Don’t shoot vs. don’t rape

Something is wrong with the world when we have to teach people using videos on YouTube on how to interact with the police so that they don’t get killed. I’ve seen videos for young black men and most recently for deaf people on how to have a safe interaction with the police if they are pulled over. The idea is so that there won’t be a misunderstanding where the police get jumpy and pull a gun on them.

This reminds me of the campaign to teach women how not to get raped. The campaign might say that you need to travel in pairs and always be aware of your surroundings. Or it might say you should make sure you have your phone on you, or that you don’t drink any unfamiliar drinks at a party. All these things are written with the idea that it is the woman’s responsibility to make sure she is safe at all times. It takes away the responsibility from her rapist. While these are good ideas, they don’t address the root of the problem. Fortunately the idea is turning around. Now instead of saying to women ‘don’t get raped’ we are saying to boys ‘don’t rape.’ We are teaching them what “consent” means and what it doesn’t mean.

Maybe we need to do the same thing with the police. Maybe we need to train police to think first and pull their guns second. Just like don’t rape, we should say “don’t shoot”.

Just like how we say it isn’t right to say that a woman dressed in a miniskirt is ‘asking for it’, we should also say that the person being pulled over by the police and being suspicious isn’t ‘asking for it.’

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The first sin.

We must not hate the snake, in the same way we must not hate Judas. Both were created by God and both performed exactly the way God wanted them to. They represent choice, a fork in the road, a divergence point. The snake did not force Adam and Eve to eat. Judas did not act alone. He sold Jesus to the Pharisees, who were looking for a way to silence Jesus, to catch him in violation of Mosaic Law. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot – none acted alone. They were the head of a vicious body, but a body that they did not create. They merely saw and shaped the sentiment of the times.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Likewise, no one can make you do an evil act without your consent. Succumbing to temptation, eating that extra piece of pie, cheating on taxes or your spouse, gossip, lying – nobody made you do it. You did it.

Perhaps the first true sin wasn’t eating the fruit. Perhaps the first true sin is blaming someone else for your actions. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Eve didn’t make Adam eat it – he chose to. The snake didn’t make Eve eat it – she chose to.

Imagine how things would have been if they had just said “Yes, I did it.” I suspect they wouldn’t have been kicked out of the Garden. We can return when we take responsibility for our own actions.

Human / Animal

The first test for humans was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were told “Don’t eat this, it is bad for you.” We failed that test. God gave us our minds for reason and wants us to exercise self-control. This is what God was testing – were we humans or were we animals.

Self-control is the mark of a human versus an animal. Delayed gratification and restraint are the hallmarks of a human being – not just someone who is in the shape of the human but someone who actually is able to act like one. Saving versus spending, planning ahead – these are hallmarks of a mature human.

Yet God didn’t abandon us there when we failed that test. God stuck with us. God keeps giving us chances. God says “I set before you a blessing and a curse.” We have a choice about how we spend our time, our money, and our energy. We can use them for ourselves or for others. We can waste or use wisely.

Sure we have free will. But we also will experience the consequences of our choices too. If we choose to go against God’s commands, we will suffer. God doesn’t punish us because of our bad actions, we do.

It is like being told “Don’t touch the stove – it is hot.” When a child touches it anyway and burns her fingers, it isn’t the parent who his punishing her with her burned fingers. She did it to herself. The parent knows better, knows that this otherwise safe item, usually cool to touch, isn’t safe right now and warns the child. The child has a choice. She isn’t being forced to obey. If she chooses well then she has proven she is mature. God gives us these same kinds of choices.

People blame God for their heart disease and diabetes when they are the result of their unhealthy life choices such as eating salty fried processed food and not exercising. The problem is that they blame God for their own bad choices. They don’t take personal responsibility for their actions. They are acting like animals and not like humans.

Overdue fines

I’m always surprised when people say they don’t carry cash. The card reader might not be working. Then you can’t get whatever you were trying to buy. Sometimes that means your meal or your tank of gas. You don’t have to carry a lot of cash – just a $20 is enough to take care of most situations.

This is something I see a lot at the library. People will build up their fines over time, and when it gets over our limit of $20, they have to pay. They haven’t been paying all along, and now it is a big deal.

But this is part of our culture. We react only when we have to, rather than to prevent a problem.

They will pull out their credit card, and we only take cash or check. Sometimes they will say “But it is a check card!” like that means anything. It doesn’t matter what account the payment comes out of. It matters what form the payment is in. We take paper, not plastic. We don’t have a way to take electronic payments.

Sometimes it is right before closing and we can’t take any money at all. We aren’t like retail – when we close the doors to the public, we leave too. We don’t stay afterwards to count the money from the fines. We take care of that right before closing. When closing happens, we aren’t on the clock anymore, so we don’t want to be there.

So then, they have a stack of books and they can’t check them out because their fines are too high. They knew they had fines all along. They’ve been paying off a bit here and there. They’ll pay off just enough to use their card, but not any extra. So then, just one thing, one day overdue, and their fine is over the limit again.

One guy got really mad and said that we needed to “get with the times” and take cards. I told him that he needed to stop turning his stuff in late. He didn’t like it at first, but then he realized I was right.

If you do it right, the library is a totally free experience. If you do it wrong, your account can go to collections. Your choice. It isn’t the library’s fault that your stuff is late. It certainly isn’t the fault of the person behind the desk.

Blaming other people for your own problems is the reason for your problems.

Suppressed pain – rethinking domestic assault.

When I slipped a disc in my back, I was in extreme pain for a while. Then I got used to it. When I went to the chiropractor the next day, he tested my blood pressure while I was sitting and when I was standing. It was not different, and it was supposed to be. He told me that was a sign of stress caused by the pain. I wasn’t hurting much, but I did feel a little weird. I now know that feeling was from suppressed pain.

I hear that if you are going to boil a live lobster, it is kindest to do it slowly. Put the lobster in the pot and raise the heat gradually until it just goes to sleep. This is less traumatic than putting it in a boiling pot.

Bad smells become normal after a while. Constant loud sounds do too. After a while you can get used to anything, even if it is dangerous for you.

I’ve been a lobster for a long time. I’ve been in pain for a long time. I’ve been around bad smells and loud noises for longer than is healthy. I’d gotten used to it.

I’m not talking about these things in the literal sense.

I have been the victim of a culture that puts women last. I have been the victim of a culture that tells me and every other woman that our value derives from how we look, how we act, and how we related to men. I have been a victim of abuse from family and boyfriends and strangers. People I thought I could trust have harmed me, with the full approval of a society that says if a woman is harmed, she must have done something to deserve it.

As if men can’t control themselves.
As if men are basically animals.

I didn’t even realize I had been raped by a boyfriend until recently. I thought it was my fault, a misunderstanding. We were dating, but we hadn’t had sex. We’d talked about it, but we hadn’t agreed to it. We were kissing each other and fooling around one minute, and then he had entered me the next.

I thought it was my fault. I shouldn’t have led him on. I shouldn’t have let the situation get that far advanced. Right? That is what I’ve been told by our society.

And now I know. Sex without the consent of both people is rape. Even if both people are dating. Even if both have had sex with each other before.

Every single time it must be clearly mutual, or it is rape.

And it isn’t the woman’s fault. That is the definition of codependency. Nobody is responsible for another person’s feelings or actions. They are. A woman didn’t “make” a man do anything. He chose to. This is true for rape and domestic assault.

If a boundary is violated – whether it is being smacked around or raped – it doesn’t matter who does it. It is still an attack, and it is still the fault of the person who did the attack. The victim is not ever to blame.

We have to change our mindsets. We have to start thinking of violence between people who are supposed to be in a loving relationship as simply the same as violence between strangers.

Learned helplessness – victimhood and the Siren song.

Learned helplessness is a terrible thing.

Thinking you are a victim makes you so.

Blaming others for your sad state of affairs keeps you trapped there.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.

I knew a lady who once complained that there was a roach in her house. She was concerned about how filthy and dirty they are. She said that she was so upset about it that she had to have a smoke. I told her that the cigarette would cause her far more damage to her health than the roach. She got very angry with me and then told me that my saying that made her have to smoke even more.

It has to be terrible to live your life like a puppet.

I did not make her smoke. I did not force her to do anything. That was her choice.

Look at the Nazis. They said they had to commit all those atrocities because otherwise they would be killed. But it is better to die clean than live dirty. They made their choice.

To smoke is to commit an atrocity against yourself.

I knew a guy who weighed over 500 pounds. He said that he couldn’t help it. Everybody in his family was that large. If everybody in his family was as inactive as him, it makes sense. He even had a free membership to the Y and spent his whole time either drinking coffee or floating around in the pool. There were many opportunities for him to get healthy and he chose to not take them. He ate terribly, he refused to exercise. He acted as if he had no choice in the matter. That too was his choice.

It is all about choices. Sometimes people make bad choices. Then there are repercussions. It isn’t fate. It isn’t being unlucky. It is a direct correlation to an action or inaction.

You reap what you sow. If you don’t sow anything, you don’t reap anything. Simple.

I knew a guy who said that he wanted to quit smoking. And then he took another puff of his cigarette. If you want to quit smoking, quit smoking. Really. You are the one buying the cigarettes, lighting them, and bringing them up to your mouth and inhaling. These are all conscious acts. It is all something you are doing. It isn’t something that happens to you. It is your choice.

Whatever you want to be, you have to do. If you want to be healthy, you have to do the things that healthy people do. You have to eat healthy food. You have to eat a reasonable amount of it. You have to exercise daily. You have to get enough sleep.

You can’t wish it into being. You have to do it.

To get jealous of someone who has something you don’t is to paint yourself as a victim. It is in fact why you don’t have what they do – because you have given your power away. You have said that you can’t do it. You have chosen that.

You will either find a way or find an excuse.

Look at what you can do and do it.

I used to be obese. I used to smoke pot daily. I used to smoke clove cigarettes. I wallowed in my helplessness.

I remember one time I decided to at least slow down on my pot smoking. I put the supplies in a plastic bag and sealed it with rubber bands. I put it up in my closet. I had to get a chair to pull it down. It took me quite a bit of time to get to it.

Then I’d climb up there and pull it all apart, and smoke anyway. All along I felt helpless, in the thrall of my desire for that drug. I’d feel guilty and upset and angry at myself. But I’d seal it up again, and it would slow me down a little. That step alone was a step towards getting free.

No change happens immediately. It is all made of little steps.

I even moved two hours away from the person I bought pot from so that it would be harder for me to smoke. I had to drive a long way to get pot. I did that on purpose, to make it harder for myself. That too was a step.

Lao Tzu says that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And then there is another step. And another. You just have to keep walking towards your goal, one step at a time.

I remember one time I was making a rosary. I worked on it a little. Then I put it aside. A lot of time went by and I didn’t work on it. But then when I came back to it I realized that all the work I had done was still there. It hadn’t lost anything. So I added to it.

Positive actions towards a goal are the same.

You don’t abuse drugs, or food, or sex, or whatever. You abuse yourself. You are insulting your soul. You are abusing the gift that God has given you.

Look at Ulysses. He wanted to hear the sound of the Sirens. He knew that hearing it might drive him insane. He told his men to put wax in their ears so they would be safe, and to tie him to the mast so he couldn’t jump into the sea and drown.

Our addictions are like the Siren song. They draw us away from our rational selves. When we are sober, when we are free of the pull, we have the chance to make a decision to make it harder on ourselves to succumb.

My putting the supply of pot further away from myself was my lashing myself to the mast. It slowed me down and made me think. Ideally, yes, I would have thrown it away. At times I did that too, and I just bought more. At that time, I thought I could control it. Just like Ulysses, I wanted to hear that Siren song, just not succumb to it. It is a dangerous game.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:29-30 (ESV)
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Sometimes we have to make hard choices in order to get healthy.

It is hard to be addicted, but it is still a conscious choice. The addiction is like nothing else. It consumes you. Ideally, it is better to not start. I don’t think anybody will ever tell you that smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, and eating junk food is good for you. We all delude ourselves when we think we can do these things and not get hurt. But if we do succumb, and fall into that pit, there is a way out.

It is step, by step, by step.

But first you have to stop being a victim.

I knew a guy who abused prescription drugs. They weren’t even his drugs. It wasn’t an accident. He didn’t develop an addiction from taking a prescription drug that was for him. He voluntarily and soberly took the first pill or four. He wasn’t an addict when he started.

He knew the risks. He thought it couldn’t happen to him. He thought he was special.

He ended up going to rehab twice. His wife left him. His brother started abusing drugs along with him. His father got sick from all the stress. And then he actually had the nerve to say “Why does all this bad stuff keep happening to us?” and “Why does God hate us so much?”

This passive attitude was the reason he was in that mess. He was the cause of all that mess, not God.

We are the cause of our own problems – not others. We are the solution too, not others.

Victim beads

The last time I went to my spiritual director, we talked a lot about the people who have harmed me in my past. This wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I’d rather just jump right ahead into forgiving them. She wants me to pick open that wound and study it for a bit. She wants me to dig down to what I’m feeling. Then dig down below that.

Anger, sure. But beneath anger is sadness, and grief. It is a sense of loss, of not-having, of never-will. It is a sense of something that I think should be mine, isn’t.

This is a foreign feeling, and even more foreign that an expert is telling me to stay with this feeling. Surely I should “turn the other cheek,” right? Surely I should “forgive and forget,” right?

But she says to stick with it. Every month I come back and I’m ready to forgive and she thinks I’m not ready yet.

So, par the course for me I made a bracelet to help me remember. I put a bead to remind me of each person who has harmed me. I did this fairly fast, so there are some I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but fast work means that I don’t overanalyze it.

prayer victim

I’ve also been writing about how I was harmed by my parents, and also my brother. Writing about it is hard. I don’t want to dig up these old bones. She had me look at that feeling – why do I not want to talk about it? In part it is because I feel like I am betraying them. I feel like I’m being disloyal to them. We aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead. Nothing is stronger than blood, right?

I say that they meant well, that they didn’t know any better, that they themselves were raised badly. She says those are covers. That there is something I’m not looking at. That I need to focus on how I was harmed. I need to focus on that I was harmed.

There is certainly a bit of shame that comes in the mix when using the word “victim.” Am I to blame for what happened to me? Is it my fault? Could I have stood up for myself? Was I too passive? By not speaking up for myself, I allowed it to happen. They couldn’t have known they were harming me unless I said something. To not speak up is to give acceptance.

I hate going to the spiritual director’s. Every month, about a week before, I start to dread it. I don’t want to talk about what she wants to talk about because it is going to be hard. I want to make a list and tell her what we are going to talk about and use up all the time so that I don’t have anything hard to talk about.

But then that wastes the whole point of going. It is like going to a personal trainer at the gym and saying all I want to do is jumping jacks for an hour. I’m not going to work on anything meaningful that way. I’ll have wasted my time and my money. She’s like a personal trainer for my soul. We dig down to uncover broken pieces and blockages.

I read once that the goal in life isn’t to learn how to love. It is to remove all the barriers we have put up against love. I think the person quoted Rumi. I’m sure he said it better.

But look, here I go, walking away from the topic again. I’m a wiggly one, always trying to get away from what bothers me. I guess that is normal human nature. We often try to anesthetize ourselves or run away.

Let’s try again.

It is important to acknowledge loss. It is important to admit that it happened. To heal it, you have to know it is there. And that means a lot of digging.

So while I’m constructing the victim bracelet, I’m realizing that these are all people who have sinned against me. And then I think – what about all the people I have sinned against?

Am I justifying? Am I putting the blame back on me? Am I letting them off the hook? Am I avoiding the problem? Sounds like it.

So I’m staying with this. I’m not through it. I certainly want to be. I want this to be over and done and healed and let’s go on to the next thing and make it a happy one, please.

And I’m running away again.

I’ve heard that grief takes a long time. I’ve heard that you grieve for half the amount of time that you’ve known the person. This is grief. This is going to take a long time. It has grown down deep. And just like digging out privet in the back yard, this is going to take a lot of work and some special tools to get all of it out. Leave just a little bit of privet root and it will come back next year. Cut it down at the top and it will get even stronger and root down further. The only way to get it out is to dig it up, all of it. And the only way to do that is to work on it patiently and thoroughly.