She said no.

I just read a news story about an 11-year-old boy who killed an eight-year-old neighbor girl because she said no.

She didn’t say no about sex. It wasn’t over something so charged with emotion as sex.

It was over a puppy.

He wanted to see her new puppy and she refused. So he went inside his house and picked up a gun and shot her.

It is so easy to say that this is a matter of a parent not locking up their guns. He was easily able to open up the closet door, pull out a shotgun and shoot this girl in the chest, killing her instantly. That is certainly an issue. But more than gun-control, we need to have people control. How have we gotten to the point where young boys feel that the way to deal with rejection is to kill? How have we gotten to the point where being told “no” means someone has to die?

It is to the point where we really shouldn’t be afraid of Muslim men with guns. What we need to be afraid of are young white boys with guns. They are responsible for far more murders in America these days than anyone else.

This has nothing to do with “America being a Godless nation” as some commentators say. You don’t need religion to know you should not kill someone.

Perhaps violent videogames are to blame. Perhaps neglectful parenting is to blame. Perhaps this kid (and all the other ones, too many to name) were left alone for too long, ignored, left to fend for themselves, unguided, unwanted. Perhaps it is all of this, and more. Whatever the reason(s), we as a nation need to figure it out soon, because too many deaths have already occurred.

I feel the root of this particular murder is the word “no” – and how he handled it.

If he didn’t kill her over this, it is entirely possible that he would grow up to assault or rape a different woman who told him “no”. Is this what our society has come to, where women cannot say “no” for fear of being harmed? Is this what our society has come to, where men can’t hear the word “no” without causing harm?

There was no way to predict that this would have happened. He asked to see her puppy. She said no. So he killed her. Something doesn’t add up. This equation does not lead logically from one step to another. And that is the problem. We say we want to stop gun violence, but deep down if we are being honest we really just want to not be the victim of gun violence. It has become random, uncertain, chaotic. Anyone can be a victim.

Long gone are the days where attacks follow a logical pattern. Someone was abused for years and kills his abuser. Someone was in a “bad” part of town and got mugged. Someone got into a fight and got shot.

These days, just going to school can be dangerous. Just going to the movies can get you murdered. There is no logic to it. All the victims are innocent. Often they aren’t even known by their murderer.

Why are there too many guns and not enough parents teaching their children right from wrong? Sometimes it isn’t even as easy or simple as that. Sometimes the parents need a few lessons themselves. Often the parents are less than stable. Giving birth does not suddenly improve intelligence or aptitude. It isn’t a surprise when their kids go off the deep end.

Stronger gun laws will only result in a greater imbalance. More “bad” people will have guns. They don’t obey laws anyway, so gun laws will benefit them and harm everyone else. It is too late to regulate guns – there are too many out there. What we need is to regulate people.

We need to teach our children from an early age how to handle loss, rejection, and pain. We need to teach them how to deal with their feelings, good and bad. We need to teach them how to be with other people in healthy ways, ways that are life-affirming. We need to teach people how to have dialogue versus having debate. We need to teach people about many other cultures and ways of thinking, so they learn there are many ways of seeing and understanding.

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.

Peacemaker – heal thyself.

I am feeling very grateful and blessed right now. I’ve just been granted the opportunity to take a class in nonviolent conflict resolution at a price I can afford. Then when I mentioned it to a member of the library administration, he suggested it may be possible to do it for free, with the library paying the difference. And then facilitate such meetings for the library. Basically, get paid to make peace and foster understanding, right where I am.

I feel like a door is opening.

It isn’t opening on its own. I’ve done a lot of work to get here.

Many years ago I was afraid to go anywhere but my neighborhood. I was afraid of driving. My bipolar disorder had scared me into staying close to home. I’d gone a few hours away from home years ago and had enough of a problem with my disorder that all my stuff had to be packed up for me and I had to be driven home. It was embarrassing. It was frightening. It was enough to keep me from traveling by myself for many years.

And then I decided that I could not let this diagnosis define me. I could not let it tell me what to do. So I started pushing myself. I started taking classes, on my own, downtown. Sure, it isn’t another city, but downtown Nashville has always scared me. Well, really it is the drivers and not the destination, but you get the point.

So I took a class called “Diversity in Dialogue” through the Scarritt Bennett center. That introduced me to the circle process, where people learn how to listen to each other openly. I took a second class to try to understand how the process works. I think that this kind of open, honest communication is what the world most needs.

I also took a class on Pastoral Care. That was far more intensive, but added to my training. It too was downtown, and it challenged me even further.

I attended a “Southern Sulha” – based on the Middle Eastern conflict resolution process.

I tutor students with learning disabilities and/or have English. I’ve done this for at least five years, most recently kindergartners.

I’ve read dozens of books to help me understand different perspectives, different cultures, and how to relate to people.

I keep taking classes and going to events that are all leading toward this goal.

It is like I am doing an independent study, and creating my own curriculum. Some of the classes have been paid for by work or my former church.

What is the thing that unites them?

Peace. Peaceful understanding. People actually listening to each other. Not debating. Being OK with having different viewpoints. There’s more, but that is a good start.

The irony? I don’t talk to my brother. Long time readers of this blog know the story. It was more peaceful to sever the relationship than to continue it. Every time we talked there was a huge misunderstanding and fight. No matter what I said he twisted it into something malicious. It seemed healthier to quit than continue.

Sometimes you have to know how not to do something in order to know how to do it. I know what peaceful communication isn’t. I know what pain results from it. And I also know it takes two to communicate.

Multi-faith prayer beads.

This is a new creation. These are prayer beads, in a whole new way.

bead2

I took three different sets of prayer beads, broke them apart, and then put them back together again. There is no centerpiece, and there is no beginning or end. They are all connected, and they are all one. I have included a fourth faith tradition as well with the number of beads that I used.

bead4

I have Hindu prayer beads, made with rudraksha seeds, said to be the face of Shiva. These are the knobbly brown beads.

I have Christian prayer beads, from a Catholic rosary. These are the ones that are made with iridescent faceted glass.

I have Buddhist prayer beads, made with bone that has been dyed with the OM symbol, to reference the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”

Then I have put them all together so that there are three sets of 11 beads, so there are 33. This references Islamic prayer beads, which sometimes have 33 beads, which are said three times to complete the 99 names of God.

Four faiths, in one chain, hand linked with copper wire, because it is a conductor of electricity and power.
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We are all one. We are all searching for connection with our Creator. We seek unity.
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Here, now, is a visual symbol of it.

9-11-2013

Today is the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. I don’t think we’ll ever forget that day. That day was a landmark day in America – a day where everything changed. It was a day we mark time by, like the day Kennedy was shot, or the day the Challenger shuttle exploded. We changed after those days. We lost some of our innocence.

It is important to remember that just a few people took part in that plan, not an entire religion. We can’t paint everyone with the same brush. This is a country that was founded on religious freedom. The Puritans came here because they wanted to be able to practice religion their way, without persecution. This is part of what makes America amazing. People from all around the world come here to be free.

Yet we stopped being free after that day. We all stopped being able to live freely without the government watching us. We are tracked, photographed, interrogated, and frisked. Our every move, cyber and real, is watched. We can’t get on a plane without being scanned. Our passports and IDs have security features they didn’t have before. Young boys who are any shade of brown are at a risk for murder by cop just for walking down the street.

We are all hyper aware. We are all on our toes. The collective paranoia is a bit much.

Sure, life is a lot safer and saner here than in much of the rest of the world. Bomb blasts aren’t normal. We don’t hear of attacks so often that we are immune to them. They still shock us. Being kidnapped and tortured is still something that doesn’t happen here on a daily basis. We still think we are fairly civilized.

But there is still a lingering fear that we are headed that way.

And while we are fairly enlightened enough to say that not all Muslims are terrorists, we are wary. While we can admit that the Westboro Baptist Church, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart don’t represent all Christians, at least their actions haven’t killed anybody. There is just bombast, not bombs. Their actions result hard feelings and ugliness – but not death.

I want to trust all Muslims, but I don’t. I want Islam to be a religion of peace, but if you judge a tree by its fruits there’s a poison apple there. Sure, there are many many more Muslims who are peaceful than jihadist, just like there are many more Progressive Christians than Fundamentalist. But I’m wary. I’m afraid. I think deep down many Americans are, but don’t have the words for it. We want to be kind and forgiving and trusting, but we hesitate.

I want everyone to be able to follow Creator in the way that they are called to follow their Creator, no matter whether they use the name Jehovah or Allah or any other name, or none at all. We have the same source. I want everybody who lives in America to feel free to live their lives the way they want to live them – up until it infringes on other people being able to live their lives. If someone doesn’t like Western culture – if they think it is too extravagant, too ostentatious, too carnal – then don’t participate in it. It is totally possible to live here and not do any of those things that define average American culture.

The Amish do it.

Instead of attacking what they don’t like, they live their lives as an example. But just as they don’t want to be forced to live life the standard American way, we don’t want to be forced to live life their way. This works for Amish and Muslims and anybody.

There has to be a middle ground. There has to be trust. There has to be dialogue, not debate. It isn’t either-or. It is yes-and. We can live in peace. We can share.

We can all get along. Teach us by example. Show us peace, by living it.

Salon (discovering the elephant)

I’m in the process of creating a “salon” at my house. There will be tea and philosophy. There will probably be wine and cookies too. I’m talking about it here because I think you might want to do the same at your house.

My goal is to “discover the elephant.” Remember the story about the five blind men and the elephant? There are many different versions of it in many faith traditions, and they differ as to what each man thought he was experiencing, but they have the same root meaning. One was touching the leg and thought it was a tree, for instance. Another was touching the tail and thought it was part of a hookah. Each man thought that they had the entire thing before them, and that what they were experiencing was the truth. It was only when they started sharing what they were experiencing did they realize that they were dealing with something far bigger.

So how do you do this? How do you get people together to discover the elephant? Here are some ideas.

There should be no TV or electronic devices. We spend so much of our time these days looking into a screen and not into each other’s eyes. This is intended to be a place where people can be with each other and share their souls. It is a sanctuary for the soul.

I prefer the idea of having everybody sit on low cushions or stools that are on an assortment of carpets, but not everybody may like that. Have different seating options available. People need to feel physically comfortable first.

Encourage each person to bring something from their faith tradition to share, or have a selection of sacred texts available. The goal here is not to convert anyone, but to foster understanding not only within faith traditions, but also towards a bigger understanding.

Each person should be encouraged to talk, but nobody must talk. Everyone must listen fully and respectfully. There will be many different personalities present, and some are more willing to share than others. Be accommodating to different communication styles.

Physically, the space should foster a sense of privacy. This can be done out on a porch if there is no view of neighbors immediately present. The size of the room needs to be considered for the number of people. I’ve got a 12×12 porch, and I think it can hold maybe 6 people. Any more than that and it will feel crowded. Also, you wouldn’t want to put a few people in a huge room with high ceilings. It can be inside or outside.

I encourage the use of candles and focus objects. We humans need a place to send our eyes to and things to play with when things get too intense.

Engage the senses. Have a bell to ring, for instance. Consider using incense – but also be mindful of people with allergies and asthma. Use colorful furnishings.

You want the space to be welcoming but not too intense. All white is too much, but too many colors is too much as well. Seek balance.

Texture is important. If you are going to sit on the floor, how does the carpet feel?

The more physically comfortable you can make the space, the better the conversation will go.

Souls are shy. It may take a while for people to open up. It is a process. Celebrate whatever happens.

Thank each person for coming and sharing themselves.

A change of perspective.

A change of perspective will do you good. Try out different things. Eat at different restaurants. Sit in a different chair. Read a different kind of book.

It is important to have different perspectives. However you see reality isn’t THE reality. It is just your take on it. You will see things from the limitations of your sense organs. Your eyes are different from mine – you might see blues a little better. I might be shorter than you and catch a different angle. Together, if we explain how we see what we are looking at, we will both gain a better understanding of what we see.

Just because someone else sees something differently doesn’t mean that they are wrong and you are right. You are both right, for yourselves. You both have made your decision based on the information that you have. You can both make a more informed decision if you widen your information by sharing.

Don’t be like a small child. The terrible twos are partly called that because children will call out “NO” vehemently when told to do something. They are asserting their independence. They are saying that they are not puppets or pets. They can’t be told what to do. They have their own agendas, and they want to make sure that they are listened to. This is an important phase of growth, but it is important to grow out of too. Don’t say “no” to someone else’s take on something just because it isn’t the way you see it. They might have a piece of the puzzle you are missing.

We are all in this together. Life isn’t about being right and wrong. It is about sharing and listening to each other. It is about dialogue instead of debate. It is about love instead of judgment.

We are all flowers in a garden. Each of us is different on purpose. If we all were the same kind of flower the garden would be very boring. Variety is indeed the spice of life.

We are all instruments in an orchestra. If we were all the same instrument, the song would sound very dull. Be the piccolo or the trombone or the bassoon or the bass drum. Be who you were made to be, and be it to the best of your ability. And in the meantime, learn to appreciate the other instruments for their contribution to the song.

Being jealous of someone else’s success is a waste of your time. The fact that they are successful does not mean that you can’t be successful too. They are successful at being themselves. You are different. Be yourself. Being jealous of someone else is childlike. They haven’t taken away your toy.

I know people who are jealous of people for losing weight. The fact that another person has made the time to exercise and worked up the discipline to eat well does not take away from your ability to do the same. The more time you spend getting mad at another person’s success, the less time you are spending on creating your own. Perhaps you can learn something from the other person’s story that might encourage you. Perhaps you might learn a new way of thinking that will make it easier for you to get healthy.

This all applies to religion as well.

I saw a t-shirt at a New Age shop in Boone, NC with this quote. “There are many paths up the mountain, but at the top, the same bright moon.” I can’t remember the author, and my web search just results in “Asian saying”. I don’t think it matters who said it so much as that it was said. I know plenty of fundamental Christians will freak out over this saying, using the “Jesus is the way…” quote, but they forget that Jesus was all about love, and certainly not about telling everybody off. They also forget that the apostle Paul tells us that in Christ there is no East or West, or male or female or Jew or Gentile, and that Paul himself adapted to the language and customs of whoever he was with.

I like this quote because it seems so simple and so honest. Our goal is God. Keep moving upwards. The closer you get to the top, the more people you are going to see from different faith traditions because the mountain is getting smaller as it goes up. Why do you care how they got there? Are you jealous? Is it “your” God? Or are you concerned for them? Are you afraid that their way might get them lost? Are you so sure of your way? If your way leads you to judge them, then you have a pretty good clue that you are close to falling off the mountain.

There are no shortcuts to success or happiness or enlightenment. They all require an odd balance of hard work and of letting go. I wish you peace on your journey.