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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

WordPress Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

Love Conquers All

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I’ve spent the morning drafting a blog about Christian voters (doesn’t that phrase send shivers down your spine right about now?) and I think it might be good enough to submit for publication. Hence, I can’t post that offering here. But I really want to connect with “my tribe” in the blogosphere because November 2016 is not a good time to be alone in your head. So I will simply share this quote from Frederick Buechner today.

I cannot say I am here yet, by any means. I am still in the reality of Romans 8:26, where ” . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

So I groan.

But Buechner has words, and here they are:

“The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

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Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

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Confronting Fear: How Will We Respond to Trump’s Election?

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump, this moment is more than just an “upsetting setback” or an “alarming trend” or even a “crushing defeat.”

I have a friend who is a Trump voter and he is on Facebook trying to calm people down by writing things like:

“Our hearts should be wrapped up in loving God and loving others. (You know, the greatest commandment and the 2nd one just like it?) All this fear should be transferred to trust in God. We should not be looking to government to do the things we should be doing ourselves.”

Let me begin by saying this is not a helpful way to respond. First, it reminds the public that millions of people called Christians have voted for someone whose number-one character trait is attacking and mocking and belittling others. This does not reflect well on Christianity and it tells people that churches are not safe places to be. This is tragic.

Secondly, a white guy telling people not to be afraid of Trump is . . . well, I don’t actually have a word for that. Let me explain:

Just a Few of Our Fears

  • Millions of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims and LGBTQ people fear for their immediate physical safety. The bullying has already begun. Because it’s allowed now, even encouraged. “Political correctness” i.e., respecting and empathizing with those different from you, is mocked as un-American.
  • When millions of Jewish people see the language that Trump’s campaign lifted directly from anti-semitic websites, they hear boots marching and murderous voices chanting.
  • Those of us who have decided to stay in the U.S. and fight for “a more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all” now fear retribution. Will we be targeted for intimidation and punishment? How will the public even know what’s going on after Trump bans unfriendly news outlets from the White House and congressional hearings? I am painfully aware that part of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is vengefulness. It wouldn’t take much of a search to identify anti-Trump bloggers and make sure that they have trouble getting driver’s licenses or passports or health care or . . .
  • Oh yeah, there’s that small matter of health care. Twenty-two million people will soon lose affordable health care, myself included. I have a pre-existing condition. I was with a woman yesterday who has a disabled son and she is inconsolable because he’ll lose his treatment and affordable medications. For the first time in his thirty years, he had the care he needed because of Obamacare.
  • I’ve heard many fathers and mothers express fear that their daughters will now be entering a time when it’s OK to grope and grab and trash-talk women, something most women have experienced and were hoping was becoming a thing of the past.
  • For me, fear of nuclear holocaust is at the top of the list because of Trump’s impulsivity, recklessness, and petty vengefulness.
  • Climate change? I wouldn’t call that fear, more resignation and deep sadness for the human race.

Anyway, my point is that white male Christians should please not tell people “Fear not because God loves you and your fellow Americans will pick up the slack when government programs are gone.” Because the most at-risk people aren’t feeling too warm and fuzzy towards their “fellow Americans” right now, especially evangelical Christians, and most of our fears aren’t anything fellow Americans can help with anyway. I cannot stop Trump from pushing the nuclear button, and you cannot provide healthcare to that woman’s disabled son. Tuna casseroles won’t do it.

Emerging from Denial

I seem to be emerging from the shock and denial stage of grief and entering into anger. That’s good, I guess.

I spent yesterday at a silent retreat center and it truly helped. There were twice as many people there as usual, nearly thirty of us seeking comfort and solace from a Higher Power. The leader suggested that we “befriend our tears” and consider them “an offering.” She asked us to allow our hearts to be soft and broken because nothing new and good can grow from hard, frozen ground. I took her advice.

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

Finding Peace at Dayspring Retreat

I’m still deciding how else to respond. Silence and prayer is good — we should all take care of ourselves and take whatever time we need to grieve. But then we need to decide. How will we respond? My mind cycles between options:

Now What?

I could be marching in the anti-Trump protests, but I don’t think that’s especially helpful. While it is good to send a message to Trump that he does not have a mandate (not even a majority of the votes) and we are here and we are watching, it is not helpful to break stuff and set things on fire. But testosterone will be testosterone and anarchists will be anarchists, and they have glommed on to peaceful marches and rallies.

Or I could leave. I already have friends headed to Canada and Scotland and looking into Costa Rica. But no, I believe in this country’s founding principles, and I believe in a good God, and I absolutely believe that love will win in the end. I am not made of the stuff that runs away. I’m an American and I still love my country, even though I’m crushingly ashamed of it right now.

Or I could withdraw and go into an insular shell as I did the first time Reagan won. I spent nine months in depression, often not getting out of my dressing gown until I knew my roommates would be coming home from work. I supported the economy by buying a lot of marijuana. Yeah, that wasn’t my best response, and I’ll not be withdrawing again.

Or I could withdraw less dramatically and simply stay away from the news for four years and watch entertainment shows and history documentaries about Hitler and Mussolini. But life is too short and I’m too old to spend my last decades — if I’m granted that long — seeing everything I have worked for in my environmental justice career and personal life come unraveled. The arc of history bends towards justice, and I’m going to keep hanging on to the end of that arc with my friends.

Or I could dive in 110% and go back to work for a social justice organization and work fourteen-hour days and hope that I can save the world. Been there, done that. It’s a worthy pursuit, but not for me anymore. Trump has committed to undo decades of bipartisan progress on environmental issues and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, so rules & regulations & agencies are only as good as the leader. It’s hearts that have to be changed, not just laws.

Or I can give money to social change and civil rights and organizations. Lord knows they are going to need it. I hope you will do that. Right now. They need encouragement as they gear up to defend our constitution and our laws. But I don’t think money is enough.

Standing Together

People who care about justice and equality and peace and the planet need to stand together, literally. We need to look each other in the eyes and say, “I am with you. You are not alone.”

We need to pick our battles and engage. Tonight I’m headed to a rally in a nearby small town to show solidarity with Muslims and immigrants. Two hundred folks have already signed up. Next week I’m going to a larger rally in Annapolis to stand with my Native American brothers and sisters against the Dakota Pipeline.

I’ll be sporting a safety pin on my sweaters from now on, the new symbol of a “safe person” that loving Americans are now wearing in support of at-risk people. I hope that you will, too. And don’t just wear it, but speak up when you see a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

#safetypin = safe person

#safetypin = safe person

If you are one of the majority of Americans who are afraid right now, what are you going to do?

Thanks to WordPress Daily Post for the prompt: Or

What?? How? Why? And What Do We Do Now?

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What?? How? Why? What do we do now?

At first, most of us decided we were having a nightmare. You know the kind that seems like it’s going on way too long and it’s way too detailed to be a dream and when you finally wake up you are soooo relieved?

Except we’ve not woken up yet.

Many of us are still saying, “What??” This is where I’ve been since last night: shock and denial, and glad for it. Because I know what happens next. I know gut-grief.

I finally gave in to a short burst of tears this afternoon. How could my fellow Americans have voted for a man who makes fun of disabled people and says he wants to punch a person in the face? A man who talks about grabbing women’s crotches? Just no. And given that over 60% of Americans believe he’s unqualified to be president, how could so many vote for him anyway?

When I Start Feeling Again

When I get beyond this shocked “WHAT??” I will start asking “how?” and look for someone to blame. And I will probably begin feeling again.

I hope that I will not be filled with rage and hatred against Trump voters and/or against the people who voted third party or wrote in someone because they were too pure to sully themselves with our current political reality. And/or against people who consider themselves Christian but who know a different Jesus than I do, one who supports increased military spending and decreased funding for food stamps. And/or against people who did not even bother to vote.

Blaming doesn’t help me recover, although I know it’s a necessary phase of grief.

Making Sense of it All

After “how?” will come “why?” My mind will try to make sense of this. If I can understand it, maybe I can control it and keep myself safe from it. I will ask “why, why, why?” Probably by then there will be tears. There might be wailing. “Keening,” as one dear friend put it. Like me, she has dedicated her life to protecting our planet and is likely experiencing a primal grief for our species and all the others that will suffer from or succumb to climate change.

I’m sure many pundits will be paid for producing many words about “why” for many decades to come. History books will talk about racism and fear of homosexuals and Muslims, and note “nostalgia” for the good old days when we were all white except for our maids, and we all went to our stone churches in our station wagons on Sundays and mowed our little squares of green lawn on Saturdays while our little wives made lemonade.

The Good Old Days

The Good Old Days

There are lots of reasons why, not just one. But my hunch is that 99% of the reasons are based in fear. Fear of the other. And that is a spiritual problem, not a political problem.

Fear Not

So — what do we do now? Well, for one, we must not fear. Because fear leads to hate, as we have seen. That’s what led to President-elect Trump. Which is why the Bible uses phrases like “fear not . . . do not be afraid . . . have no fear” more than one hundred times. Jesus said it. All. The. Time. He knew what fear does to the human heart.

Fear makes us feel powerless, but hate makes us feel empowered. That’s why we go there. That’s why terrorists carry out cowardly attacks, because they are afraid that the west is polluting their way of life and threatening their patriarchal power system. And so they hate. That’s also why Donald Trump is like he is. He is a sick and fearful soul who latched on to judgement and contempt (and money) to make himself feel powerful.

But we who have hearts for justice must not allow ourselves to go there. We must somehow be love in the world. Because love is the opposite of fear. The two cannot coexist. Perfect love drives out fear. Fear got us into this; only love can get us out.

I don’t yet know how to Be Love in this extreme case. The last thing I want to do is make myself vulnerable. Anger feels like the safer route.

I will eventually start praying for the willingness to love. For the time being, though, I’m choosing to stay in numb denial for a little longer.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Her, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” —- Romans 15:13

Loving Beyond Humans to All Living Creatures

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As I mentioned in my last post, I have joined the We Stand With Love campaign to try to counteract the hatred and bigotry running rampant in our country lately. Below is my contribution to the campaign, entitled Loving Beyond Humanity to All Living Creatures. Here, too, is the link if you want to see a cute doggie picture and read other essays on going “Beyond Love.”

by Melanie Lynn Griffin

The more we practice “loving beyond ourselves,” the more we are challenged.

Heart-stretching can be a painful exercise as we confront our self-centeredness and prayerfully question the ways our societies, religious communities, and families make us insensitive to “the other.”

The reward is a gradual awakening to our true selves, and the discovery that our capacity for love and compassion is boundless: Joy! Connection! Belonging!

But wait — how far might this go? Might we move beyond ourselves to our families, and beyond our families to our neighbors, and beyond our neighbors to “the other,” and beyond “the other” to the enemy, so we include all human beings in our circle of love?

But then, might it go farther still – to include our fellow creatures?

To get there, we will have to have the courage to face some inconvenience.

How inconvenient to feel compassion for the cow that died for your steak dinner, or to learn that the pig that became your bacon was smarter than your golden retriever, or that contrary to what your father told you, the trout flapping on the end of your line most likely does feel pain.

How inconvenient that ExxonMobil’s potential Arctic oil field (which will power your SUV) also happens to be a nursery for polar bears and caribou, or that the site of the proposed Walmart (where you will buy your cow-skin shoes) is also home to an endangered gopher tortoise.

Your compassion practice may lead you to change some of your daily habits.

At the very least it will raise some tough questions: What is the cost of your lifestyle to the nonhuman creatures who share our planet?

Does a nonhuman creature have intrinsic value as God’s handiwork, or is it only valuable in service to humans? Today, practice stretching your circle of concern to include our fellow creatures on this beautiful planet that teems with precious life.

Questions for Today:

When have you witnessed obvious cruelty to an animal? How did you respond?

What would our society look like if we became more sensitive to the suffering of animals?

What happens to us if we become less sensitive to the suffering of our fellow creatures?

 

Melanie Lynn Griffin was an environmental lobbyist for many years. Now she is a freelance writer and pastor.

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