On compassion.

Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies. Let us take that as far as it will go. Everyone and everything is created by God. Everyone and everything is our neighbor. While it is easy to love the nice people, it is very hard to love the mean ones – but Jesus tells us they are exactly the ones we must be nice to.

They are the ones who need it the most.

So what about insects? Why do we consider a butterfly beautiful but a beetle creepy? Why do we celebrate one and crush the other?

Are you ready to love a wasp, or a roach, or a spider?

Are you ready to see them as created by the same Creator that made fireflies and lightning bugs?

Stay with this a moment. Breathe it in.

Then go further, and yet back.

Are you willing to be loving and gentle with the person who is attacking you or your friend? Are you willing to show mercy to the bigot, the racist, the homophobe?

Are you in a place in your head where you can love them for who they are, right now?

Do you have a space in your heart where you can see them as being the way God made them because He needs them this way, right now?

How about your own thoughts, your own bad habits? Are you able to love them, and see them as teachers?

How about your inability to get up early enough to go exercise? Your habit of spending all you make? Your love of greasy, fatty food? Your need to control others? Your need to be right?

Everything is a teacher. Everything is a gift, a guest in this house that is your soul, your life.

Compassion is a way of living, a way of loving. It is honoring each being, right where they are. It is seeing the beauty hidden behind all the walls, the veils, the shields that we all put up to prevent ourselves from being whole.

It is seeing the lotus growing out of the muck. It is knowing it is there, even if you can’t see it. It is about the potential. And it is about the present.

Our defenses keep us safe, we think. They keep us from having to get too close to ourselves and seeing ourselves in each other.

We are called to communion, to a union-with. We are called to wholeness. This is within ourselves, with every person, with every created being, and with God, the Creator of all.

On keys, and doors

I am mesmerized by keys.

I collect antique keys and make them into necklaces. I love the look and feel of old metal keys. I imagine their history. Who used them? How many people have owned the thing that this key unlocks? How many hands have touched these keys?

This tiny bit of metal is all that is required to open up this huge door, this wall that is standing before me like a bouncer at a club, saying None May Pass. This tiny thing is all I require to gain access to my heart’s desire.

Perhaps this fondness comes from Alice in Wonderland. Everything got a little strange when she fell down that rabbit hole – but to me the first really strange part was when she encountered that tiny door behind the curtain.

She had the key, but she couldn’t figure out the right sequence to use the door.

I like keys like this, and stories like this. I like real keys and imaginary keys. I like what keys represent.

I have a TARDIS key. You know, just in case. Just in case time and space travel is real, I’m ready if Doctor Who just happens to leave that beautiful, mad, blue box parked along my walking path that day. It is good to be prepared.

I have a key to a phone booth. I have a key to a piano. I have a key to a Ford that was driven long before I could even say the word “automobile”.

These keys are beautiful and poetic and sad. They are missing their locks. They are missing their purpose.

But I keep them anyway. You never know.

They are kind of a focus, a meditation tool. Always be prepared. Notice that it is a small thing that opens a large thing.

What doors are in front of me? What is barring my way? What have I not even noticed is a door, that is preventing me from getting where I need to be?

If you have a key, you’ll be reminded of the door. One points towards the other.

Poem – Key

It is better to have a key and no door
than a door and no key.

The door, locked, will afford no entry,
no progress towards your goal.
Save for a bit of metal, this wall of wood
is all that stands between you
and happiness.

But a key and no door?
You’re in luck!
Nothing is barred.
Your way is clear.
The path stretches out before you
like a full day off with nothing on the agenda.

Everything is open.

But just
in case
a door
quietly slinks up
in front of your very eyes

You have a key, already

to do the trick.

The Not-Me. (on the yetzer hara)

My Jewish friends may be surprised to learn how much Christians don’t know of their culture. There are so many amazingly useful parts to Judaism that the majority of Christians just aren’t told about, and thus don’t incorporate them into their lives. It is as if Christians stripped away all the awesomeness of Jewish life and went for the soap-box car rather than the Rolls Royce.

There are so many parts to talk about, but I’m going to only mention one part for now. This is the concept of the “yetzer hara”. This is translated as “the evil inclination.” I first heard about this from the podcast called “Living with G_d : spiritual tools for an outrageous world” by David Sacks.

He refers to the action of the yetzer hara as “spiritual identity theft” He identifies it as a thing outside of us that is trying to prevent us from fulfilling our calling. It is trying to stop us from being who G_d (or Hashem) needs us to be. It tries to prevent us from doing good deeds, or mitzvahs.

This is the most useful thing I have ever come across.

He says that sometimes it is useful to name it. I’m calling it “the not me”.

I now see that desire to stay home and not exercise as the not me. I see the desire to not read the daily Bible readings as the not me. The same is true of not writing every day. These are all the things that further me on my path toward wholeness.

I mentioned this to a guy about exercise. He had a YMCA membership but found it impossible to find time to exercise. He said he wanted to get up earlier in the morning and go, but he just couldn’t. I remember what this feels like. This feels maddening. You say you want to do something good, and then you don’t do it.

With this idea of the yetzer hara, you learn to see that negative inclination as an opposing force. It isn’t you. You want to exercise, to do something good, but the yetzer hara says you don’t. It sounds a lot like you saying that.

Part of the idea is that simply by naming it you have power over it. You know its tricks.

I have started to see this feeling as a very useful tool. The more I feel that I don’t want to do something that I know is good, the more I see it as a sign that I’m really on to something awesome. I actually use it as a spur to do it. The stronger the force against, the more I know I’m on to something.

It is like having a bratty older sibling saying that “you can’t do it” and working up enough energy to do it, just to prove him wrong.

It is about walking through an obstacle, rather than getting stopped by it. It is about using it as a stepping stone rather than a stopping point.

First you have to see that it is there, and know its tricks. It isn’t you. It mimics you, but it is actually a force outside of you that is trying to stop you. Sometimes, just knowing about an obstacle is helpful. It takes away some of its power.

May this tool be of as much use to you as it has been for me.

Snake handler 4 (seeing stars)

Twenty-odd years ago, during the time that we knew my Mom was sick with the cancer that would kill her, an amazing series of events happened.

It started one night when I was preparing to go to bed. I had turned off all the lights except one, a floor lamp by the stairs leading up to my room. When I turned the small knob to switch it off, the bulb made a small popping sound and stopped working. I went in to find another light bulb and replaced it.

I went upstairs and went to bed. That night I had a very intense dream. I dreamed that I was standing, tied up to a post, my arms behind my back, in total darkness. I was being attacked, tormented, assaulted. I knew in my heart that my tormentor was an agent of evil in its most malicious sense. As far as I knew I was alone, defenseless, and in great danger.

In my fear and terror, I remembered to say the Lord’s Prayer.

In that moment there was a flash of orange light, like the light of the sparks from a foundry. The light was like the spray from a waterfall after a spring rainstorm.

Then the lights came on and my bonds had disappeared along with my tormentors. I could see that I was in something like a concrete underground parking garage, with many pillars and no natural light. I was free to go.

I looked to my right and there was another person there, who I realized had also just been freed from the same torment. We talked for a moment. I commented that it was strange that God didn’t send anyone to save me. I was a little upset that I had to do it all myself.

The stranger smiled and said “No, he sent Saint John.”

I was short with him and said “If he’d sent Saint John, there would have been stars.”

The stranger smiled again, patient with me, and said “Look” and pointed at the concrete floor. There, fading away, slowly, were orange stars. They were the light that had spilled out when I’d prayed the Lord’s Prayer and we were released.

I woke up suddenly.

Thoughts raced through my head. What was that? Was that real? What does it mean? Saint John?

Still dazed by the vividness of my dream I went to my bookshelf. I pulled down my saint book that I had gotten just a few weeks before from a friend for Christmas. I’d not had time to read all the entries and I was surprised to find there were so many saints named John.

I read through each one, and came across Saint John of Nepomucen.

John was the confessor to Emperor Wenceslas and his wife in 14th century Prague. The story is that he heard the Empress’ confession and the Emperor wanted to know what she said, suspecting her of adultery. John took his duty of being a confessor seriously and refused to tell. After other clashes between the two men, the Emperor had John tortured, ultimately having him bound up like a wheel, where his heels were tied to his head. He was thrown in the nearby river and legend has it that seven stars appeared in the water over where he was drowned.

He is the patron saint of confessors, and the star is his symbol.

I spent the following day in a haze.

That night I again was preparing to go to bed. I again went to turn off the lamp near the stairs, the lamp with the brand-new light bulb I had put in it the night before.

When I turned the knob, there was a huge popping sound, and an explosion of orange sparks like I had seen in my dream the night before. The room was plunged into darkness.

I stood there, motionless, not daring to breathe.

Finally I recovered and carefully walked away, certain that I would step on a piece of glass from the shattered light bulb. I went to another lamp and turned it on, and brought a flashlight to help me spot the shards.

The bulb was intact. That explosion of orange light was not the sign of damage or destruction. It was a sign to me that my dream was real.

It was a sign to me that God is always with me, protecting me, even when I am helpless, even when I am alone.

It was a sign also to take seriously the role of confessor.

Do something, rather than nothing.

Don’t ever do nothing because you think you can’t do anything.

One time I was making a rosary. I was cutting and twisting each link the hard way, instead of using eye pins. My hand started to cramp up and I put it down. The next day I wasn’t I interested in working on it. A week went by. I picked it up again. And I realized something. The work that I had done hadn’t gone away. I was that much closer to the end.

All progress towards a worthy goal is like this. We aren’t able to just plunge in and get there. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot out of us, but it makes us stronger. The stuff that it takes out is fear of being insignificant, fear of not making a difference, fear that what we have to offer isn’t good enough.

The same is true of any goal. It is easy to put things off because you think you can’t make a difference. It is easy to be jealous of people because they seem to have it all together, so you never even start. Why even try to learn to play the trumpet when Dizzy Gillespie has it down to an art? You can’t ever be that good. So why try?

That kind of thinking is dangerous. That kind of thinking will keep you in a hole forever.

Look at Mozart, or Matisse, or Marie Curie. Each one made it to the top of their field.

They didn’t get it all together all at once. They committed to a goal and worked on it, bit by bit. Nobody loses a significant amount of weight immediately. Nobody gets a college degree overnight. There is often a lot of hidden failure in there.

The trick is, don’t show off the beginner work. Paint over that canvas when you learn a new technique. Don’t think that sloppy painting of a flower is all you can do. You are starting. Every baby has to learn how to walk. Every new skill has to be learned.

Having patience with yourself and the process is helpful. Knowing your limits, and pushing them a little, is helpful too.

When I was in school I’d often get assigned books that weren’t exactly what I wanted to read. I could have waited until the last week and read the book in one fell swoop, remembering only half of it and hating all of the experience. Instead, I decided to use my limited math skills in my favor. I took the number of pages and divided by the amount of time that I had to read. This technique can be applied to anything. Take something you have to do and break it down into little steps.

Slow and steady wins the race.

A Rabbi once said that you can’t burn down a tree with a single match, but if you chop up the tree into small pieces, you can. This is a very useful way to think.

Say you want to do a good deed, a mitzvah. But you don’t think that you can do it all. So you do none of it. The idea here is that it is better to do a little of it than to do nothing at all. And, invariably, you will find that you gain a little more energy and ability towards the completion of your goal from just doing that tiny bit.

Energy leads to more energy. Good creates more good.

It is hard for us to get up enough momentum to do what we know we should do. We take breaks. We stop entirely. We regress. We gain back double the weight we had lost.

I exhort you to get back on and go. I exhort you to keep trying.

I remind you that even just thinking about it, you’ve already taken the first step. That energy can be enough to move on to the next one.

Thank you for your concern for my soul.

Thank you for your concern for my soul.

Thank you for reaching out to me, exhorting me to “return to the gospel” and to “repent of my sins.”

Your fervent pleas, so heartfelt, only further me on my path.

I follow a Jesus who isn’t prepackaged. I follow a Jesus who offers the Word, instead of lines from a script.

I’m sad to report to you that your message to me reads very harshly. I’m pretty certain that it wasn’t meant that way. I’m pretty sure that you are motivated out of your idea of love. We have to gather in all the lost sheep, after all. We are taught this.

But your words remind me of the times that members of my family tried to shame me as well.

That is what this is.

It is the same as a parent yelling at a child, telling her loudly and firmly that she doing something wrong. They feel that she is doing something so wrong that it is essential to stop her right then and there, before she wrecks her life. They do this out of love, they think.

It is the same as a well-meaning aunt or brother calling the wrath of God down on this same child, for different reasons, for many years. These same people change wills to benefit themselves. These same people lie to get their way. These same people manipulate with other abusive weapons.

God and Jesus should never be used as weapons. They should never be used to abuse another person.

I offer you a new way of understanding God, and Jesus, and the world. I offer you a new way of interacting with them.

I invite you to try to see your words from the perspective of the non-believer. I invite you to see how throwing Bible verses at them does not lead them into the fold, but turns them away. It turns the bread of life into a stone, the same stones that were meant to stone the adulteress. Instead of feeding, your words condemn.

I invite you into an understanding of God as the source of love.

I invite you into this love.

God first spoke to me when I was twelve, standing in my back yard. God has spoken to me many times since, and everything He has told me that was going to happen has happened. I have wrestled with this knowledge, knowing that it is unusual.

Yet I stayed away from Christianity for a long time because of people exactly like you, who made me feel shame for who I am. I stayed away from Jesus because I couldn’t see him for the Christianists who stood in His way.

I invite you into a new relationship with Jesus, and God. I invite you to discover Jesus by serving Him, by finding Him where He is hiding in plain sight. I invite you to find Him in the soup kitchen, at the tornado site, in the mall. I invite you to find Him while you are teaching a foreigner how to read our language. I invite you to find Him while listening to the heartache of a stranger who has been excluded from church.

I invite you to discover the joy that comes from letting God work through you.

I invite you into a relationship with a Jesus who loves all, serves all, and died for all.

I invite you into a bigger love.

This path isn’t paved. This Way is narrow and hard to see. It is a beautiful journey.

I will pray for you, as I hope you will pray for me.

I wish you peace and blessings on your journey.

Love, not fear. (my theology in two pages)

It is time to stop approaching God on our knees.

Show reverence, respect, of course.

But Jesus makes us worthy to stand before God. Countless times angels appeared to people in the Old and New Testament and people threw themselves down to the ground, and the angel tells them every time to get up, to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid, fear not.

God needs us on our feet so we can serve Him.

There has to be a balance. Too many people these days have taken to the thought that they are God, because they have within them the light of God, which we call a soul. But we are the creation, we are not the Creator. We did not create ourselves. The world existed long before us, and will exist after us.

My theology isn’t a particular one. It is a gestalt, a blend. It is what has been revealed to me. Take it as you will.

I believe that Jesus came to point to God, rather than to himself. I believe that Jesus came to show us a way of life that leads to God.

We need to remember (or know) that God is everything. God is one. God created everything, and everything is God. We are like fish, swimming in the sea that is God. Even the fish are part of that sea that is God.

My theology is derived, gets words from, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and the words of Sufi mystics. I’ve found truth in Hinduism. I enjoy reading from all faiths, as well as listening to the voice of God that speaks to my heart.

I believe that God is constantly seeking us. I believe that we are all ministers of and to and for God. I believe a hierarchy of “ordained” and “lay” ministers is dangerous and leads to a sense of “greater” and “lesser than”.

I’ve been asked to cite chapter and verse of how I got to my assertions. To tell you how I got here is to try to point out each block that builds a building. I cannot point out exactly which trees lead me to this forest. I cannot lead you step by step along the path that will lead you to where I am. My belief comes from a lifetime of seeking and being found by God.

To try to point out each piece of the jigsaw puzzle is to miss the whole picture.

I’ve mentioned before in my blog that I am bipolar. I make no secret of it. Take my words as you will. Even if I didn’t reveal that, you should always read/research/reflect on what anyone says for yourself. Never ever entrust your path to another person. Buddha tells us this, and there is a lot of goodness in this. I’d rather have a person encourage me to question than to be expected to follow blindly.

Don’t follow. Walking along with is safer. If you follow, you can’t see where you are going.

My faith is new, and ancient. I’m not creating it out of whole cloth. Neither am I ripping up bits of pieces from all other faith traditions that have been before and making a quilt for myself either. I’ve seen a thread, a theme that runs through. I believe that thread runs from God to us and back to God. I believe that thread connects each of us, across languages, across countries, across cultures, across history.

That thread is a thread of love. We are created by a loving God. We are loved by God beyond words. We are here to make this world better, to let God work through us. We are here to let others know that they are loved by loving them.

We are here to wake up to ourselves, to our calling, to our lives. We are here to be active participants in our lives and in the life of our community and world. We are here to be fully alive.

I keep saying the same things over and over, in different ways. One day I’ll have all the words, and it still won’t be enough. I know I’m missing pieces. I know I’m forgetting to tell you an important part, but I don’t know what. One day I’ll have the experience that will give me a way to explain it. Meanwhile I wrestle, and I try.

You make love visible through living it. Love out loud. Live fully.

You run like a girl.

What is it with society shaming women about getting fit or challenging gender roles? Why is it lesser to be female than male?

Have you ever heard the phrase “You run like a girl”. Uh, yeah, because I am a girl. You try running with boobs. It isn’t easy.

Sports bras are designed for women who don’t need them. It is very difficult to find a sports bra for the larger breasted woman. They are the ones who need them the most. Women with tiny boobs don’t have to worry about support in the same way that big-chested women do.

Exercise clothes for women are flimsy and they fall apart. They aren’t really meant to be used. Shoes are the worst. Don’t go hiking in women’s boots. They cause blisters and you’ll twist your ankle.

It seems like the clothes and the shoes are for show. They are to make it look like you exercise, but don’t actually make it possible for you to exercise.

If you do actually manage to figure out how to exercise even with the unhelpful clothes and shoes, you’ll get muscles, but a woman with muscles is seen as butch or aggressive. You can’t win.

What about teaching girls to box and teaching boys to knit? Why do we segregate activities into “feminine” and “masculine”? Why can’t we allow anybody who wants to participate in football or ballet to do so?

How come if a woman cooks, she is just a cook, but a man cooks, he is a chef? If a woman sews, she is just sewing, but if a man sews he is a fashion designer? If a man takes on a role that is normally done by a woman, he is considered better at it, a professional. If a woman takes on a role that is normally done by a man, she is not considered valid.

Women engineers? Women architects? Mathematicians, scientists? Women in these fields are actively and passively discouraged and discounted.

I call attention to these issues because they need to change. The first step is admitting there is a problem.

Pastoral Care class, the short version.

A lot of people don’t know how to be around someone who is grieving. We say insensitive things. We run away, not knowing what to do. I took a class about this, and I certainly don’t have it all worked out or understand it all, but I think some of it that I’ve gleaned might be of help, so I’m going to share it.

Sometimes we say “it will be OK.” I think this is spurred on by fear. The friend doesn’t know how to be with a person who is in pain. They are trying to point towards the future, to point out that this won’t always be this way. The friend isn’t OK with what is happening right now, and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

It is healthy to acknowledge the way things are right now. It is ok to say that things are terrible. Sometimes it won’t be OK. Sometimes it will get worse. You as the caregiver have to be able to be present in the middle of that feeling.

I feel that we are afraid of feelings, any feelings. We are afraid of our own feelings, and of other people’s feelings. We don’t know how to be with someone who is experiencing anything other than joy, especially if that someone is ourself.

The trick is just to be there. You don’t have to fix anything. You just have to listen.

This can be the hardest thing you have ever done.

I heard a story about a man who was trying to help his wife who had breast cancer. He said he didn’t know whether to bring the bucket or the toolbox. He didn’t know if he should just listen to the wails and laments (the bucket) or if he should try to fix things (the toolbox). Sometimes it is a little of both.

We are taught to fix things. We are taught to have solutions. The trick here is that the solution is to let the other person get it out. The way you fix it is to be present to their pain. Feelings have a way of getting stuck inside us. We need to get them out.

We help by letting the other person have a safe place to let them out. How do we make it safe? Listen without judgment. The subject just is, it isn’t good or bad. Listen with your full attention. Don’t check your cell phone or watch TV. Make eye contact. Listen – don’t speak, except to ask questions to further your understanding of the issue.

Ask the person how you can help. Let them guide you. Often what you think they need isn’t helpful at all. Sometimes we will suggest what we would like, rather than trying to understand what the person would like. Sometimes people foist their own wishes and needs off on someone else, and walk away, thinking their duty is done.

I’ll give you an example. My brother sent a lily plant to the house when our Mom died. He expected me to plant it and then take care of it as a living memorial to her. I’d spent a year taking care of her, and he left us alone and poor in that time. There was no way I was going to take care of a lily plant, with finicky rules about how you had to dig it up and store the bulbs in a cool dark place every year. I’d just spent a year watching Mom die. I wasn’t prepared to spend time watching this plant die. I chucked that plant into the English Ivy, to let it fend for itself. His gift was worse than useless.

If the thought is what matters, put some thought into it. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you can’t even get near that idea, ask them what would be useful, and do it.

Don’t ever say “I understand.” You don’t. Even if you have been through the exact same circumstance, you can’t understand what it is like for that person. Each person has a different history and a different emotional make-up. So what should you say? Don’t say anything. Ask. Ask the person to tell you more about it. Ask them to tell you how they feel. Feelings are what matter here.

One of the worst things you can ask is “why”. Don’t use the word “why” at all. “Why” puts people on the defensive. You can say “Can you tell me more about…” for instance.

Remember that it isn’t your pain. This may sound odd to say, but it may help you to have a sense of distance. By not trying to process your own pain, you can be there to help the other person process her pain.

Just wanting to be of help is helpful. It is OK to say you don’t know how to help. Just don’t leave. Keep up with your usual routine with each other. Have tea together, go to movies, have lunch. Make a point of spending time together.

If it is hard for you to be around her pain, remember that it is harder for her to be in the middle of it. You lessen her pain by sharing it with her. And you gain strength and knowledge for the next time you have a friend who is in pain.