Saving the world

I’m noticing a lot of people are complaining about climate crisis – but they aren’t suggesting ways to help fix it.

This echoes what I see with people who are concerned with social justice issues – all yelling, and no answers.

So here’s a list for the climate, for starters.

Recycle.

Eating less (or no) meat.

Choosing organic produce.

Have a job close to home (less than 5 miles) to use less gasoline.

Get a hybrid car.

Bike or walk to work.

Carpool.

Use mass transit instead of your own car.

Bring a reusable to-go container when eating out instead of getting a disposable one.

Use a reusable bag when shopping.

Buying clothes and items from a thrift shop, and giving things to thrift shops instead of throwing away.

Repairing items.

Buying things that are sturdy and will last.

Use a reusable bag when shopping.

Buying in bulk to save on packaging and on trips to the store.

Buying less of everything in general.

Use a reusable bag when shopping.

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Redeemer

Stephen Gaskin was the founder of The Farm, an intentional community near Summertown, Tennessee. Before the commune was settled, he embarked on a speaking tour of America to talk about peace. His goal was to wake people up to a healthier way to be together as a society, a nation, and a global community.
He regularly allowed people to ask questions as part of the talks. Occasionally, some of the questioners had issue with him referring to Jesus. Most people who are considered countercultural don’t talk about Jesus at all, and Stephen did. He said that the Sermon on the Mount was the finest example of a guideline for how people can live together in harmony.
In his book “The Caravan”, he talks about Jesus as the Redeemer. In the usual Christian sense, this means that Jesus covers your sins for you. He pays that bill, so you don’t have to. But Stephen took it in a different direction. He said that in order to have a Redeemer, you have to have a Deemer. A Deemer is someone who deems – who makes a judgment as to whether something is good or not. Deemers separate and divide.
A Redeemer comes after that and makes things right. Redeemers make things whole again, by showing the value in all people. Redeemers point out that God made everyone, and God made everyone good. Redeemers reset us by seeing us as we were originally designed to be – whole, complete, and pure.
Additionally – not something said by Stephen but an extension of this thought – this is how Jesus was able to heal people instantly. He saw them as they were designed to be, before they were damaged by the world. Instead of seeing people as sinners, he saw them as Children of God. He didn’t heal them through any special power. He healed them by unlocking the power that God had put in them from the very beginning. He unlocked it by reminding them of it when he saw through their mask of sin to the person beneath.
The most radical part of this is that Jesus tells us that we have this same ability. We can heal the world by choosing to see people as Children of God. No longer dividing them into “good” and “bad” – but simply as people. We too can redeem the world, with Jesus’ help.

Circle – truth

The Circle process is about a lot of things. One of those things is truth. It is about speaking your own truth, and listening to every other person speak their truth. It is about knowing your truth. It is about being OK with the idea that your truth may change. It is about being OK with the idea that somebody else’s truth may be radically different from yours.

It is about listening to yourself and to others.

It is about sitting in that space, in that circle, and really being open to what is happening.

It is about understanding that we all want to be heard and seen.

Part of the Circle process is to create a sort of group mind. It is understanding that what you see and what I see are different sides of the same thing. Just like in the story of the five blind men and the elephant, we all are groping towards an understanding of “what is”. When we share our viewpoints and our understandings in Circle, we are opening ourselves up to a bigger understanding. We are essentially creating new eyes for ourselves.

But in order to have new eyes, we have to have new ears.

We have to listen, really listen, deeply.

And we have to know our own truths in order to share them.

And those are both really hard.

We come from a culture that teaches debate, not dialogue. We come from a culture that teaches us to sit down and shut up. We come from a culture that says you have to give up your own ideas in order to get along with others. The group is more important than the individual.

Consensus sometimes means that one person yells the loudest and everybody else goes quiet. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all. If you stick your neck out, it might get chopped off.

We are taught that if we are all leaders, then we are going to go nowhere.

Circle isn’t about anybody being the leader, and about anybody being a follower. We all contribute. We all share. We all listen, and we all talk.

One at a time.

And that is hard. It is hard because we aren’t taught this. It is hard because we are taught to just go along with the flow. It is hard because we aren’t allowed to have our own voice in our culture.

It is uncomfortable and unusual to be in a space where people listen to us for minutes at a time.

Half the time we don’t even know what our own truth is. Sometimes our truth changes from moment to moment, with every new voice that is added.

Sometimes the hardest thing is being able to say that something is black when everybody else sees it as white.

Circle is about staying in that process, even in the awkward bits, when you feel that nobody is listening to you and nobody understands you. Circle is about staying in that process, even when you feel like you aren’t listening to everybody else. Circle is about staying in that process even when you think that everybody else is wrong, or crazy, or just plain blind. Circle is about staying even when you want to run away, even if it is only in your mind.

It is about coming back, and staying, moment by moment.

It is really hard. It is really beautiful. It is a whole different way of thinking and being.

And it could save the world.

still point

Being calm is like being in a small rowboat on a large lake. The motorboats speed by. The waves hit the boat. They threaten to overwhelm it.

The energy from unhappy people is exactly the same. You can choose how it affects you. Do you stand up in your boat and jump up and down, angry that they disturbed your peaceful morning? Doing that only upsets it more.

You can choose to affect them by your actions as well. You can be a force for good by remaining calm. You aren’t adding to the ripples.

When a child falls, he will often look to his parents to see what to do. If they freak out, so will he. If they handle it calmly, so will he. Sick people need to see how to deal with bad situations by watching healthy people deal with them well.

The more peaceful I get, the crazier the world seems to get. It doesn’t seem fair. They should get peaceful along with me. Maybe with time. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to let them rock my boat too much.

This is the same as becoming sober. You don’t notice everybody is drunk until you stop being drunk. Then they are annoying. You don’t notice how everybody reeks of cigarette smoke until you quit smoking.

The trick is to stay calm. Stay sober. Stay peaceful.

Answer the anger with a smile. Don’t yield to it. To yield to it, to agree with it, to follow it is to feed it, to give it energy.

The feeling of anger can be like a bell, calling us to prayer. It can be a reminder to still ourselves and find our center. In this way, a bad situation is sanctified. In this way, pain is a teacher and a friend.

You neutralize a flame with wind or water.

I’m trying to be a calm presence at work, where most of the unbalanced people are. There is still a lot of griping, even though the unhealthy managers are gone. I’m starting to realize that some people aren’t happy unless they are unhappy. Being miserable is their normal. Happiness scares them.

But boy are they harshing my mellow.

The perspective of pain.

I’d forgotten how exhausting pain is. Perhaps I never really knew. This experience is giving me a whole new perspective on compassion and empathy.

Remember how you are supposed to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand them? What if it hurts too much to even bend over to put on those shoes? That too is a teacher. That too is a way in.

I’ve decided to bring back the term “lumbago”. I love it. It is so poetic. It is an old fashioned way of talking about lower back pain. Not many people use this term any more. I envision some old guy in a plaid shirt and brown pants hitched up a little too high. He’s got both arms held akimbo, hands a little further back, palms flat over his kidney area. He’s leaning back a little. “Ooh, my lumbago!” he moans to anyone who will listen.

“Lumbago” sounds so much better. The pain is still the same, but the word is better. Lumbago kind of sounds like a dance, but dancing is the last thing you want to do.

So. My lumbago. I don’t want to identify with it, but I do want to learn from it. I don’t want it to limit me, but I still want to be mindful.

I’d written a lot last night while sitting at my computer. It turns out this wasn’t the smartest move. I’d not made time to write enough yesterday and I’ve learned that writing helps my head quite a bit. It is creative and cleansing at the same time. So I needed to write, but sitting there for over an hour wasn’t the best idea. I’ve been doing a lot better, but it still has only been a week since I slipped a disc. I hurt quite a bit, and it took a long time to relax enough to go to bed.

This is a whole new experience for me. I’m not sure how to navigate this new territory. I’ve entered into this country without a phrase book or a pocket guide. So I forget every now and then that things are different, and I need to act differently.

Some things I’ve learned from my chiropractor. I’m heartened by how many people I know who go to him and trust him. I’ve heard such disparaging things about chiropractors all my life that I didn’t want to go last week, but now I knew I made the right choice. He is also a certified nutritionist, so I’m learning all sorts of useful tips in addition to getting my back adjusted.

I’ve learned from him that if you want to lessen inflammation, eat a vegetarian diet. I’ve learned that omega 6 increases inflammation, while omega 3 is healing. I’ve learned that a homeopathic muscle relaxer is more useful than a prescription one because it doesn’t make me have brain fog. It is also used for anxiety.

I’m meditating on that – do we tense up because we are anxious, or are we anxious because our muscles are tense? I’ve already written on this a little, and I think it is a key point.

I’ve learned things on my own as well. Pain shows up in ways other than pain. Sometimes the body tries to shield us from pain and so we don’t know we are hurting. The adrenal system is a great thing up to a point, but it can handle only so much. I’m learning it is important to recognize the signs of the adrenal system trying to take over and masking the pain before things get out of hand.

Pain makes me hungry. I crave salty snacks a lot right now. I’m hungry when I shouldn’t be hungry. I suspect this is a lot like when I realized the connection between PMS and cramps many years ago. Yield to the cravings and have terrible cramps. Notice them, but don’t succumb, and have a pain free time. I’m trying to do this now but the pain induced craving is really sneaky.

Funny how my body is trying to get me to eat the very things that will actually make things worse. Salt causes inflammation. Inflammation causes pain.

Our bodies don’t always know what is best for us, so it is up to us to use our minds. The bad part is that we don’t always know we are being misled. We think we are legitimately craving something we need, and we don’t. Our minds have to be the drivers, but sometimes our bodies carjack us.

Pain makes me tired. I never knew how exhausting pain is. I was absolutely wiped out last Tuesday. I was really bored being at home by myself. I’d been home from work for five days and I hadn’t been alone all of that, but enough that it was getting old. I went to eat at a buffet and it was very hard. It was hard to get there. It hurt to sit. I’m starting to think the Roman idea of reclining to eat has a lot of merit. When I was done I went to my car and just drove home. I’d had other small errands to do but I didn’t have the energy to do them.

This morning I was trying to write while sitting at the computer and I had the same problem I had last night. My lumbago was getting worse, and the pain was spreading to my side. I got up to lay down in the living room and nearly blacked out.

I’ve recently learned that too is part of the adrenal system. When I was at the chiropractor’s, the assistant took my blood pressure while I was sitting, and again while I was standing. The first number should be 10 points higher when standing. It was just 2.

I took a “body scan” of myself at that time and analyzed how I felt. Anxious. Unsettled. Nervous. A little dizzy and spacey in my head. Turns out that is the adrenal system covering pain. I felt pain and didn’t even realize how bad it was because my body was covering up for it.

Meanwhile the pain kept going on and I kept not getting relief for it. I didn’t know I needed relief. I didn’t know I was in pain.

How many people do we encounter who are in pain and they don’t even know it? They are irritable and difficult to deal with and they don’t even realize why? Whether the pain is physical or emotional makes no difference. Pain is pain, whatever the source. I’m of the opinion that the line between mental and physical is blurry at best.

I think I’ve found the tip of the iceberg. I think I’ve found a piece of the puzzle. I think I’ve found part of my calling, part of what I was created for.

I’m grateful for this pain, this experience, this lumbago. I’m grateful for the lesson this pain is teaching me. It took laying on my back to see things in a whole new way.

Black and white – self respect and expecting the good

I saw a story about twin girls who were born – one was black and one was white. Both parents were half black and half white – and the genes had shuffled around and produced an all-white and an all-black child. I saw another story about a woman who gave birth to a white child, and she and her partner were both black. Both mother and child were genetically tested and it was proven that she had not cheated – the child was hers.

We can go into the concept of even using the term “black” versus “African-American” if we want, but the parents in this case weren’t in America, so they aren’t “African-American” themselves. Plus, my “African-American” friends frequently use the term “black” to describe themselves. Morgan Freeman says we shouldn’t use any term – just talk about people as people. But that isn’t going to work either.

Because we do have different experiences. We see the world differently. The world sees us differently. Every person is viewed, is judged, based on their appearance. Some of it we have a choice about – do we present ourselves as rich, as concerned about our image, as lazy, as bohemian, as eccentric…you get the point. Actors know about this. If you want people to see you a certain way, you can change how you are seen.

But you can’t change your race. That is a lot of surface area to cover. You can’t just put on a different hat and have people think you are a different person. It isn’t that simple.

I remember a study where people were applied with stage makeup. They had fake scars put on themselves. They noticed that people treated them differently. A little later in the study, the participants went through the makeup process, but didn’t get the scars put on. They were not allowed to look in a mirror either time – with, or without the fake scar. Even without the scar, they reported that people treated them differently. They still thought they had the scar, and they thought that other people were reacting to them as if they had the scar.

Really what they were reacting to was the participant’s fear and hesitation about being judged for having a scar – which wasn’t there.

So there is something internal about this.

I remember when I lived in Chattanooga I was working at a record store. A black lady was standing in front of me getting help. A white lady came in and, not noticing that I was helping another person, asked for help. She was standing about 10 feet away. I indicated that I was helping another person, and I’ll help her in a little bit. She noticed the other lady, apologized, and continued to look around the store, patiently waiting for me. Two days later, the reverse situation happened. I was helping a white lady, and a black lady came in and asked for help. I said the exact same thing to her – that I was helping this lady in front of me and I’ll help her as soon as possible. She stormed out.

For me to treat people differently because of their race is racist.
For them to assume that I’m treating them differently because of my race is racist.

I’ve heard and read plenty of discussion saying that black people can’t be racist. There is something about their definition of racist that isn’t in the dictionary. They use issues of power – of higher versus lower. They say that the racist is someone who has power in the situation. Their argument is that since a black person does not have power, she can’t be racist.

The definition of racist has nothing to do with this. It is to treat someone differently because of their race. Power has nothing at all to do with it. We’ve added that extra flavor to it, but when we do we miss the point.

To deny that there is a problem because you don’t like how it is being defined is a problem.

There was another situation in Chattanooga that I’ll never forget. I was about twenty years old. I was in a store in a mall and I saw a lady holding a child. They were both black. I had no way of knowing the gender of the child (babies are rather ambiguous – this is why some people get little girl’s ears pierced) and no way of knowing if this was the child’s mom or grandmother or aunt. I didn’t want to say “How is your little girl?” and get an earful. So I said “How is this one?” Oh – that was the wrong thing to say. “How dare you say ‘this one’! ‘This one’ is a child!” It went on and on. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say. The more I think she just was waiting to be offended.

These situations in Chattanooga made me not want to talk to a black person ever again.

Then I moved to the DC area. I was overwhelmed with the difference. There was no chip on the shoulder. There was no sense of “you owe me”. Each person, regardless of race, talked to me the same. There was no sense of ‘higher’ or ‘lesser’ – they weren’t acting from a sense of having a scar that they thought I was reacting to. There was no “you owe me” mentality. It was refreshing. I see this kind of healthy attitude in Nashville too, and I’m encouraged, but there is still work to be done.

How much of people’s reactions to you come from your sense that they are going to react to you? I’m remembering The Dog Whisperer here – he would walk into a room with a dog that was uncontrollable. He would walk in calm and assured, and the dog would react totally differently. He expected calmness, and the dog became calm. How many of us forget that we are animal at the core? We are human, but we respond on an instinctual level to energy. If we expect bad, we are going to find it. If we expect good, we are going to find it.

If we lead the way expecting people to treat us badly, then we will find that is true. People give us what we expect. So it is time to expect good. Lead the way.

It is time to wipe the chalkboard clean and start over. I am tired of the old rules of behavior being applied to me. I didn’t own anybody’s family. I wasn’t raised in luxury. I am not to blame for all that has happened in the past. I will not take the blame for something I have no control over.

I’m trying to do what I can to make things better, but there has to be some meeting in the middle. I try to treat everyone the same. Respect. Common courtesy. Civility. But I expect the same in return. This is regardless of race.

It is my responsibility to help break down these walls, but it is also the responsibility of black people to stop building them up.

Why I wear equal-armed crosses.

I love equal armed crosses. They look like plus signs, rather than crucifixes. Sometimes they are known as Greek Crosses, but I’ve also seen the design in Tibetan double dorjes. There is something powerful about this image. I understand it as (from North to South) meaning “Heaven” and (from West to East) meaning “Earth”. Thus, when the two are joined, it means Heaven meeting Earth. It means God is with us, here, now. It means that God isn’t “up there” but “right here”.

I like this symbol far more than the image of a cross with a naked dead body on it. There is something really gory about using a dead guy as a symbol of faith. I get the whole “Jesus died for our sins” concept, but I’d rather think of Jesus being proof that God is real, that He cares about us, and that He wants us to live and love in this way – to serve all people in the same way that Jesus did.

I’m really wrestling with the idea of “Jesus died for our sins”. I’m not really a fan of it. We are human. We are faulty. We make mistakes. That is part of the package. The more I focus on the fact that I can’t be perfect, the further I get from where I need to be. I understand the Jewish concept of atonement – that you’d make some mistake and you’d have to pay for it by some innocent animal being sacrificed for you. So the idea of Jesus is the same. He’s the firstborn, unblemished male – just like what is prescribed for atonement. He was sacrificed – he took on the sins of the world.

Great. Now I have that to feel guilty for. My sins caused this totally innocent guy to get crucified. Crucifixion is a horrible way to go. Long, slow – you suffocate to death.

I feel guilty eating animals. I don’t see why they have to die so I can live. So why would I get some amount of peace from this perfectly innocent person being put to death so I can have eternal life?

This makes no sense.

I’d rather focus on what Jesus did. He stood up to the religious authorities of the day. He broke rules that stood in the way of what really needed to happen. He healed people on the Sabbath. He healed people who were “unclean”. He touched people who were considered outcasts. He hung out with the forgotten, the ignored, the “least of these.” He taught that God is real, not some story in a picture book.

He took away the authority and power from the educated authorities and gave it away to the street people. His disciples weren’t educated or special. He found them doing their jobs and asked them to follow him. They dropped everything they had and started to help him out. I know I don’t have that kind of discipline. Most of us don’t.

Here’s another reason I like equal armed crosses. Because they aren’t crucifixes, they aren’t immediately associated with Christians. I’m a little wary of that association. There are plenty of people who say they are Christian and they use it as an excuse to attack gays, women, immigrants – well, everyone who isn’t married, white, and American.

Jesus wasn’t American, and he wasn’t white. And he never married. Jesus tells us a lot about love and not judging, yet too many “Christians” forget this and focus on the words of Paul rather than Jesus. Anybody who quotes Paul to me as justification for their reason to exclude people just doesn’t get it. And I’m sorry for them.

Perhaps I should say I am a follower of “the Way” – the old term that the early Jesus followers used. Or that I’m all about the Tao of Jesus. That has a certain ring to it.

I’d rather have no church buildings and no ministers. We are told to build up our treasures in Heaven – yet we spend all this money on stained glass windows and altars and vestments. Meanwhile people are still homeless and starving. We are told to not call anyone Rabbi or teacher – because we have just one Father in heaven. Yet we do these things. How have we gotten so far away from the Source?

Something has to change.

I know I’m not alone in thinking this. It is like we have become addicted to the IDEA of Jesus. And we’ve put so much on him and around him that we’ve forgotten how simple it is to just let him work through us and in us and on us, to use us to heal the wounds.

I don’t feel guilty really for Jesus dying for me, I feel guilty that he died and it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. People are still people, and still faulty. People are still using religion as an excuse to attack and kill other people.

Sure, there are some that get it. There are some that work in food banks. There are some that volunteer at shelters.

But remember the song “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Sadly, this isn’t true. It is hard to tell people you are Christian. They clam up. They get self-conscious. They stop being themselves. They think you are going to judge them – and with good reason.

We have to change this. We have to be the change in the world. We have to stop talking about Jesus and start BEING Jesus.

Sure, I don’t have all the answers. Sure, I’ve mentioned this before. But I think about it every morning when I go to put on a necklace that I want to be a good example of love, and that I don’t feel comfortable wearing a cross to do it. And something feels wrong about that. It isn’t the world’s fault. It is the Church’s fault. We are only as strong as our weakest link – and that is the WBC, that is Swaggart, Roberts, Osteen, etc. That is all the “ministers” who use Jesus as a moneymaker. That is all the megachurches that are so big they could house half a city’s amount of homeless, but don’t. That is us.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.