Mortality at the doctor’s office

Mortality is a funny thing.  Awareness of it comes in brief flashes, at random times throughout our lives.  It can often come at what may at first seem like such an inopportune time, but is more likely to be right when needed.  One such moment happened for me the other day when I had a preliminary sleep test done.  Turns out I am having an event about every 4 minutes while I sleep where my O2 levels drop and my average oxygen amount is on the low-end of what doctors want.  So it’s off for more tests to see about an official diagnosis this week.

Now, I have to follow this up by saying that I dislike doctors, I hate hospitals and clinics, and am just generally unhappy with the medical profession.  This is nothing personal against the number of heroic and wonderful people who willingly give care to millions of people each and every day.  And when I am in to see them I try to be the best behaved patient they meet for that day.  But in part because of having spent many…MANY days and nights dealing with chronic health issues for years and years, I am increasingly leery as I get older, of going in to see a doctor for anything.

But back to this test…

As I was reading up online (actual reputable places like WebMD, etc), I began to realize just how easy it would be for me to not wake up sometime and why my doctor was so insistent that I get this test done.  I called him back to set up the follow-up so here we are.  But it made me wonder about my life, will I be here for when Boo gets married, for when D gets hitched?  How many more years do I have and more importantly, what am I doing with them?  When Boo asks for my attention, did I really give it to her?  Did I play and focus on creating memories and stories that will last long past the time I’m gone?  When D calls or texts, have I done enough to show D how I feel and how proud I AM of the good things D has done in life?

It also made me think about my father, who also has breathing problems (he’s got a CPAP, although it’s not helping as much as we’d like) and the fact that he turns 72 in just a few months.  I honestly am not sure what to do without him in my life and I don’t even like thinking about it.  My mother is 68, so it’s not like either one of them is a spring chicken anymore.  But there is something terrifying I think when you think about losing your parents.  Even more so than when considering losing your grandparents, which I have done years ago.  It’s that lack of a buffer between you and the end.  That creeping sense of the grains of sand leeching through the hour-glass.  Am I ready to deal with the world without their guidance and sure hand helping me?  Have I told them everything I want them to know?  What about the questions I still haven’t found the answers to (most notably, at what point do you finally figure out this whole “growing-up” thing?)?

This is not to say that I am suddenly in a panic, desperately trying to flee from whatever happens.  I’m not.  My faith helps me feel secure in what comes after, and I am trying to improve the quality of the time AS WELL AS the quantity of time I spend with people, but it’s just been weighing on me more lately, as I reconsider my words, my actions and the priorities of my time.  I want everyone I come in contact with to feel the love of the creator, to understand that they are precious and that this gift we call life is fragile and fleeting…but also that it is vibrant and strong.

I needed this.  My father used to tell a story when he was preaching (yeah, he was a minister too), about a mule that would do anything you asked…but first you had to hit it with a 2×4 to get its attention.  It was a metaphor he used to talk about our relationship to God, the world and each other.  And Lord knows I have spent plenty of days wandering around without purpose or focus or otherwise knowing what I was doing and not appreciating what was around me.  I have had many 2×4 moments in my life.  This was another one.

I hope the time I am given is being well-spent.

I hope you know that whether we have been friends for years, are casual acquaintances or strangers new met, that I look forward to knowing more about you and hope nothing but the best for you.

I hope the Creator blesses you to be a blessing upon creation, in whatever form or fashion that takes.

I hope you know that you are loved.

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Voting with my heart and my mind…

I struggled this week as I listened to political commentary and exchanged a series of point/counter-point arguments with people on my Facebook wall.  It’s not that I struggle with where I stood necessarily.  It’s that I struggled to understand where people were coming from.  I’ve mentioned it before in previous posts, I feel like an outsider a lot of times as I listen and talk to people.  A perfect case in point, in my state (Missouri), the state senate overruled the veto of a bill they had passed that prevented local communities from setting a higher standard minimum wage than the state sets.

I would argue that this was a classic case of larger government overreach (for those who say such things are a problem).  Outsiders at Jeff City, the state capitol, were telling other communities in our state how they could and couldn’t regulate local business policy.  The biggest supporter of the veto override was the state Chamber of Commerce and other big businesses.  The local petition to raise the minimum wage had over 100k signatures on it from registered voters.

Yet the same people who argue against government overreach were in many cases the same people who voted to overturn the governor’s veto and so prevent local control.

I point this out because it presents what to me, is the seeming contradiction of the modern Republican party.  It says that it wants smaller government and less government intrusion, but that has proven true only as long as the policies in question align with their own perceptions.  The GOP intrusion into end of life choices, abortion, opposition to same-sex marriage and more are perfect examples of where they are perfectly happy to have the government interfere with people’s lives, but heaven help you if you mess with people’s business.  They don’t want to regulate the money only their version of morality…whether you agree with it or not.  It’s the main reason I registered as a Democrat… not particularly because I am enthralled by the Democratic position, but because I cannot stomach the Republican one.

It’s also the reason I have become such a fan of Bernie Sanders.  He is, in my opinion, the most honest and authentic person running this race and while I don’t agree with him on everything, to me he seems to have his heart in the right place and I am happy to be a part of his political revolution.  #FeeltheBern

Reflections on the odd…

I don’t know why I am such an oddball.

It may simply be a factor of my perception, but I look through my friends’ social media accounts, we visit in person, I watch tv and listen to the radio and people chatting in stores and I wonder, truly and often, “What on earth are they thinking?”  I am not saying this to come across as superior or condescending, while acknowledging that can certainly be how it is perceived.  It is more a matter of truly not understanding how people can hold some of the beliefs that they do.  I think that is one of the reasons I so enjoy honest, respectful debates with people who disagree with me.  I WANT to learn more about what makes them tick.  I WANT to try and understand why they think, feel and see the world the way they do.

One of the things that Bernie Sanders, currently running for president of the US, recently said to a respectful, if not exactly thrilled, arena of conservatives was that “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”  And I truly believe in this.  The ideals of community that my denomination feels that we are called to create are not communities of conformity.  They are communities that recognize the worth of all persons.  Communities that welcome everyone in.  Not just the ones who look, act and think like the majority.

It is helpful I suppose to explain that in my upbringing I think there were several factors that gave me a somewhat unique perspective of the world that do not allow me to easily integrate with my peers.  First off, I was raised in a denomination that if people had heard of it at all either thought it was a cult or part of a totally different church altogether.  We were emerging from a period in our history where we thought that as a church, we had the “one TRUTH” that all other churches were lacking.  It was a tumultuous time in our denomination’s history, full of excitement, hurt and change.  It also meant that I didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to about religion, in a place and time where religion WAS family (post-script, it is family again now after years of wandering).  Most of my neighbors were Catholic, Baptist and the occasional Lutheran or Methodist.  I was one of less than 5 Community of Christ kids in almost every town I grew up in.

I was also raised in a multi-faith extended family.  On my mother’s side, my aunt and cousins were Jewish, both by blood and by religion.  My Christmas for years consisted of playing Dreidel and lighting the Menorah candles, while one of my cousins told the story and then going in the other room to read the Christmas story from the scriptures and singing Christmas carols.  As an adult I find more and more that I miss that piece of my childhood.  Sharing in the different faiths that made up my family.  I also have cousins and other family who are Pagan and Agnostic.  But down deep we know that being family is what still connects us.  In many ways this is how I understand being a part of the family of God.

Both of my parents were ministers, as were all four of my grandparents.  I was also raised in a household of educators.  My father was an elementary teacher and principal for 35 years and my mother was a high-school and college instructor.  Knowledge and reason helped to provide the foundation for how we understood the world, how we found strength in our faith and what our part in taking care of the world was.

On the flip side I was also a theatre major and spent years finding a second home in the welcoming embrace of those gypsies, geeks, freaks and oddballs who made up the various theatre groups I was a part of over the years.  They are in many ways still some of my closest and best friends and family.  It was weird being an active and believing Christian surrounded by people whose view of faith tended to be extremely divergent from my own.  But it was also very humbling to be part of such a community of people whose own struggles had made them keen to accept anyone who wanted to truly join the community they had created.  While I may have attended church, they lived it, although I know a number of them who would shudder to think of it in those terms.  🙂

Additionally, I started working in social work at a very young age.  At 14 I began volunteering my summers at a Christian camp for children who had been victims of abuse.  The abuse could range from physical, mental, emotional, sexual to sometimes all of the above.  For a time, we would be paired one-on-one with these children as the camp provided a place of sanctuary for them.  Many of the children had been taken from their homes and placed with other relatives or in the foster program and over the years that I participated in the camps (about five years all told), I heard and saw many horrific examples of people’s inhumanity to the most vulnerable among us including in the lives of my nephews and sister.

But I also saw the incredible strength and resilience of these children as some came back years later to be counselors themselves and the power of love and acceptance in making a difference in these children’s lives.  Sitting on top of a 7-year-old boy and wrestling a stolen kitchen knife away from him, to keep him from stabbing one of the girls at 11pm is one of the most heartbreaking memories I have.  But seeing a child, so badly abused that he will never walk or talk normal again, raise his voice to share in front of the group his hopes and fears for the future, of having a family and wishing to somehow be normal…seeing the love of these kids as they gather around him to show him how much he is loved and accepted as he is, is one of the most cherished memories I have.

I worked in Domestic Violence shelters and Runaway programs for teens for years before finally hitting burnout.  The stress, frustrations and hurts that Social Service workers, Police and other emergency personnel experience is real and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.  But it cost me my first two marriages, lots of sleepless nights, struggles with alcohol and depression.  There is a reason that people in these professions are so hurt.  It’s not because we don’t care, but because we care so much and we see so much misery around us.  We share a common desire to help our fellow human beings and often get frustrated when we can’t “fix” the problems we see.

I have been held-up at gun point.  I have lost people close to me to violence.  I understand, at least on some level, what it is like to have your life threatened.  I don’t ever want to face those circumstances again, but I also know that should that happen I will do everything I can to save those I care about EXCEPT take another life.  In my understanding and belief I cannot do it, nor can I condone it, not even to “save” those I love the most.

This partly comes from my journey as I ran away from church, tried other religions and none and finally found my way back to my roots.  If I truly believe that God shelters and protects me, than it is not my place to save my life through violence.  Martin Luther King and Ghandi had a lot of influence on this as well and will probably be covered more in future posts.

I love to read, to learn and to experience new things.  I want to be challenged on my beliefs, so that I may reexamine them and ensure that they still fit my understanding of the world.  I want to share in the faiths of my friends, but more importantly I want to share in the LIVES of my friends.  Building relationships is so much more a part of what I feel called to do than building church buildings.

I have a dirty sense of humor sometimes.  I have learned to live with the desires of my previous addictions to alcohol, smoking and porn, without giving in to them.   I yell, I scream at people I love sometimes.  I’m not great with money.  I lie.

But I also work on being a better person each day.  One who can look upon each person I meet as an opportunity to build a better world.  To leave this place a little bit better than I found it.  I don’t do this by telling them that I know what it means to be a “sinner” and then shaming or demeaning them into believing like me.  I do it by telling them my own struggles, by empathizing with their questions and accepting their conclusions, giving them space to grown into the person they are meant to be.  I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I make, I strive to make peace with people I have hurt or angered.  I try to understand.

I don’t know why this is such a hard thing for other people to understand.  I only know it sometimes feels like there are only a handful of us out there trying to live this way, but we do it because for us the world could be such a beautiful place if we can get even another one or two to see it through our eyes.

I may be the oddball… but what if I wasn’t?

Foundations

For me these two documents – 1.) http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/uploads/Einstein%20on%20Why%20Socialism.pdf
and
2.) http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/Sharing-in-Community-of-Christ-3rd-edition.pdf

best lay out the foundations for why I believe what I do… about family, faith, community, politics and the world.

The first lays out an influential essay by Albert Einstein on why he supported (little-s) socialism versus the capitalism that currently drives our society.  It includes some additional thoughtful commentary and links afterwards that I think is well worth the read although the entire thing can be a little thick.

The second is a publication by my denomination, Community of Christ, and lays out the foundations of our faith.  We are a non-creedal church so belief in these ideas is not required for membership, but this is the official church policy and largely mirrors my own understanding and belief.

I share these out of a desire to help explain why I say and do the things I do, not necessarily out of a desire to change or convert you to my way of thinking.  I do this because, as Bernie Sanders said recently to a crown of students at Liberty University, “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Loving the little (and not-so-little) ones…

I am having a hard time with the whole growing up thing.  Not for me you understand, I am pretty sure most people who know me gave up on that a long time ago.  But for my children Boo and D, both for entirely different reasons.

It is perhaps a bit easier to explain in Boo’s case than D’s.  For Boo, for the first time, I am getting to experience fully the joy of being a full-time parent from birth onward.  I have been there for her first steps, her first words, teething, midnight feedings and the like.  But now, suddenly out of nowhere it feels like, I have a 2-yr old toddler who is convinced that she is ready now to take on the world.  And as much as I love watching her brain grown and her personality develop (although I am panicking a little bit at how to successfully raise a strong-headed girl), I miss the quiet times with her curled up on my chest, carrying her around everywhere and watching her grow.  If I could I think I would go through this with her 10 times and probably still find new things to marvel over.  And no, I don’t really want 10 more kids… I’m fine with the ones I’ve got thank you very much.

Boo_driving

As for D, the challenge comes in many more complex flavors.  D turns 18 this year and has successfully completed the HiSet test (which is the state replacement of the old GED for people who drop out of school).  D scored high enough on most categories that D is considered college ready and I really don’t feel old enough to have a college student yet.  Then there have been my recent conversations with D lately.  They are beginning to show glimmers of the adult that I had always hoped D would be, but that had gotten lost in the drugs and other poor choices D had been making.  It gives me hope that D will eventually come to terms with whomever D decides to be and that D can grow out of the past mistakes.  I just hope that when that time comes that both of us are in a place where I don’t miss the chance to reconnect with the person blooming now and that the consequences we have had to put in place to protect all of us don’t stay between us forever.

D auto-repairing

I sometimes wonder if I’m a good parent.  I think most any parent worth their salt does at least once every now and then.  But sometimes, I wish there was a way to know ahead of time, you know like a test.  Something empirical and scientific.  But then you have the results…  what happens if you get an “F”?

Part of me wonders about all this I think because I have had several acquaintances (friends of friends) lose their teenage children to suicide. And if I go back to look, the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my fifth grader handed me a note after school one day that said “Sometimes I think about killing myself.”  I have been most blessed in that D decided to NOT take that final fatal step.

Another part of me wonders about all this because of what happened to that little Syrian boy who drowned while trying to cross to Europe with his family.  What would I NOT do to help my little girl?  I am so very very grateful that my life has never been so desperate for safety, shelter and peace that I have had to make the decision to flee to somewhere else and face the many challenges that come with that, nor that I have ever had to pay the price these parents did…

syrian-migrant-boy-turkey

……

When will we learn that our anger, our intransigence, our pride are what are killing these precious ones?  As surely as any bullets fired from a gun.  Shame on us for acting otherwise.  Shame on us for not doing more.

As I start raising Boo, restarting the process as it were, and keep trying to build a positive relationship with my oldest, I look back on my previous mistakes and hope that I can learn from them.  I hope both my children grow into the promising young people I see when I look at them.  I hope they know how much they are still loved, even when they drive me nuts.

I hope the little boy’s family find their peace.  I hope he knew how much he was loved.

Because at the end of the day, I want my children to help create a world where pictures like the one above never happen again.  Where ALL people are welcomed as part of our common human family.  Where we can ALL find peace.  And where ALL people can come together in a moment of tragedy to say join in one voice and say, “No more!”

Religious Liberty vs The Law

This probably isn’t news anymore, but here’s a little secret that many in ministry don’t like to discuss openly…we struggle too.  We struggle everyday with feelings of inadequacy, failure, anger, hurt.  We wrestle with the big questions, wonder if our faith is big enough, strong enough.  We worry about all the answers we don’t have, about the answers we do.  And these are on top of all the things that we face just because we’re human just like you and we have lives and jobs and families and responsibilities that weigh on us.

Some of these struggles are caused by internal things.  But others are caused by external stimuli; things that happen that we feel like we have to react to, or not react to as the case may be.  For me one of the most difficult struggles recently has been Ms. Davis’ stand against issuing marriage licenses in KY lately.  Well, I suppose in many ways that’s not entirely true.  It’s not so much her stand as it is all of the noise out of both sides of the issue that I think are obscuring the most important issues at play here.

The first is that these are people involved in this standoff.  Real people, who have family, people who love them, both the couples trying to get married and Ms. Davis herself.  These people have hopes, desires, beliefs; they get hurt, they are struggling with the situation that they find themselves in and they are both being held up as something larger than themselves by activists on both the Right and the Left.  It magnifies and intensifies every aspect of what is already a painful and stressful situation.

The second can best be summed up by the meme below:

ReligiousLaw_meme

However, it’s not entirely that simple either.  (And please note, I am NOT comparing Ms. Davis’ stand to Osama’s murders, but to the rationale behind each one’s stance)

Saying that religious beliefs should be protected and promoted above the law of the land is great if it’s a belief that you agree with.  At that point, sure, what’s the harm in making MY thoughts and MY beliefs that supreme figure of our nation…except that not everyone shares those same thoughts and same beliefs.  What if the religious beliefs being supported are for a religion you disagree with, or are afraid of?  Will you still support those decisions?  And at what point can and should the government intervene?  Be very careful with how much intervention you ask for.  It opens the door to many many unintended consequences…just talk to Hobby Lobby and the Satanic Temple in Detroit.  Pretty sure those two groups never thought they’d have something in common until after Hobby Lobby won their lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

I am not saying that I agree with Ms. Davis, because I don’t.  But I don’t want to dismiss her thoughts and beliefs out of hand either.  As a believer, even one with different beliefs than Ms. Davis, how much do I want the government to force me to do something against my religion?  Because that’s what we’re talking about here.  Personally I think she should just resign.  Or barring that, reassign her to another position and give her duties to someone who can fully carry out the responsibilities of that office.

But to see my first point above, Ms. Davis is a person.  She may be biased against full LGBT rights, but does demonizing her or sending death threats to her house and family make the position of those who disagree with her any stronger?  One of the most powerful forces of the Civil Rights Movement was that it was the persecuted being arrested, not those doing the persecuting.  I fear that this request of gov’t involvement will reframe the discussion in a way that is harmful to the LGBT community for decades to come.

I am also a believer in the building of community, not tearing it down.  And that means living with and dealing with people who agree with me AND people who do not agree with me.  I look at my Facebook wall and the many posts from members and other ministers in my denomination (and other denominations) about this and other decisive topics and I see so much hurt, anger and feelings that run so strongly there seems to be no way for us to hear each other…let alone manage to have a civil conversation about it or attempt to understand why the other person feels the way they do.

It may be a vain hope, but I will keep trying to get people to listen to each other.  Not to change their points of view, but perhaps to more fully see each other as someone of worth.  To understand that in order for our community to grow and be healthy we need ALL of us.  Not just the ones we like.

“Another shooting?…oh well.”

I recommend starting with the link below, then read the rest of my post…

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/columbine-15-years-later

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this blogger is saying, it begs the following question in my mind.  Does our response have to be “Oh well?”  One of the more powerful sentences to my mind, in this piece is about half-way down, where the author states:

Both responses, “never again” and “don’t bother trying,” offer statements about the USA. The former says “America is the greatest country on Earth. We went to the moon. Surely, we can stop kids from getting shot to death at school! If the Brits can do it, so can we. ” The latter says, “No, we can’t. We’re America. The greatest country on Earth and the cost of the liberty that makes us so is that our kids may get shot to death at school.”

Does it have to be an either or picture?  I can’t help but feeling like that’s not the answer.  Certainly in my denomination we do not view it as an either or.  There are plenty of people I know, good law abiding citizens who own guns and are responsible people.  They have them because they enjoy hunting, because they feel the need to have one for home defense, because they enjoy collecting them and more.  The reasons are about as varied as the people themselves.  I am not inclined to take those guns away from them.  Nor am I inclined to punish all of them for something someone else does.  That’s not the America I know or grew up in.

But neither am I content to just sit back and say that the price of liberty is the occasional mass shooting of civilians by our own people.  The problem it seems like is that for some people any regulation is too much.  People must be free to own and/or have whatever guns they want and anything else is a government conspiracy.  I put the blame for this kind of hysteria squarely at the feet of the NRA.  Far from being a force for good and responsible gun ownership in this country (at least at the political level, I’m not talking about your local chapter or whatever), they have become a collection of reflexively anti-gun control nuts who themselves are as much a jack-booted thug as they ever accused the government of being.  By their refusal to even let the debate happen we seem to be sliding more and more to the “don’t bother trying” side of the ledger, at least in my mind.  I am okay if the NRA doesn’t like a legislative proposal, but give me logic, statistics and reasons behind it and let me see it for myself.  Don’t try to use fear-mongering and hysteria to control the debate.

The same goes for the Brady Anti-Gun organization.  Understand that there are plenty of people for whom guns are a part of their life.  They are responsible people who don’t consider their demands to be unreasonable.  We have to listen and give credence to their concerns as much as to our own.

I don’t know what the answer to this issue is.  I know listening to each other, and to the survivors of those who have lost, MUST be a part of the solution.  But I don’t know, if the price required of our liberty truly is accepting that every so often we will have another mass shooting of innocents… is that really and truly a liberty worth having?