggressions.  It might feel that way, but our biggest problem is that we are utterly blind to the ways we have be socialized to oppress each other.

I’m not talking about white supremacists marching down the street with tiki torches. It’s easy to identify acts of racism when they are gross and blatant.  I’m not talking about men like Harvey Weinstein who use their power to harass and abuse women. It’s easy to identify sexual predators when their behaviors are so outrageous and unacceptable.  I’m not talking about hateful posts, body-shaming, and cyber-bullying on the internet. It’s easy to identify hate language and bullying when the message in the post is so egregious that it leaps off the page. We don’t have any trouble identifying in-your-face hatred when we see it, because it is so shocking and so ludicrous that we react with disgust.  We’re not blind to any of those things because they are so obvious.

The problem is the million subtle cruelties that slip by, unnoticed, even though they happen right in front of us. The ones that are so quiet that when they are pointed out, we immediately think “No…that’s not what that person meant to say/do/imply.  Of course not!”

For instance, my husband and I tried to discuss what I call the GOPs “War on Women”; their latest outrage is the government’s recent decision to allow employers to refuse to pay for birth control for women…while Viagra is still covered.   I said that it was just another attack on women’s reproductive rights and our sexual freedom and he disagreed. He said that I was totally off-base because “Birth control isn’t necessary and Viagra fixes a medical problem!”

My first thought was what problem would that be, exactly?  We all know what Viagra does: it allows men with erectile dysfunction to be able to have sex. There it is: sexual freedom and reproductive rights for men (because that is how you make babies).  And of course in my husband’s mind, female methods of birth control aren’t necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies because…condoms! How do you explain to someone who has never had to fight for their rights that he just willingly put his daughter’s reproductive rights into the hands of men who may or may not be nice men like the father they grew up with?  But I can’t explain how the lack of birth control restricts a woman’s sexual freedom when my husband thinks that men already have the solution to that problem. So I tried another tact and explained why his infertile wife still takes birth control.

I am 53 years old and still on birth control for the exact same reason that I went on birth control 35 years ago: to control the pain caused by Interstitial Cystitis.  Right now, the only other option I have to control the pain this effectively is a total hysterectomy; in the choice between surgery and taking a tiny little pill every day, I take the pill. Then I had to explain about endometriosis and how it slowly coats your internal organs and abdominal cavity with endometrial lining that bleeds…and had to remind him that internal bleeding is excruciatingly painful. And then I had to explain that those are only two of many non-pregnancy related illnesses that are controlled through the hormone therapy that is otherwise known as birth control pills.

After those few examples he agreed that women need access to birth control “because it fixes a problem like Viagra does.” Seriously?  I wish that I could more easily make him understand that women will never have equal rights if they don’t have full control over their bodies, including their sexuality and reproductive rights, but I’ll settle for him understanding that birth control is a valid treatment for multiple diseases.***

If you are thinking that my husband is dense and needs a brain transplant, I want to remind you that my husband is an engineer with two master’s degrees. He has always respected my intelligence and supported my career; he has been a wonderful, supportive father to our two daughters…AND…he is also a trained crisis counselor who volunteers on the crisis line every week.  He is an incredibly intelligent, compassionate, respectful man…but he just cannot seem to understand how women are being oppressed by the actions of the GOP.

Male privilege has rendered him blind to the reality that women aren’t free if they have to rely on the action of a man to secure that freedom. Sorry condoms, nothing against you, but you don’t grant women freedom at all.

I swear to you that it’s his compassion and kindness that increases his blindness.  The fact that he has never tried to force his will on any woman makes it hard for him to conceive why any man would ever do such a sick thing.  Because he always had condoms in his home and car when he was single, he cannot conceive of a man who would refuse to wear a condom while continuing to demand sex from his partner. Because making sexual comments to attractive women at work it feels inappropriate and wrong to him, it doesn’t occur to him that other men at his job do it daily and create a threatening atmosphere for the women he works with…and he is even blinder to the likelihood that he is friends with at least one man like that. In his mind, he doesn’t make friends with that kind of guy. So if a female coworker were to tell my husband that one of his friends made an unwelcome sexual advance, my husband would probably say “Are you sure that you understood him correctly? I’ve known him a long time and I can’t imagine him doing that.”  And suddenly my husband is the ‘nice guy’ who refuses to believe a woman, not because she is a woman, but because he can’t imagine a man he considers a friend behaving in such a reprehensible way.

Utterly blind.

The biggest problem that I have is not that my husband is blind.  IT’S THAT I’M JUST AS BLIND, BUT ON DIFFERENT ISSUES.

I have no idea what it is like to live life as a man, or as a person of color, or as a disabled person, or as an immigrant…and I am betting that my compassion and kindness, my habit of attributing good intent to others, gets in the way of my ability to perceive micro-aggressions and other forms of discrimination that my own privilege protects me from.  Even worse, I fear that I am blind to the subtle ways that I discriminate, or commit micro-aggressions that I am unaware of, or simply say and do hurtful things out of ignorance.

I am just as blind as my husband is, and I have no excuse.  All my life I’ve tried to be one of the ‘good guys’ and to marry one of the ‘good guys’…and now I find out that my desire to be good has caused me to close my eyes when God is actually asking me to be open-eyed and fully woke.

I am so blinded by privilege that I can’t perceive just how much I can’t see; all I know is that I am not alone in this problem.

If there is a way out, it is going to be created when the blind are led by the woke; when the blissfully privileged are educated by the very people we unwittingly oppress.  It will require us to start trusting the oppressed and believe that we, as a society, are truly as crooked and depraved as our victims say that we are. We will need to trust that those who agree to educate us will not sin against us despite the righteousness of their anger. Moreover, we must be willing to freely trade places so that the educators can also be educated, because all of us have experienced oppression and victimization somewhere, and none of us should choose to remain willfully ignorant.###  It might be uncomfortable and maybe even painful at times, but what have we got to lose besides ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding?

Just think: we might never again have to see pages and pages of posts that say #metoo.

It would be a miracle.

***In case you were wondering, men like Weinstein disgust my husband. He has no space for sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, rape, or violence against women and children.  He respects LGBTQIA persons and gender fluid individuals and goes out of his way to understand their personal struggles and become a more effective ally. I told you he was wonderful and compassionate!

### I am not suggesting that the oppressed need to be educated on how rough us white folk have it…I am suggested that men of color do not understand what it is to be a woman, and that a disabled white man will still need to help the rest of us understand how we discriminate against the disabled, and that despite their oppression, even groups of immigrants have underclasses within their populations, etc, etc.

This Is Where I Live

For the last few weeks, my senior pastor has been doing a sermon series on the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman.  It’s a good sermon series, and I have to say that on most of her points I agree with her.

To boil the whole series down to a single sentence: Fans like Jesus and the things that He stands for but have no skin in the game, or you are a Follower of Jesus who commits to do the things that Jesus would do, no matter what they are, how difficult they are, or how counter-cultural they are.

Please understand that being a follower asks some difficult things of you and might result in you doing things that make you look just a little over-the-top to your friends. Don’t worry…they’ll get over it and if they don’t, those people didn’t really love you anyway. Anyone who loves you ought to know that you are a seriously committed follower of Jesus and that nothing is going to get in the way of that commitment.

Having said that…I really struggled with her last sermon.

I’m pretty sure that everybody struggled with her last sermon, which was based on Matthew 19:16-22, otherwise known as the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler:

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  (NRSV)

I think that I have always struggled with the parable of the rich, young ruler because it seems to say that being rich keeps you from being truly faithful.  To me it seems to say that we must give up all of our worldly wealth before we can truly follow Christ, and there are people who actually believe that. They sell everything they own and give the proceeds to the Church and join the ranks of the poor just so that they can live out their faith. I can’t criticize that choice, although it seems a bit extreme to me; I don’t believe that is what Jesus is asking me to do.

I have to admit that I have given up considerable wealth for my God. I used to be a computer programmer, and back in 1997 (when I finally left my job to go to seminary) I was earning more than my husband because of how rare “mainframe” programmers were becoming. If I had stayed in my original career, I would probably be making six figures…easily making over $150,000 a year. That’s a lot of money, and sadly I’ll never earn anything like that as a counselor who gives away a lot of counseling for free…but that’s what God calls me to do.

I say this not to glorify myself (because really…I love my job. I wouldn’t want to go back to computer programming for any reason, ever) but to highlight that I have already set aside a chunk of material wealth for the sake of Jesus…and I still have a really hard time with my pastor’s interpretation of Matthew 19:16-22!

My senior pastor sees this passage as a demand to give up anything and everything that Christ asks us to set aside. I, on the other hand, keep getting hung up on the whole good vs perfect debate in this passage.  “Good vs perfect” is a debate that takes up a huge part of my life…and it is the one place where God constantly reminds me that I cannot be perfect for Him…that I can only submit to His will, and He will make me perfect.

Go back and read the passage again. Seriously, I’ll wait. Scroll back and read the scripture passage again. No, really…scroll back up the page and read the whole Scripture passage a second time.

Thank you.

Did you notice that Jesus, being asked about being ‘good’, states that only God is good? Jesus declares that only God is good (excluding everyone else) and then instructs the rich man to keep the commandments. I have always taken this as a sign that Jesus knew that being human was a major impediment to being like God…that only God was good and humans could do little more than try and follow God’s example.  To me, this means that humans can NEVER be good. Goodness is reserved for God alone.

That makes sense to me, because so much of this world is chaotic and screwed up. Heck, my own flesh is chaotic and screwed up! As I get older, more and more goes wrong with my body no matter how hard I work to stay healthy. This body isn’t meant to last for an eternity…only my soul is built for longevity and eternity. My body? I’m 53, so my body is going to return to dust sometime in the next 45 years.  I am, essentially, on the downhill slide to death. There is no hope for this body: it is mortal and it shall pass away. My soul? My soul is eternal and it will return to its Creator because it cannot be separated from its Creator.

Having said all that, I want to bring this passage of Scripture back to where I live on almost a daily basis: good vs. perfect.  I would LOVE to be perfect in the name of God!  I would love to perfectly care for my parishioners and my clients. I would LOVE to perfectly serve the Kingdom, never running out of energy or patience. I would LOVE to be the perfect wife, the perfect friend, the perfect daughter and the perfect mother…I would love to be perfect.  I have almost built an idol to my dreams of perfection.

But you and I both know that perfection just isn’t going to happen.

You know how we know that? Because when someone asks Jesus what they have to do to be ‘good’, Jesus makes it clear that there is only one person who is good and that is GOD. That’s it: God is good and everyone else falls short. We have, in so many ways, no hope of being good. But the rich young ruler insists that he’s followed all the commandments and that he still feels unsure of eternal life.  So Jesus makes a statement that is actually a question—a very meaningful question. He says:

“If you wish to be perfect…”

If only God is good, how the heck is anyone on Earth supposed to be PERFECT???!  Doesn’t that seem impossible?

Literally, having told the rich young ruler that only God is good, Jesus then says “If you want to be perfect, you must…”

And of course, what Jesus lists as the requirements of perfection are far beyond what the rich young ruler is willing to do. But that shouldn’t surprise any of us, because perfection is always outside of our ability. There is no way to be perfectly faithful, perfectly sinless, perfectly giving, perfectly patient…especially when Jesus tells us that only God is good.

Essentially what Jesus is saying to the rich young ruler is “If you want to try to attain Heaven all by yourself you are going to have to be PERFECT…so here goes…” and you know that the rich young ruler is NOT going to be able to pull it off.  Perfection is way out of our grasp if only God can be good.

Big surprise there, huh?

Not really.   I think all of us knew that there was no way for us to be perfect in God’s eyes, because if we could be perfect all on our own, why did God send Jesus to die for our sins?

Makes no sense, huh?  Yeah…that’s the WHOLE idea.

The reason that I struggle with Matthew 19:16-22 is that it sits in contradiction to everything I know about God and Jesus.

I can’t be holy enough to impress God—that’s why God sent Jesus to die for me.

I can’t rescue myself from my mess…that’s why God sent Jesus, to recue me from everything that I can’t seem to escape.

I can’t perfectly fulfill God’s law…and Jesus’ death frees me from having to obey that law.

I can’t…I never could!  But Jesus? He can…He will…and He always has been able to do all that is necessary for us to achieve eternal life.  Everything we need is present in Jesus Christ.

That’s the whole doggone point!!!  And that’s the point of Jesus’ discussion with the rich, young ruler.

There is now way that we can earn salvation on our own…only Jesus can do that for us, and without Him, we have no hope.

Don’t bother trying to be perfect. Heck…don’t even bother trying to be good, because according to Jesus, only one is good, and that One is God!

When it comes down to it, all that Jesus wants from us is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) Those things are within our reach because God has placed them fully within our reach.  Perfection? Not. So. Much.  Perfection is out of our reach. Even goodness is out of our reach.

That ought to clarify the ‘good enough’ question.

You’ll never make it. You don’t have to.

God already decided that He loves you and wants to save you.

All you have to do is believe and accept that you will never, ever be good enough…even though you are more than enough for God to sacrifice His son to save you.

It’s a paradox. Just go with it.

Amen.

That Is Not Chocolate…

I have been feeling particularly weary lately. I think I’ve had a little too much news.

But it’s Thursday and it’s time to write a blog post, and if you wait for inspiration you will discover that you will hardly ever write anything. So I opened up MS Word, and I sat down to write.

I sat, and I sat, and I sat.

My butt hurt from sitting and it was close to 1pm so I got up and ate lunch.

Then I sat back down in front of the computer and…well, I sat and sat some more.

I think you know where this is going.

I think part of my problem is that there is so little to say that isn’t a rehash of the last few weeks: I’m tired. I’m overscheduled. (No kidding Tina, tell us something we don’t already know.) I’m weary of the situation with my parents.  I have too many people that I’m trying to take care of: family, friends, parishioners, clients…parents.  And then to frost the crap cupcake life seems to have handed me, I listen to the news.

Hurricanes. Total destruction. Mass shootings. Cancer. Death.

You know what they say, don’t you?  When life serves you crap cupcakes…

…??!

I’m at a loss here, people!  What do you do when life serves you crap cupcakes??

I decided that a little prayer might shake me out of my doldrums and put me into a better place. I bowed my head to pray and found myself sitting in silence with nothing to say. I cried, and I think my heart had a few things to say, but my mouth didn’t have one good word to speak.

That’s when God encouraged me to get out my Bible and play the lottery.

You know, Bible lottery…when you open the Bible to a random spot and just start reading to see what the Lord needs to say to you right now.

I went to grab my Study Bible from seminary because it holds so many good memories for me, but for some reason The Message just would not let go of the Study Bible’s jacket and so I decided God must be giving me a nudge and I grabbed The Message. I let it drop open and started reading the first thing that my eye fell on:

“Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once.”

Yes, Lord, that is definitely how I feel. It has been a horrible time, these last 45 days, and one terrible thing has happened after another. My nation is a mess. My friends are suffering and some are dying. My parents aren’t doing well at all. There has been too much destruction and too much death and too many tragedies. When does it stop?

I returned to my reading:

“Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills. I’ll make everything right again for my people Israel.”

Wait, what?

This is the book of Amos, a prophetic book from the Old Testament. Amos spends the first 9½ chapters of the book telling the people of Israel that they are in major trouble, that God is letting the nation fall into ruin because of how greedy and unjust the Israelites have become; they utterly disregard God’s laws. Then Amos spends the last half of the 9th chapter sharing God’s promise to rebuild everything and lift His people back up.

Reading this really hits me where I live.

I’m not trying to say that God is punishing the US for its greed, overconsumption, and the widespread injustice that exists in our land…although I understand how some people can think such a thing. Personally, I don’t believe that God ‘punishes’ us because that doesn’t reflect a loving God and truthfully, God doesn’t need to punish us. We have free will and our behaviors have consequences; we do a pretty good job of punishing ourselves, if you know what I mean.

Much closer to truth would be to say that everything that is happening right now is just happening, randomly. We may have contributed to some of the cause by ignoring climate change, or by refusing to deny average citizens access to assault rifles, but in the end…bad things happen because…LIFE. Life is a mix of good and bad, of great joy and tragedy, of celebration and grief.  And no matter how righteous you are, you will suffer loss and destruction just like everyone else.  “…He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)

No matter what the cause of all our pain, God looks down on the destruction and suffering that envelops us, and speaks words of comfort:

I’ll make everything right again for my people Israel.

They’ll rebuild their ruined cities

They’ll plant vineyards and drink good wine.

They’ll work their gardens and eat fresh vegetables

And I’ll plant them, plant them on their own land.

They’ll never again be uprooted from the land I’ve given them.

God, your God, says so.  (Amos 9:14-15)

And suddenly I don’t feel so weary anymore.  This is a big promise that God has made, a promise made to the whole world, not just to US citizens. This is a promise to immigrants and refugees; to Christians, Jews, and Muslims; to men in power and men living on the street; to women and children who have never known safety even in their own homes; to nations glowing with peace and prosperity and nations sagging under the burden of war and poverty.

This is a promise to me and to you, as we stand here holding the crap cupcakes that life has given us thinking that this is all we can hope for, that this is as good as it gets.  It gets WAY better than crap cupcakes, I swear it does.

“You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills.”  Amos 9:13

If you spend your day staring at your crap cupcake, like will seem crappy indeed. Look to the mountains and the hills my friend, and pray for the blessings to flow like wine. Then put down your crap cupcake, and go talk to your neighbor and see if they need any help. Or you can pick up your shovel, or your pocketbook, or your flood/cleaning bucket *** and start doing what you can to help with all the suffering across our nation. And if you are too exhausted and worn to help anyone else because of your own suffering and destruction, cry out to the Lord and then ask someone with skin on to help you.

Life may be one giant crap cupcake, but that cupcake isn’t bigger than we are.

God, on the other hand, is!