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Six Tips on How to Rise from the Dead

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Today is the day that Christians celebrate what seems the silliest premise of their religion (the virgin birth being a close second). Resurrection from the dead.

Mystery

Mystery

Somewhere in the Bible, one of Jesus’ followers says something like, “Well, of course it sounds crazy – if it sounded sane, it wouldn’t take any faith to believe in it!” Good point.

I’m just crazy enough to believe in this stuff, and I thank God (oh – there I go again) that I do. At times I read the Bible and think, “What??” But at other times, the words go down like a draught of pure truth and transcendental joy.

Still, it is not just “crazy” Bible stories that make me believe; it is also my personal experience — the miracles I have experienced in my own “resurrection.” I know for a fact that I would not have had the strength to overcome drug addiction, or Marlboro Lights for that matter, without the power of prayer.

More miraculous are the “smaller” things I’ve experienced through the grace of God, which aren’t really smaller at all. They are all addictions in their own right. I am NOT here to tell you I’ve recovered from any of these. But I have definitely made progress in the twenty years I’ve been a committed Christian, and as they say, “progress, not perfection.” I have been raised from the dead zone of many a curse.

So here are six tips on how you can rise from the dead . . . whether or not you think Jesus did.

1. Get over yourself.

You are not the center of the universe. Other people are just as important as you are. The best way to do this is to have a kid – then they become the center of your universe.

The Center of the Universe

The Center of the Universe

But I didn’t have one of those, so I have had to work harder at this one. Humiliating and embarrassing myself works well, so I do this regularly.

2. Embrace it: nobody is any better than you are.

This is a careful balance with #1. I find that most people are a bizarre mix of grandiosity and massive low self-esteem. It’s weird. Anyway, you are a beautiful gift to the universe –please accept and love yourself, unconditionally and just the way you are. There has never been and never will be another you. I am glad you are alive.

3. You have unique contributions to make with your life. You should not waste the chance.

It’s important to get #1 and #2 above balanced, or you might miss your chance to help bend the arc of history towards love and justice. Because as Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes, even if you are doing “good things,” if you  have unhealthy motivations (getting noticed, being loved, even getting to heaven) then you could actually be putting negative energy into the universe.

4. You can’t help much in the world – you probably won’t even want to – unless you stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Victimhood. Oh my God, don’t get me started. When I see this in myself, and I often do, I immediately do some serious spiritual intervention in the form of prayer and journaling and sometimes even fasting, if it’s a doozy. I think the fastest way to change your life — to rise up from under – is to drop your expectations of the world and other people. You will be so much happier, and so will your family and friends. Expectations are just pre-meditated resentments.

5. Forgive yourself and other people.

We are all broken, messed up people, and we will all hurt each other (and ourselves) horribly. Release yourself from the burdens of resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. Obsess instead about how lovely the spring flowers are.

Easter 2013 015 Easter 2013 010 Easter 2013 007 Easter 2013 008 Easter 2013 002

Which leads me to this most important resurrection tip:

6. Practice gratitude.

If you release the victimhood curse, gratitude will naturally follow. It is the best gift you can give yourself and the world. There’s no earthly reason you should have woken up breathing this morning, but you did. Be grateful for that. And for a roof over your head, people you love, pets to feed, coffee or tea to drink, gifts that you have that you can share with the world. Perhaps you might want to make a gratitude list in celebration of this new day, this new life that you can choose if you want. Rise up from the things that hold you down! Even if you don’t believe in Jesus and you’re not celebrating Easter, a gratitude list might be a nice present to yourself on this particular Sunday. Maybe a few chocolate eggs, too.

And if you are a Christian, I wish you a meaningful and joyful Easter day! May you be constantly mindful of swimming in an ocean of love and rising on a cloud of hope. Amen.

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

What are you grateful for this Easter??

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Talking Trash in the Literary World

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I’ve been talking with some writing friends about the trend in literary magazines towards, well, trendiness. The editors usually say they are seeking “edgy,” but the effect is more often, well, “trashy.”

A quick aside to express my annoyance about the random use of the word ”well” to mean “for lack of a better word.” (See above.) This over-used affectation was oh-so-clever the first quadrillion times I read it, but it hasn’t been trendy in years, and it doesn’t belong in literary magazines. You can all stop now.

Edgy, Man

Sorry — back to trendy journals. Neither my writing friends nor said journals will be named here. I mean, what if one of us wants to get published in a trashy trendy journal?

Actually, my writing aspirations do not include afore(not)mentioned literary magazines, because we are probably “not a good fit.”

I don’t use the word “motherf**ker” nearly enough.

Ever, actually. I don’t use a-hole in my prose, either. And that, my friends, is what passes for trendy in some corners of the literary world.

I mean, how can you be edgy if you don’t trash-talk like a middle-schooler?

Raw and Daring Language

There’s a best selling author – one of Oprah’s hallowed few – who has coined a phrase, which “has gone viral in the writing community,” according to Creative Nonfiction magazine.

The phrase is, “Write like a motherf**ker.”

Huh? Please tell me that “the writing community” is not inspired by this.

Good Lord, people.

Creative Nonfiction is apparently very inspired. The editor, Lee Gutkind, has dedicated much of his latest From the Editor column to the scintillating phenomenon. Gutkind says that it is “the style, the forbidden ‘MF’ word” that has turned this catchy phrase “into a kind of mantra.” He also advises that “before you can write like a motherf**ker, you have to research like a motherf**ker.

“It is gutsy,” Gutkind writes, “raw and daring.”

No, it is not, Mr. Gutkind.

It is dated and juvenile and stupid.

No offense meant to author Cheryl Strayed who started the hub-bub; I haven’t read her work. She was doubtless as surprised as anyone when her casual words of raunchy wisdom started appearing on mugs and t-shirts. There’s an interview with her in the Creative Nonfiction, which I’ll get around to reading. Guess what it’s called?

Yup – How to Write Like a Mother#&@%*&.

Brilliant

Brilliant

It’s all very exciting for those assembled.

Elissa Bassist interviews Ms. Strayed. Both are editors at The Rumpus, which is where the unique and compelling verbiage originally appeared. Bassist says the phrase has “become an anthem and a lifestyle.”

An anthem?

A lifestyle?

Really?

Ms. Bassist then goes on about “motherf**kitude” and “motherf**kery” for a while before getting down to the interview.

I’m not kidding.

I mean no disrespect for the magazine or the editor, both of which are a well-recognized blessing to creative nonfiction and to the literary world as a whole. I am certainly not lumping CNF in with the trashy trend; that’s why I’m wondering what’s up with this fixation?

And While I’m Being Annoyed

The rest of Mr. Gutkind’s From the Editor column addresses the message splashed across the magazine’s cover:

Who Says Women Don’t Write Serious Nonfiction?

Who, indeed? Is it necessary to perpetuate an antiquated charge like that in 2013?

This headline leads to a suspicion that certain people at Creative Nonfiction spake thus, or they would not need to argue otherwise. “The  headline doth protest too much, methinks.”

The magazine consistently receives more submissions from women than from men, so I suppose we should be encouraged that they decided to print a collection of women’s writing, even if they did introduce it with questionable condescending kudos on the cover.

Questionable Kudos

Questionable Kudos

Or maybe I’m way off base. Perhaps Lee Gutkind’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek when he crafted that cover, as I hope it was when he expressed the hope that his winter issue demonstrates that “it’s not true that women write only memoir or that they don’t write about ‘serious’ topics.” I am going to assume that he has read serious memoir by women on suicide, mental illness, child slavery, prostitution, homelessness, widowhood, the loss of a child — you know, frivolous girlie stuff.

Whatever the big boys think, I’m going to keep at it, writing like a … like me.

A Woman’s Peace

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“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

A Haunting Challenge

These words come from Etty Hillesum, who died in a Nazi concentration camp when she was 29 years old. She had “an old soul,” as they say — wisdom beyond her years. We will never know what peace she might have brought to the world had she not been murdered. Yet she offered a haunting challenge as she pondered the annihilation of her people:

“I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short…”

Photo: Etty Hillesum


Etty Hillesum

Wow – “then somebody else will perhaps do it.” W ell, I can’t explain the Holocaust for Etty, but I can try to do my “one moral duty” by reclaiming peace within my soul and hoping some of it will transfer to the world. I do believe this is our moral duty. I’ve heard it said that “hurt people will hurt people,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true. We must each take responsibility for healing our own hurting hearts.

Wounds we received in childhood may still be causing emotional reactions today, and unless we become aware of that and seek healing and peace, we’ll just be dumping our crap all over everyone else.

For the rest of our lives.

Women in Peace

I am a member of Bloggers for Peace, and as such, I have committed to post every month on the topic of peace. March being Women’s History Month, I thought I would take a brief look at women’s roles in the movement for world peace. As it turns out, it isn’t possible to do that briefly. I’d have to write a tome.

Instead of the tome (I can hear you all now, “tome, tome, tome!”), I’m sharing Etty’s story with you.

Etty’s efforts to nurture peace in her heart resulted in a profound attitude of love, hope, and gratitude, which it’s hard to imagine could survive in a concentration camp.

“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.”

“I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

I hope you’ll read more about Etty at Gratefulness.org

Nurturing Change

How are we doing at realizing Etty Hillesum’s dream that “a new and kinder day” was coming?

According to the Eisenhower Research Project, between 152,280 – 192,550 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting since 9/11. More than seven million people have become refugees. The numbers speak for themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope. War seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience, and peace is certainly not inevitable in this world. It’s something we must pray for, wait for, work for. We must intentionally nurture it from within, growing what the Bible calls the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Women know a little about waiting and praying and growing things inside themselves.

I am a firm believer in the power of inner peace to transform the world. It has to start with the individual. Perhaps I’m naive, but what’s the point of living if we can’t be at peace with ourselves and make a positive difference in the world?

For me, inner peace also includes action. For instance, if I ate meat, I know my heart would not be at peace. I would see that as waging war on animals. (I’m not judging you, I’m talking about my own heart.)

I volunteer for projects that help heal our planet, I participate in peace marches, and I help feed homeless people. That’s activism, yes, it adds to the goodness in the world. But the action itself is also good for the peace of my soul.

I like how poet and human rights activist Staceyann Chin puts it: “Every day I get better at knowing that it is not a choice to be an activist; rather, it is the only way to hold on to the better parts of my human self. It is the only way I can live and laugh without guilt.”

You can check out the stories of nine women who made peace activism a way of life and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result, including Baroness Bertha von Suttner, without whom there might not even be a Nobel Peace Prize.

A Reason to Hope

One last story of hope for peace. My friend Nate Haken is active with Partners for Peace, a  network of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting peace in the Niger Delta. Part of what they do is identify and celebrate local peace-building initiatives, like the one called “Mothers for Peace” in Rivers State.This group of wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters takes direct action to intervene when conflicts break out in their communities. Carrying palm fronds, they march right into the conflict, waving their branches and singing songs of peace. Below is a short video about these women.

As they wave their palm fronds in the face of war, these women continue to spread Etty’s brave and peaceful spirit in the world.

Related Links:

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/about/

Are You a Grown Up?

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Being a grown-up is an evolving state of mind, a spectrum of attitudes. No matter how old you are, you get to choose how you respond to the things of life.

I think that immaturity can be quite charming, unless I’m dating it. I myself am pretty cute when I’m being immature. Or not.

I’ve always been drawn to the rebellious song from Peter Pan, “I won’t grow up; I’ll never grow up.” I still occasionally jut out my jaw and clench my fists and run a few stanzas of it through my mind before I acquiesce to maturity.

You Can’t Make Me Grow Up!

Today I’m responding to a WordPress challenge  that’s much easier than the one prompting my 1,000 word tome without a Y in it. I won’t say I’m annoyed that most responders wrote less than 200 words, because grown ups don’t get annoyed about things like that. So here is today’s Daily Prompt:

When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?

The Mockingbird’s Song

I remember the moment quite clearly. It happened to be my birthday.

I was 24 years old. I’m sure I was tired; working full-time for rent and college tuition, my days starting before 6 a.m. with late classes ending at 9:30 p.m.

I had just survived a grueling two-hour meeting with the deans from all the departments at the University of Maryland. I had designed my own major, and God knows they did not want me to have that kind of flexibility and autonomy without making me suffer for it.

I had argued with the Dean of Biology about whether or not the world had a “population problem” (I said yes) and with the Dean of the Math Department about whether or not I needed calculus. (Truth be told, one of the reasons I designed my own major was to escape those dreaded math courses!)

Understanding Mathematics: From Counting to Calculus   -             By: Keith Kressin

Nooooo!!!!

But I had persevered. My program — the first of its kind at the school — had been approved. It’s hard to believe now that “Environmental Studies” was a unique major in 1979, but there you have it.Very few students bothered to pursue the option of designing a separate major, but I had done it. All by myself.

I sat under a blooming dogwood tree on the mall at Maryland and wept tears of joy. On the branch above me, a mockingbird sang as if his breast would burst. I knew the feeling.

I was a competent grown up, I had choices, and nothing could stop me now. I had arrived.

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottis

 -

Maturity

Of course, I wasn’t all grown up, and I have displayed some of my most immature behavior in the years since that day under the dogwood. I’ve done some damage to my psyche and to the psyche of others.

Perhaps you have, too. I’ve noticed that a lot of people come to my website by way of Google searches about shame or guilt.

For what it’s worth, I recently came across this checklist of the attributes of maturity. See what you think:

  • Knowing myself.
  • Asking for help when I need it and acting on my own when I don’t.
  • Admitting when I’m wrong and making amends.
  • Accepting love from others, even if I’m having a tough time loving myself.
  • Recognizing that I always have choices and taking responsibility for the ones I make.
  • Seeing that life is a blessing.
  • Having an opinion without insisting that others share it.
  • Forgiving myself and others.
  • Recognizing my shortcomings and my strengths.
  • Having the courage to live one day at a time.
  • Acknowledging that my needs are my responsibility.
  • Caring for people without having to take care of them.
  • Accepting that I’ll never be finished – I’ll always be a work-in-progress.

Agree? Disagree? How do you measure up?

Mockingbird and Dogwood photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Daily Prompt – And Sometimes Nada

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The Challenge is to write an entire post without the use of a particular letter. Eschewing a vowel is extra brave, it’s said, so I’m going without the “sometimes vowel.”

The Alphabet Without the Sometimes Vowel

A is a dependable letter. It can stand alone. It is faithful and valuable. Nothing spectacular, kind of quiet about its business, but there, all the time. There are 33 A’s in this short paragraph alone. Important words don’t often start with A. America does. As do absurd and asinine, both useful descriptors as we witness the workings of America’s government (or lack thereof).

Absurd and Asinine

B is the opposite, bustling in behind A, it is an assertive letter. Like a bull in a china shop, it busts into a sentence, blustering and being big. People whose names begin with B are Buds and Burts and Berthas– with big voices and boisterous laughs. An aside: this video of a bull in a china shop belies the metaphor.

C is complicated – schizophrenic. At times a nice, soft sound, as in nice or citrus. And at times a callous, uncompromising letter used to scare people — Communist, Corporation, Cholesterol. And, of course, Cancer. Still, it’s a cooperative letter, and works well with others, acknowledging that it could be lacking on its own.

D still brings back dismal feelings of defeat. It is what I got in a high school math class (starting with G and having do with triangles and such), and that was *after* Mr. Griffin went and asked Mr. Williamson not to fail me.

E is an excellent letter, relating with ease and connecting to each letter like a sociable aunt. It is also the first letter in elephant, this writer’s all-time favorite animal and a cool word in itself.

Nothing Cooler

F – back to high school. I got them twice, both times for failing to attend classes that were rude enough to be scheduled during sweetheart of the week’s lunch break. One of the classes I failed was Band, and the other was the class that taught me how to find and use letters on a machine used for writing. What I’m doing now.

G begins Griffin, which I used to hate, but which I have grown to respect. I used to think it too serious. Solid, a tad masculine. But it knows how to have fun. It’s Welsh, which isn’t as fun as Irish, but still…

H. Hmmm. I haven’t much feeling for H. I suppose it’s cooperative like C, changing and morphing and toughing it out when it’s not in the place of Honor.

I is all about me. And I like that. I like to write I. I. I. Don’t we all? I could not write a post without the letter I.

J has got strange juju – like juju, it can be good or bad. As in Scrabble – nailing a triple-letter score, J rocks. Left over at the end of the game, it can cost eight points. Jam is good. Jasmine tea is evocative. Jazz can be nice, depending…

K is not a letter for kids. It can start out kind, but is a trickster and can end up knocking a person over or even killing them. Like a King, it can be capricious. I think it suffers from serious codependence with C, and is also just a grump because it doesn’t get to take the lead often.

L stands for love, and that is all we need.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono - the-70s Photo

M starts Melanie, which I like better than Griffin. The best friend from childhood is the sole person who gets to call me Griffin. M is melodious, musical (are those the same?) and begins cool words like maestro and magician.

N. I have no opinion. It is a non-sound, a nothing, a neutral letter. Nada.

O makes me laugh. It can be opinionated and official, but I don’t take that to heart. It’s the shape of a surprised mouth and round, surprised pupils. And that is simple lightheartedness. October, too, is light — bright and crisp.

P presents a preponderance of paths to explore. Lots of words start with P, and the letter, like A, is applicable to the opposition of the political parties in D.C. at present. Apoplectic parading before the press and parsimonious pissing matches proliferate. Plus pandering.

Q. Talk about codependence. I don’t even want to mention U in this paragraph, because the Q will get all quiverish. Of late, we are seeing too much of Q as the queen of “Sequestration.”

R – I like R. It is rich and round and rolls off the tongue. Rambunctious at times, it gets riled up and romps ‘round the house, rousing drowsing folk. Then out of the blue, it relaxes and becomes more reserved and reticent, even sometimes bordering on routine.  But a reassuring routine, not a boring one.

S, for me, is one of the most sublime of all the letters. Such sounds! How it sings to us and sanctifies our speaking and listening. It can hush – Shhhh — or it can scream, if pressed. It has spirit. Scarce it is not, as it signifies pluralism and adds abundance wherever it lands.

T, like dependable A, deserves our trust. It is tough, but lightweight; there in the past, the present, and the future.

U is unobtrusive, but ubiquitous. Thank God for it. Otherwise, where would Q be?

V is a venerable letter. It is old-fashioned, in a sense. World War II old-fashioned, as in valor and victorious. Vacuous and vapid ought not to start with a V; it is not appropriate. And I wish that vicious did not either. Oh, but now I’m off on the D.C. villains again.

W – Words with weight owe their being to W. Wisdom, worth, world. But also wild and whimsical.

X is fortunate that the word “oxen” exists, or Scrabble mavens would despise it. It is an extreme example of the “weird letters.” Unless it can persuade an E to lead it around, or a chemist to name a food additive after it, it’s stuck with the instrument that ends with “ophone” and those medical imaging thingies – neither of which I can mention because each contains…

The unspoken letter, the lack of which isn’t so bad, except that I cannot speak to the reader in second person, and I miss – the other person.

Z we love because it is Z. It’s a zealous word, but Zen at the same time. It’s nice that someone thought to start a flower’s name with Z — the Zinnia.

Photo From Wikipedia Commons

There – I’ve done it. No “wise.”

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