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Am I Too Liberal to Live in the “Real World?”

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AM I TOO LIBERAL TO LIVE IN THE “REAL WORLD?”

I just returned from a holiday party at an organization for which I occasionally work. The whole experience made me uncomfortable, and I’m not entirely sure why. I felt I couldn’t be my real self there. I couldn’t connect. As a result, I had a moment of standing outside myself, perhaps seeing Melanie as others do. And it was alarming.

Have I become a caricature? Am I so out of the mainstream? Do I expect everyone to share my values? Are my expectations too high? Am I too liberal to live in “the real world?”

Tell me what you think:

Bless this Food, Jesus

First of all, the boss blessed the food in the name of Jesus and said a long Christian prayer. All the music was Christmas music, and we played a Christmas trivia game. This is a group of 30+ employees, including many African-Americans and Africans. It’s highly likely there were at least a couple of Muslims in the mix. Certainly there were no Jewish people — they would have quit after the last party. Perhaps a few agnostics or atheists.

I joked to the man next to me, “Heaven forbid a Jewish person should ever start working here.” He looked at me as if I was mad. (He probably thinks I’m anti-semitic now.)

If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a Jesus-person. I’m a lay pastor, in fact. But this is a place of work. I just found it all so inappropriate. Is it me?

Is this 1950?

After our Christmas trivia game came lunch. There was nothing for a non-meat eater to dine upon, other than veggies and dip and cheese and crackers. Platter after platter of wings and crab balls and beef and lobster dip, etc, etc. Even the potato salad had bacon in it. I’m not grousing about that, it’s just kind of unusual to go someplace these days where there isn’t at least something for a vegetarian.

Everyone stuffed all their trash into the recycling containers, of course. I did not bother rifling through the garbage to pull out the recycling as I often do. It was all covered with meat juice.

Locker Room Talk

OK, so here’s the final kicker. There were gifts given out and one guy got some electric thing that looked to someone else like a dildo. Six or seven guys were roaring with laughter, making all kinds of crude jokes such as, “That’s a power tool right there” and pretending to use a jack hammer. During this time, they caught no women’s eyes, and they carried on as if we weren’t even there. (We were far outnumbered.) I *think* the guys thought they were being subtle or clever, as if we didn’t know what they were talking about.

I was astounded. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a group of men like that, I had forgotten the intense discomfort. And a big part of the discomfort lies in not speaking up myself, even just to say, “How old are you?” in a joking manner.

I have a bad cold. I have next-to-no voice this week. If I’d had any voice, I’m pretty sure I would have at least said something like that.

In the age of #MeToo, perhaps somewhere in the back of their testerone-addled brains they would think, “Oh yeah, I guess heard something about sexual harassment on the news,” or maybe, just maybe, “Wow, that might make my female colleagues uncomfortable.”

I hate that I literally could not speak. There’s remarkable symbolism in that, now that I think about it.

“Why Didn’t Those Women Speak Up Before Now??”

My muteness seemed to magnify what was going on internally, all those old familiar feelings. “I don’t want to get fired. Since I’m a temp, they will just stop calling me . . . I don’t want them to think I can’t take a joke . . . I don’t want to be ostracized . . . I want to be able to get along with my co-workers.”

And yes, “I want them to like me.”

Those are the very feelings that kept me from speaking up every time I was sexually harassed and/or assaulted in the workplace: at a theater, a hardware store, the CIA, a non-profit. Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever worked.

I thought things had changed. I thought the conversation was further along. I thought . . . I guess I thought it was safer.

The real question for me now is should I talk to the H.R. director? Should I point out that their office is not friendly to people who don’t share the boss’s religion? Should I tell her about the sexual harassment I’ve often witnessed there and use the jack-hammer guy as an example? Or should I just say, “Life is too short, I only work here sporadically, it’s not my problem?”

I could file a discrimination complaint on behalf of all vegetarians, but that probably wouldn’t be too constructive. I do need the job.

So — just a rambling holiday blog, 2017-style. I’m not going to bother to edit this, so I’m sorry if it’s not up to my usual standards. I’m tired & sick and really just wanted to process these feelings and see what you thought. Well?

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Controlling Fear

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CONTROLLING FEAR

I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

When I Was a Liar

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WHEN I WAS A LIAR

I lied a lot when I was young, but I never thought of myself as a liar. The first time I spoke any particular lie, I generally felt a twinge of uneasiness, nervous that someone might question me. Usually, though, by the second or third telling, I fully believed what I was saying and I’d vociferously defend my lie as truth.

I lied so often that it became the norm. Exaggerations, made up conversations or events, rationalizations. All kinds of lies. It never occurred to me that I was lying, because that’s just the way my mind worked. It went there automatically.

The goal of my lies was always to draw attention to myself, to get people to think more highly of me and/or to like me. I wanted to be smarter and braver and kinder and funnier and more interesting than I believed I was. So I just made myself all those things in my head.

It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that I came face-to-face with my own dishonesty. It must have been winter because I remember there were coats hanging on the backs of our folding metal chairs in the church basement where our support group met weekly. Together, we wrestled with the effects of growing up in alcoholic homes.

A young blond guy who didn’t often speak sat across the circle from me, squirming. Finally he said tearfully, “I’m feeling a lot of confusion and shame. I lie a lot. I make stuff up. I’m not sure why I do that and I don’t know how to stop.”

The harsh neon lights seemed to dim, and I actually felt as if time had stopped. 

“Oh my God. Oh my God, that’s me,” I said to myself. I’d had no idea.

God has graciously taken away this shortcoming over the years. Once in a blue moon I’ll find myself exaggerating, but I recognize it right away and chuckle fondly at my silly inner child who still wants attention any way she can get it.

It’s so wonderful to know that I will never again have that sinking feeling when someone says, “Wait a minute, I thought you said…”

The President’s Pathology

All this to say that I understand the man in the Oval Office. He is not well. While his disorder is clearly way more complex than mine was, I understand his desperate need for attention.

Sadly, there’s not much chance of the man getting help for his issues. He thinks that psychotherapy is “a crutch” and has said, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” Trump is trapped behind a one-way mirror: he sees everything in the world through his own distortions, but he can’t look back inside at himself. It seems that until he’s driven from office one way or another, we are stuck with his pathology.

I just thought you might want to know that I’m pretty sure he believes all his lies. He has to believe them in order to feel OK about himself because underneath, I imagine his self-esteem is about as low as a human being’s could be.

 

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, one-way. 

On Meeting Jesse & Margaret

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I run into Jesse and Margaret at the spring, or “down to the spring,” as they would say here in the Granite State. And a more perfect New Hampshire couple I have yet to meet.

Jesse is tall and lean, wearing well-worn blue jeans and a dingy white knit cap. His shirt is even more worn than his jeans. It’s one of those generic green shirts with his name over the pocket that he probably wore back when he worked at a garage or service station.

At eighty-three, he’s not working anymore. “Me and Margaret, we like to go for drives,” he says. “We went up to the Weathervane in Lebanon yesterday — had our Thanksgivin’ dinner there. Ayup. That’s almost an hour away,” he informs me.

Margaret nods her bundled-up head. Her blue eyes are clear and shining with delight at the prospect of befriending a new person. “We get out as much as we can,” she says enthusiastically.

She is a particular type of older woman that you meet up here, the kind that exudes health. Her skin’s as deeply wrinkled as a peach pit from the sun, but it’s got a fresh glow to it and her cherubic cheeks are rosy pink from the cold. She is beautiful, actually.

We chat as Jesse helps me fill my water bottles from the spring. It turns out that they used to live on the same back road that my grandmother’s house is on. In 1955 —  the year I was born and started spending summers here — they moved to the next town over, but they know my house and call it “the old Tainton place,”** as all the old-timers do.

We share stories about long-gone neighbors and agree that Hattie Bunker was the sweetest woman we ever knew.

Hattie and her husband Arthur lived in a little tar-paper shack down the road and were a big part of my childhood. Hattie was twelve years old when she got married, and she carried a childlike simplicity well into old age. Arthur always looked like he was at least a hundred years old. He was struck by lightening multiple times while riding his tractor in the fields. One bolt stole his power of speech. I never heard him utter a word in my whole life.

I tell Jesse and Margaret how I spent hours listening to Hattie’s stories while we milked her cows and harvested veggies from her garden. I ask if they have a garden.

“Not anymore. Our daughter liked to garden, but she’s gone now,” Jesse says.

“Cancer, like my mother,” Margaret says. “You probably knew Carolyn. Didn’t you? Carolyn Wheeler — she was at Prudential for thirty-two years.”

“Thirty-two years,” Jesse confirms.

I nod and say yes, I think the name does ring a bell, which of course it doesn’t but they really need it to, and so I give them this small gift.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’m really glad you have each other,” I say.

“Married sixty-one years,” Jesse proudly tells me. He hoists my crate of filled water bottles into my car and invites me to stop by if I’m in their neighborhood. He shakes his head and laughs because for a minute he can’t remember the name of the street they’ve lived on for sixty-two years. Margaret doesn’t remind him; she lets him remember for himself.

“Center street!” he finally declares. “That’s it. Right across from the old saddle shop. Come by anytime, we’re always there unless we’re out for a drive.”

Down to the Spring

** Not wanting to broadcast the most common security query, my mother’s maiden name, I have substituted my grandmother’s maiden name.

 

America is in a Clutch Situation

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AMERICA IS IN A CLUTCH SITUATION

I don’t care for the word, “clutch.” It’s full of hard, abrupt sounds. I prefer words made up of gentle sounds that flow off your tongue, like Sisyphus.

Remember Sisyphus from Greek mythology? He was the guy who was forced to push a boulder up a steep hill over and over, only to have it roll back down and smash him. This was his eternal punishment for being a greedy and arrogant king who thought he was the greatest — greater than the god Zeus.

Sisyphus was punished for his avarice and hubris, and also for his deceitfulness and general ugliness — he abused visitors to his country and he seduced women! Imagine having a king like that!

Anyway, clutch is today’s word prompt from WordPress.

Clutch is an anxious word, an emergency kind of word. Like you clutch your heart because you think the stress of worrying about nuclear war or climate change might give you a heart attack. Or you clutch your stomach, as you might when someone’s behavior mortifies you to the point of nausea. Or you clutch your head in anguish when you see a headline like “States Prepare to Shut Down Low-Income Children’s Health Programs.”

This reminds you of scary children’s stories from your youth, when the poor children are “in someone’s clutches” — a cruel and heartless tyrant, say, or a megalomaniac.

Then there’s the tidy little “clutch” handbag that you take to cocktail parties where you are so uncomfortable that you have to cling to your purse for security. The kind of place you might meet Russian diplomats who are really spies or yacht-owning Saudi Arabian oligarchs looking for lucrative hotel deals.

Check out this little lovely which you can get from Ivanka Trump’s company for a mere $85:

There’s the clutch in a standard transmission car, of course. This is the pedal on your left which you depress to disconnect the wheels from the spinning engine so that you can slow down. It’s especially useful when you are in big trouble and you manage to jam down the clutch and the brake just in time to stop the car from going over a cliff.

In sports when your team is at the edge of a cliff, it’s known as a “clutch situation.” The situation is critical. The stakes could not be higher. We are talking about the whole game here.

Thanksgiving Gremlins

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THANKSGIVING GREMLINS

I usually take a look at my blog platform’s word prompt of the day, just to see if it hurls a bolt of brilliance my way. Hence, my brilliant blog on mercy yesterday. (OK, OK, brilliance is a relative term.)

Today’s word prompt is gremlins. What? Gremlins? On Thanksgiving Day? I expected gratitude or family or feast or table or cornucopia (which Merriam-Webster says is getting a lot of look-ups this week). But no, it’s gremlins.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the tiny footsteps of fieldmice skittering behind the living room walls here in this old New England farmhouse. The gremlins have come inside for the winter.

I also think of the meltdowns at my friend’s house last night where twin boys celebrated their fifth birthday with their big brother and two little cousins — a two-year-old and a baby. All would be well and then suddenly a gremlin would pass through the room and one child or another would become possessed, thrown to the floor in paroxysms of grief and despair.

“I want another fill-in-the-blank!” or “He took my fill-in-the-blank!” or (my favorite) “I wanted all the lights off when we were dancing to the Gummy Bear song!”

It had been a long celebratory day, it was well past bedtime, post sugar rush, and we were in the final throes of an energetic dance party. 

But what excuse is there when adults, myself included, succumb to the same gremlins? “I don’t have enough fill-in-the-blank! He has something I think I might want! That didn’t turn out exactly the way I had planned it in my head! They didn’t say ‘thank you’ to me! I am a victim!”

How about we have a gremlin-free Thanksgiving today? Look for the bright side, search out the gifts, give the benefit of the doubt to those annoying family members. Everyone’s doing the best they can. Check out this link to four ways to cultivate gratitude in case you are having trouble. 

And give a thought to the real victims on Thanksgiving, the forty-six million turkeys who gave their lives to expand American waistlines today. I will spare you my traditional evangelistic-vegetarian Thanksgiving post and instead just offer a link to it, here.

The ones that got away

Happy Gremlin-free Gratitude Day!

 

Bring Back Mercy!

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BRING BACK MERCY!

Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

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