Archive for the ‘becoming’ Category

Who am I?

Who are you?

Let me help us both.

We are a multiplicity of overlapping, interacting and changing identities.

I think over my own many morphing identities and my points of awareness of them.

Let me tell you my story, the story of my identity formation, and what it might suggest about what God is doing with us

Let’s start with gender. I grew up as a male in a predominately male household. It was rough and tumble, sock and be socked. My sense of being a male increased when I went to school and there were the girls! Those beautiful creatures! I liked the look of them better than I liked the look of my brothers, but they were a bit scary. What could you say other than to blurt out that you loved them and what then! Awkward! I know. I did that!

There were my summer camp friends, Connie and Beth and Cindy. They were like sisters to me. They were good for me, less threatening than the brothers, and I think they were preparing me for a life of working appropriately and respectfully with females.

There is another thing that I ran into regarding gender. Arriving at college I realized males were being criticized for being unemotional, insensitive, domineering and violent. There was something off about being a male, and yet, while acknowledging the abuses of my kind, I found I was still been able to love myself as male and to develop deep and loving relationships with male friends, especially those who weren’t overly competitive.

At home in my early years I identified more with my mother than my father, her love of art, nature and beauty, and her affection, openly expressed. Watching males who ruled, (my father with his armamentarium of discipline) I began to understand the structural and emotional power of patriarchy, the competitiveness and dominance of males, my own tendencies to dominate, and my hatred of that very thing when in our world it has led to oppression and abuse and shame of females. Later in my professional career, I made it my goal to use the power of my gender to advance women in the positions of power and leadership. I felt as if on a mission to do this.

Besides gender, age is a great shaper of identity. I became acutely aware of my age in my twenties, although every age has his poignant moments of awareness — of it’s time stamp, of the power of time to shape our lives. In my middle to late twenties I felt the cultural push, the societal expectation to get married, to develop a career, to find and initiate my own family. To not do would be a social failure — or so it seemed. We are dominated by the traditional identities we are expected to assume. When I was 27 I met a young woman, Linda, who became a friend, over time a trusted confidant, someone I felt extremely comfortable with, someone I could be myself with. Ah, the freedom to explore what’s inside — what a gift Linda gave to me! Together we made a bond, we came of age, we married, we began to help shape each other’s identities. We created a shared identity, we made a family. We had girls. Rosalind and Laurel. Those years seemed as if they would never end. They did. Age is power to be and do certain things. Certain ages contain more power than others. As I age and lose some physical power I see that age identity keeps shifting.

Racial identity hit me between the eyes when I took my first job as a teacher at a school where 70% of the students were black, 20% Hispanic, the rest a mix of other cultures. I was white, I stood out, white faculty, and my understanding of the power dynamics of race greatly increased. A majority of the teachers were white.

I had an epiphany. I needed to find a connection with the backgrounds of my students, dialogue with them on identity, understand them better, help them sort out their identities. So I found and assigned ethnic literature, and we explored the power dynamics of race through writers like Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Sandra Cisneros. My eyes were opened to how heavily race shaped power in our culture. I saw so many of my students suffering from poor self-esteem, from fear of success, from the criticism of their own community.

I was able to see up-close the emasculation of the black American male by American history. Slavery was one of the powerful institutions that created white privilege and the effects of that remain with us to today. I came to hate racism, passionately, to hate it in myself, and to do everything possible to rid the world of it.

Eventually I took a job as a pastor. As a Christian, I began to grapple with my religious identity and feelings and thoughts about other religions. I was never comfortable with the stereotype of intolerance and judgmental mismanagement that I knew some would place on me. The divide between those with different Christian doctrines and those with different faiths became something to explore and understand, not to fear. Over time I grew in appreciation for others unique struggles to find God. At one time I saw my Christianity as separating me from others, but I eventually came to see it as linking me to others. So many Christians are against so many other groups. They are stuffed with divisive morals and doctrines. Following Jesus, I have moved in the opposite direction. I am more for people, for understanding, for dialogue, for acceptance, for appreciation of what so many of us have in common — a thirst for God. I don’t diminish the significance of differences, of contradictions, but I find myself drawn much more to the similarities that we have as we struggle to understand and experience life and God.

Now let’s consider social class. I grew up poor because my parents were engaged in Christian social work. My parents were absolutely committed to helping people who struggled, who we might consider stuck in a bottom social class. My dad spent a lifetime working in drug and alcohol rehab programs, helping and mixing lovingly with those struggling with addiction. I grew up making friends with and hanging out with men who were self-described alcoholics. My mom started a halfway house in Los Angeles for women and children living on the street. But I was never very conscious of class as a young person.

When I married, my wife and I both developed professional careers, and as a result we did the things that cemented us into the middle class, bought houses, took vacations in Europe — to Paris, to London, to Rome, to Kona, to San Francisco to Washington D.C. — visited national parks and provided rich experiences for our children. We mixed with other professionals socially who did the same.

But in this upwardly mobile movement I experienced the endemic economic insecurity of the middle-class, the anxiety that there wasn’t enough even when there was more than enough, the compulsion to spoil our children with things. But interestingly in my work as a teacher and as a pastor I again became very connected to people without resources and very passionate about relating to them in fair, honoring and personal ways. I traveled to countries that looked a lot different than our vacations destinations. I went to and worked in places like Nicaragua, Brazil, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Mexico leading crews to embrace, build with and empower the people there.

And in the second church I pastored, we set up programs to feed people, we built a beautiful counseling center, and we made counseling affordable, and invited recovery groups into the church as an integral part of our ministry. And all this I could feel the effect of my parents model in my life.

My life has given me an education in class differences and it has increased my appreciation for people independent of the dividing walls of class

Disability, the identity of disability also defines me. One of our daughters. Rosalind, was born with brain damage. She developed epilepsy. She went to school in special-education classes. Through her I became acutely aware of what it means to be disabled, to have that identity as a family. I morphed. At one point I was an intellectual snob, preferring, I thought, the smart, the intelligentsia, the great writers, the intellectual elite, but living with my daughter, living through the pain, the loss, working through a disabled identity with her, loving her equally to my “smart” family members, I put my snobbish intellectualism aside, used my intelligence to try to understand others, worked not to let education or intelligence come between me and anyone. Intelligence does not equal worth; being equals worth. This is a lesson I hold in my heart.

Gender, age, race, religion, class, disability and more — all make up my complex identity because identity is the interaction of multiple factors and to grow in understanding ourselves and others we must refuse to be simplistic and naïve about who we are sociologically and systemically. We all have multiple identities have the capability of shifting toward the positive.

Especially for we Christians, trying to follow God, we can be sure that God is in the mix. God is the divine sociologist, the great anthropologist, the shaper and maker of the components of identity.

The famous dictum, know thyself should be expressed as know thy multiple selves. I do not have a multiple personality disorder, (although you couldn’t get all who know me to assent to that) but I do have a multiple identity disorder. The disorder is I don’t always know who I am. The disorder is that I haven’t honestly faced my role, my privilege, my dysfunction within the culture that I exist within. At times I have resisted my identity and my daughter’s identity as disabled. At times I have completely embrace this. When one night Rosalind cried that she couldn’t read and said, I hate myself!” I cried with her and she looked up and asked, “Daddy are you crying for me?” And I was and we bonded deeply in that eye-streaming moment.

Let’s be very honest here. Gender, age, race, religion, class, patriarchy, and disability have always been grounds for the determination of value, and they have also been the brutal playing field upon which horrible, harming attitudes, policies and discriminations have taken place. In my own life I can see how I could take identity in one of two directions: to bring harm; to bring help.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and other modern scholars have developed a concept that can help us very much in understanding identity. The concept is now widely known and discussed as intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Intersectionality is now widely understood to illustrate the interplay between any kinds of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, religion, or ethnicity. The multitude of modern research done on the intersection of race and gender has mainstreamed the concept of intersectionality. For example, to be black and female can result in a double whammy of discrimination. If you want proof go explore how the courts frame and interpret the stories of black women plaintiffs.

Only gradually, overtime, have I come to realize where I stand on the Axes of Identity Privilege. I have been given an advantaged, privileged identity that many others have not. Being a white, educated, middle-class male with intellectual acuity, being tall, attractive enough, able bodied and capable of reproduction has given me great advantages.

I applied for jobs and got them easily. I aspire to supervisory and leadership and executive roles within the organizations I worked for and I was given them. I was supplied ample remuneration for my work, I applied for loans and got them, I invested with professional guidance in the stock market and in housing and accumulated wealth. I was and am a part of a system that has rewarded my kind.

“Come on,” you might say, “You earned what you got, you worked hard, you make good choices.”

The truth is that many people work hard, many people much poorer than I am work harder than I have and many people without the privilege that I have experienced have made good choices. And yet our culture has marginalize them, limited them, not rewarded them with leadership roles, not loaned to them, held them back, seen them as lesser. And being in multiple minority groups involves an intersectionality that leads to even less opportunity.

Some will argue back that no matter the odds against any of us we are still responsible for our choices. A victim’s mentality will get you know where. Make your own opportunity. Push through the barriers. I agree. Yes, fight for your identity. If no one helps you help yourself. But systemic discrimination makes it very hard to win, to get a piece of the pie. When the majority create a wall around opportunity that can be a high barrier to try to scale. Is there systemic discrimination in the United States? There is.

There are many startling examples in our country.

In 2016 major league baseball had only one Latino and no black managers. As we turn the calendar to 2020, Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers remains as the only black manager among the league’s 30 franchises. The examples of this kind of thing are endless.

Women hold 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles.

Black homeownership rate (32.7 percent) has fallen drastically since 2000 and is now just over half the rate for whites. Independent reviews confirmed by The Associated Press showed black mortgage applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine.

People of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

I know this kind of thing first hand in my own profession. It is extremely difficult for a young, female pastor with children to land a role as a lead pastor in a church.

So what to do?

One, understand this problem of bias in America, of intersectionality. Don’t deny it. Don’t falsely claimed that we are not a part of it. Grapple with it. We all own the race issue. We all own the gender issue. We all own the class issue.

Secondly, review your own history as I have mine. I have told you my story, how life has shaped me and changed me. I believe that God is in the story. I believe that God had been working —as you can see in my narrative — to disabuse me of my discriminatory tendencies, to help me understand intersectionality.

Tell yourself your own story. Do you realize where you have been advantaged or disadvantage? Can you see God helping you to work against discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. Have you changed to be a more accepting, empowering and loving person?

Thirdly, seek out experiences with people different than yourself and grow in an understanding of intersectionality.

Lastly, bring fairness, justice, empowerment to people of all kinds in the places you work, school, worship, play, live and do business.

Who are you?

Who do you want to be?

Who is God shaping you to be?

Let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:24

Through the holiday season I have been thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. In reading through Luke’s account I was struck by Simeon’s comment, almost an aside, to Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hearing this we think of one sword, and of course the literate reader immediately recognizes the connection to Christ on the cross, pierced. The sword that pierces Jesus pierces Mary, his mother.

But as I thought over her story, I could see that there were many piercings in her life. The astonishing and yet confusing circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, the complications it must’ve created with her family, Joseph and her community, the birth away from home, the flight to Egypt, the son who disappeared for three days and then rebuked the parents, the loss of her husband Joseph, the disciples replacing the family, her certain awareness of the brutal and dangerous threats again Jesus when he began to teach and to contradict the religious establishment, the cross and then the painful and often bloody birth of the church.

All swords.

In all this Mary seems the passive figure, hunkered down under the many stabbings that she had little or no control over. And what is her response?

Priest Richard Rohr makes the point that, “Not a word is spoken by Mary in either place, at his [Jesus’s] birth or at his death. Did you ever think about that? Mary simply trusts and experiences deeply. She is simply and fully present. Faith is not, first of all, for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them—all the way through!“

Our natural tendency is to resist and fight and try to control the piercings of life, the downturn’s, the ailments, the rejections, the failures. And some times we must not be passive. We must fight through to a new future. But if we get stuck with an inability to accept all of life, the ups and the downs, this can actually makes life harder.

Life is an up and down affair. It involves swords. There will be piercings. Simeon words to Mary have a universal application.

Richard Rohr addresses a way to deal with this writing, “Welcoming the pain [of life] and letting go of all your oppositional energy against suffering will actually free you from it! like reversing your engines. Who would have thought this? It is your resistance to things as they are that causes most of your unhappines …”

There’s a fine line here to observe here. To love ourselves and others we can and should do all we can to alleviate suffering, to gently care for ourselves, to compassionately care for others, to be good Samaritans. And sometimes resistance is necessary; resistance may at times carry us on to new accomplishments and adventures.

But what we can’t control, the swords that fly upon us when we have no shield up nor can put one up, those we do well to accept as they are, with all they bring. What we can’t control or stop we can still endure and even perhaps learn from. Perhaps we can learn to be more like Mary, fully alive, living the life that has come to us, in a quiet kind of way, hanging on to God through it all.

Today I lay quietly on my bed engaged in diaphragmatic breathing, my wife stroking my head, in the moment, soothing, healing — us together, just being, a state being.

Tonight I make dinner, spaghetti squash and turkey meat balls topped with marinara sauce — doing. Delicious – the baked spaghetti squash caramelized and sweet as it plays off the savory meat and tangy tomato sauce. Me doing for myself and my partner. I was in a mode of doing.

Doing and being — these are interesting everyday modes of living with fascinating the similarities and differences! Both being and doing can be delicious, satisfying or frustrating.

Classically, analytically — thinkers have often separated being and doing. There is something to this. Being comes first. You have to be, in order to do. Being is a prerequisite to doing.

Being comes with being born and staying born. Doing follows. Being is preparatory, a kind of becoming, inward and often quiescent. Consider being in the womb. Doing is noisy, productive, outward, driven, active. Consider taking on a career. These crude distinctions make some sense, but reality is a bit more complex.

Take painting a room. We think of it as classic doing. If you want a room to look better, you don’t stand in it just being; you paint it. Painting is quintessential doing. It transforms a space. It makes history. Paint covers a multitude of previous trends, and it hides smudges and dirt around the light switches!

My wife and I worked on repainting the bathroom this morning. The creamy, thick paint rolled on sticky and wet. You could whiff the paint and hear the whir of the spinning roller as we pushed it up the wall.

But painting is the kind of doing where you can stand back when you are done and take a deep breath of satisfaction and suck in some fine, toxic volatile organic compounds, VOCS, that turn doing into a state of being — high!

So painting isn’t pure doing. Not at all. Painting can involve a creative state of being at the beginning of the project when one gets inspired and imagines possibilities, and it can include a reflective and appreciate state of being at the end when one admires the work. Painting isn’t all doing. We stand back, just being, satisfied!

As I left my wife finishing our paint job, we kissed on my way out, a kiss of solidarity. Doing this brought us into a state of mutualistic being. Interesting. Doing has the potential to create a community of being, of creating oneness.

But does being require doing to give it value or keep it in existence? We say things like “move or die,” as we validate the primacy of exercise and action. Even babies, who may not seem to be on a mission, kick and stretch and babble in preparation for walking, handling things, talking. What may appear to simply be existing is in fact very active and very purposive. Perhaps being always has a kind of doing built into it.

Maybe, but on the other hand, we can assert philosophically and spiritually that a baby or a very old person does not have to paint a bathroom or make dinner or even clean themselves or be at all productive to retain value. The new born infant in the arms and the very feeble grandma in the wheelchair are both treasured even when they can do little or nothing for themselves. The paralyzed person is yet of inestimable value. These limited ones are intrinsically valuable as being, not doing.

Indeed it is a horrible drift away from humanity and from civilization to only value human beings who are productive or valuable according to the norms of society. We’ve been there before with the ancients discarding unwanted babies to die of exposure or wild animals.

And as we know even today, in some parts of the world through sex-selective abortion, babies are terminated in pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant. This is massively tragic thinking about being, making male being of more value than female being. And in many countries disabled people, especially in third world countries, are isolated from the experiences, school, work, social life. They remain hidden at home. I’ve seen this myself in Nicaragua. For us to do well as a planet we must retain the intrinsic sacredness and preciousness of all human life. Gender, disability, unattractiveness, low mental acuity must not become inferiority markers that entirely limit opportunities for normal productive life.

Yes, but while this is wonderfully noble, to aim at valuing all of humanity, to value nonproductive being, can we live this fancy talk out, practice it concerning our own beings? After a life of doing, can driven ones be content with less doing, with more just being? With resting? With not needing so much accomplishment? With less or even no painting, so to speak.

Perhaps not entirely. Most retired people are happiest when they have a project or are volunteering, or even working again. We are happiest when thinking of and doing something for someone else, not ourselves. We are happiest helping.

And yet the eventuality is that at some point our bodies run down and our opportunities to help become limited. Eventually age, poor health, weariness, changing mood, accidents — life stuff — interferes with productivity. And when this happens — and this can be very difficult for all of us — here is where we have to wisely shift our understandings of being and doing. Doing and being need new definitions for new seasons of life.

Today my wife and I played cards, talked, ate together, relaxed together, watched TV together. We produced nothing tangible during these moments of togetherness but just being together was special, meaningful, valuable.

Being present for and with someone in nonproductive leisure is an essential and precious element of wise living. There is a softness and quietness in these contented and grateful states of being. Such halcyon seas and safe harbors are sometimes missing from busy projects or social events.

It is remarkable and noteworthy that simply being who we are and where we are retains our meaningful place in the world. And there, in a quiet place, simply being kind, grateful and patient with ourselves and others sponsors being’s native sphere of influence. To be in a positive state of mind is to weld powerful influence. Being that is rooted in the nourishing energy of love emanates a power similar to doing. It changes the color of rooms.

Yet such elevated states of being don’t always come to us passively or easily. Sometimes we do great and terrible battle (note the “do” here) to achieve the quieter, more peaceful nodes of being. Often we must cast off bitterness, despair, negativity, jealousy, pride and more to win peace of mind.

My father at 91, lives in a small room with a few books a TV and a small bed. The other day he enthused, “I’m richer than Bill Gates!” The shock waves of that statement are still basing against the doors of the universe. My dad is very godly and quiet man and spends much time alone. And yet his gratitude emanates past the stars and provides a model of being for our whole family and all who encounter him.

To be, to do; to do, to be — life is a sequential, repeating, overlapping, alternating process But people like my father make it implicitly clear that noble states of being are possible in circumstances where there is little opportunity for the kind of doing and having that Fenelon says brings “courage to the senses.”

To help us all navigate the tidal nature of doing and being, perhaps a helpful question presents itself:

What is this season of life asking from you?

Perhaps it is more doing, perhaps it is more being. Perhaps it is practicing and increasing in a more contented and graceful form of being. Upping the value of the value of being may be challenging in western culture as there is some bias against giving being a commensurate value with doing. Among many go-getters simply being present, reflection, rest, meditation — even forms of robust tranquility such as prayer — are dispreferred. Perhaps it is a different mix or ratio of these that we need, different from what we have lived before.

Whatever the answer, stay realistic. Change is a process. Navigating the high seas and strong currents of being and doing is paint and brush work. Living out our doing and living out our being is like painting. Expect drips, runs and blotches and redos, and at least two coats of paint on every surface.

And expect success. Expect a kiss at the end. Expect to be kissed by reality. I see the universe as being on the side of the good. I see God as the guide to productive action and to precious, sweet, peaceful, grateful states of being. I see one of the great purposes of life as arriving at a more enlightened state of being characterized by love and kindness and gratitude and the celebration of all kinds of beauty. 

For me, God has provided the quintessential model for us. You work (do) and then you sit down and you rest (be) and you look at your work and out of a sweet, peaceful, calm satisfied state of being you say, “It’s good!”

I’m particularly shocked by how bad our hearing is — all of us. People talk, we miss so much.

The environment speaks; we walk through it uninformed of what it is telling us.

What to do? Stop paying so much attention to words.

The numbers are debatable when it comes to communication, but all the experts agree that tone and body language communicate more than words do.

Words are a small part of communication in our world.

The wind is blowing the leaves my orange jubilee trees outside my window. This tells me the sun is at work heating the earth, and that warmer air is rising and cooler air is moving underneath. The dancing leaves are telling me that the consistencies of our solar powered planet are functioning well.

“Yea, says the plant, life will go on!” But there are no words.

This is consistent with scripture:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19

It is fundamental to the universe to communicate without words. Yet voices surround us from the stars, from the galaxies, from our sun. The earth itself is filled with unheard voices. Even the rocks will praise, said Jesus, if we don’t.

So much more hearing needs to take place, the nonverbal kind.

My wife came home from a medical appointment today where she waited for more than an hour to get a few stitches out and left with no help.  Her first words upon arriving home conveyed frustration. Her tone told me most of what she wanted to communicate.

People speak far more in feelings than in words. Look closely and you can hear.

Liars will often deliberately hold eye contact in an attempt to cover up the fact that they’re lying.

Raised eyebrows signal discomfort.

Exaggerated nodding signals anxiety about approval.

A clenched jaw, a tightened neck, or a furrowed brow are all signs of stress. Crossed legs or arms signal that a person is mentally, emotionally, and physically blocked off from what’s in front of them. It’s not intentional, which is why it’s so revealing.

We can hear what isn’t said; it’s spoken in the eyes, whispered by the muscles, shouted by tell tale legs and arms and hands. 

One can hear without ears, speak with no tongue.

I think of the deaf and hard of hearing community.  There are many in this community who resent that idea that to have a normal life, a good life, they need hearing, for example cochlear implants, small, complex electronic devices that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. 

Some deaf find the pushing of cochlear implants on themselves and their children as  insulting, biased, discriminatory. We who think sounds and words rule need to listen to them.

Deadness is not a disability in need of an oralist’s prescription; it has created a fully-gifted culture of it’s own facilitated by sign language and sign culture. Oralism, the system of teaching deaf people to communicate by the use of speech and lip-reading rather than sign language is sometimes pushed on the deaf community. But sound is no more superior to sign than male is superior to female.  

Our biases may make this hard to understand, but we are so confused about disability and normalcy. What is normal is usually simply the way we live, but their are other normals. The signing community is a fully-gifted community. They are enriched. They have enough.

Why so much emphasis on words, talk, sounds. So much of the universe communicates in silence, in sign. We all need to learn the sign language.

I want to become a student of sign, universal sign, of silence, a listener to behavior, a watcher of movement, an interpreter of tone, being, essence, identity.

To do this I must open to listening with my mind, listening with my eyes, listening with my fingers, listening with my nose, listening with my taste buds. I must let the plants, the wind, the sun, the people who are different from me teach me. I must listen with my spirit. I must listen with my soul.

Everything and everyone is saying something. How exciting to begin to try to hear using different modalities.

Everything is speaking; are we listening?

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

Lately I’ve had to let go of some things, things in the past, and I’ve been thinking about how we do this.

My mom passed away a few years ago so I had to let go of my mom. My oldest daughter recently moved out of the house to a perfect place for her, so I needed to let go of her. My youngest daughter got married a year ago and so there was a new letting go of her and also an including of my new son-in-law.

It’s not that I’m not still connected to the girls anymore, or even my mom, but that I’m okay with these relationships being different. I think what helps me is to realize that everything changes over time, nothing stays the same, relationships morph with the different stages of life and that the best thing to do is to accept that, and to flow with that.

I find the need for this in other areas of my life too. This year I let go of my career; I let go of the bigger house — we sold it — I let go of being a public figure. I’ve even let go of having a normal routine because of some chronic pain.

I think that moving forward in a healthy way involves simply being realistic. We have to make friends with new realities. It isn’t like it was. It’s different. And wishing it were back to what it was tends to forget the things that we didn’t like about the way it was. Reality is reality. Not accepting changes increases pain. Flowing with what is real is the only sane and safe way to proceed.

All this relates to old conflicts, old hurts, old broken relationships too. It’s not like we just get over old relational drama, but we find different places to put it. We put it in perspective. We put it in more gentle places of non-judgment. And by doing so we heal, realize that we’re going to be okay, realize how much we have learned from our mistakes — and from the mistakes of others.

Bob Dylan is now passé; he’s part of history, but his good lines and honest truths aren’t. The “times — they are [still] a changin’.” Wise ones change with them.

There is a sense of “moving on“ for all of us, and a healthy perspective of “gettin’ on down the road.” But I’ve certainly realized that I never move on without bringing everything from the past with me. Really, it all comes along, but the thing is how do I pack it to go with us on the ride? I’m thinking I pack it, we pack it, and we repack it gently. I’m thinking that it works best if we are willing to rearrange our views of the past as needed in light of new information and new realities, and that we always need to keep learning from the past because the past is such an excellent teacher, and the past just keeps on giving; its lessons are ever-giving, like a good orange tree.

Finally, there’s so much present and future still to live, to motivate us, to invest in that this best becomes our healthy focus. Really, moving on means embracing the possibilities with in the present and future in an excited, energized, hopeful way. Letting go means engaging the present, trained by the past, but energized by the next great adventure.

I’m currently finishing my third novel. How? Why? Because I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was taking up all my time, and I’ve started doing something that’s taking up all my heart. It is something that’s always been mine to do. But to do it I had it stop doing a bunch of other things.

Moving on means not being stuck, afraid of change, overly atavistic, traditional, all status quo and old school, predictable and safe. Moving on means being adventurous, free, modern, hip, avant-garde, steezy, cool and with it.

So get over it — by getting with it!

This week I fell — for a few days — into a negative mental loop. 

Around and around I go; where I stop — I don’t know!  It was an up-and-down and circle back around — my crazy mind. It was a rocking and rolling emotional session based on what someone else either had or had not done.  It was about expectations. 

Great!

Wheeee! 

Fun! 

Not.

What to do?

I didn’t know what to do — even with all my personal experience with my own brand of mental chaos, even with all my seasoned and supposed wisdoms and emotional acumens — I couldn’t figure it out. 

I have always found that I am — to myself — the most difficult puzzle that exists. So it is for all of us.

I did some research. 

University of Oxford Professor, Mark Williams, teaches that we can move away from negative mental loops by paying attention to our direct sensory experiences. When we focus on what we see, hear and smell — in the everyday salient and the “Oh, so very” beautiful right-now! — we leave little room for obsessive, negative intrusions.

The “Coming To Our Senses” approach has the ability to calm-water our roiling minds. It can ground us in immediate, beautiful and grateful realities.

This morning I put one of my current favorite songs on YouTube and watched and listen to a worship band worship. The simple gorgeous piano chords, those lovely lead voices, that backgrounded rhythm guitar — so orderly, so positively patterned, so soothing, so pointed toward God.  In the moment, using my eyes and ears to experience beauty, I forgot the week’s negativity and trauma.

Better.

I am better — coming-to-my senses better.

This morning, I also called my daughter. She was on a walk with her Australian Shepherd. She texted me a picture of the dog resting for a moment in some of the first spring flowers of the season. We went together on a fun, quick internet search of the name of the wild flower. It was the Scilla siberica, a beautiful ground flower with bright blue petals and lovely green, spear-shaped leaves. As we searched — and trade texted pictures — I was lost in the moment, lost in the little flower, lost in the mental curiosity for life I share with my daughter, and I was at peace with the world. 

I came to my senses! 

One more thing. 

In my morning’s research I also ran across the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel.

Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, offers what he calls, the “Name It To Tame It” remedy for negativity. The idea is that when unhelpful thought patterns and emotions overcome us, we can respond by naming the narratives we are creating and thus rob them of their power. 

Cool! 

So this morning, I named my current mental zoo. I called it my “The Expectation Loop.”  Sometime, I overly expect people to care for me. And sometimes I expect a competence from others that simply isn’t there. And sometimes I fall into fear and anxiety about what others expect back from me. Wow! The Unrealistic Expectation Loop — that’s my beautiful mess. 

And so to apply Dr. Siegel’s work, this morning I name my kind of crazy. This week I have been suffering from the “Crazy-Making Expectation Loop.”  To tame it, I name it, and I work to free myself of it. I think it through. 

If I don’t express my expectations, then I can’t expect others to meet them. If I don’t let others express their expectations of me, then I can’t fulfill them. If I have unrealistic expectations — perhaps based on my own past unmet needs — I must recognize those, and not let the past trigger my present when what is happening right now is not the same as what happened before. 

Thanks, psychiatrists, professors, you mind-experts. You help me, get sane, or more sane. 

I’m still a puzzle to myself, but with help, I am gradually beginning to understand myself,  better, and I am — just perhaps — coming to my senses. 

“I try not to ascribe motivations to people,” my brother said to me. It tried to go past me, the nonjudgmentalism of his reticence. Quiet responses often do.

I love to attribute motive, quickly, with not much information — many of us do.

“We don’t know what they are thinking,” our realtor said to my wife and I. Our realtor was talking about the buyer we were trying to sell our house to. Our realtor was right. We didn’t know the buyers frame of mind. We didn’t know his aesthetic, his price point, his cash on hand, his shopping culture, his end game.

I’ve heard this a lot lately, people admitting what they don’t know about other people.

“We don’t know his people skills.”

“We don’t know what triggered this.”

“We don’t know why she did that.”

The truth is, when it comes to each other we are often in the dark, and the light we shine on each other with our “take,”  our sense of them, our labels — these often miss the mark.

“Oh, yeah, she is a conservative,” someone says, as if that explains her.

“He’s left wing, she’s hurt, he’s an addict, she’s stuck, he’s jealous, she’s angry” — we just can’t stop assigning motives, explain away each other, attaching labels, as if then we have them, in our grasp, “the little rats,” and can disagree with them, or fight them, or dismiss them.

Am I saying we shouldn’t?

I’m saying we do, a lot.

We judge — even if we are told not to. And there is not much hope for us not judging.

It’s just that we might do well to realize that figuring someone out isn’t the same as assigning a label, and it is often much more complicated than their one “screwed up” thing.  Motives are complicated, even sometimes contradictory. Motives are convoluted, multi-pronged, obfuscated by so much smoke, so many mirrors.

Perhaps it would help to just work on figuring ourselves out, or at least leave the “helping” or figuring out others to doctors and professional therapists.  Perhaps it would help me, and most of us really, to simply turn more away from critiquing others  and focus on our own motives, spend time on our own confabulations. This is probably the only route to real change — when change is needed —  the intimate, personal “Aha,” the “Wow, so that’s going on with me,” some interior, existential epiphany that is so needed.

“What’s driving me?” or “Why did I do that?” or “What am I getting out of this?” — these are good questions and figuring such things out can be quite empowering and healing. And understanding ourselves better can point toward some new stuff, new adventures and even perhaps new and better understandings of others.

But assigning motives to others, I’d personally like to move away from that more and more.

I’ve been learning from some of  my trusted friends that attributing motives to others — that is a bit of a fool’s errand.

“You can’t fix me,” an older person told me recently, then proceeded to hangup.

I hadn’t said much. I had simply shared a picture of a possibility for dealing with his negative feelings toward himself. I had said, “When the baby cries, we hold the baby, so when our soul cries, we might  …”

He wouldn’t have it, the self-care in it, the personal gentleness with the crying child within.

Of course, the “you can’t fix me,” has some truth to it. I can’t. We can’t. But such a defiant declaration, in this case, felt like a shield, a barrier thrown up, a protective rationalization to avoid changing, to avoid any solutions, to avoid taking responsibility for feelings — a decision to avoid self-care.  This may, indeed, be one of the great temptations of old age, living with a ubiquitous “I’m too old to change” mantra. This can problematize, pathologize and negativize a life.

One person loves their inner person, another hates the self inside, and other doesn’t think of self much at all. We live in the world we create in our minds.

But can change that world, the story, our biography, using insights, using new thoughts,  perhaps using information given us from others. It is possible to re-see our lives and re-story the past. Possible is a post-mythic stage of life, a post-stuck stage, a post-hurt or post-wounded stage of life in which we embrace reality, listen to new voices, seek the corrective perspectives of other family member’s stories, see things and people differently, even accept and experience redemption.

I was always a bit jealous that my older brother was sent away to a prestigious prep school when he was thirteen. It seemed to me, in this, that my parents were more invested in him than me. Recently, he told me that the experience caused him to experience an acute homesickness. Being separated from his family — it was full of pain.

Story-listening, I realized I would have felt the same. I would not have wanted to be away from home, family, hearth, pets, privacy, the safe harbor of mom and dad and brothers either. So, I can drop the envy. It was misplaced. I have; I do. I am now glad I wasn’t sent away to school.

It’s narrative psychology. We live in the world we create in our minds; we can change that world. We can, with other family member’s help, even perhaps co-author a new world, a different story, a more positive narrative.

We can. 

Perhaps — if we are open to grace, and healing.

I was on the phone with my dad recently. We chatted about books. I had previously recommended Endurance to him, Alfred Lansing’s riveting telling of the Ernest Shackleton story  He told me my brother Steve had picked up a copy for him.  It’s a great read, good for dad I think at this point in his life.

My dad is 90; he just lost my mom, he needs endurance, and really, he has it. He’s healthy, smart, active and provided for in a retirement community where he works as a furniture mover.

A furniture mover, at 90? Yup! I asked him if he had help. He told me he had a moving  team. I asked him if there were any young guys. He said he had an 85 year old. Then he told me with no hint of humor. “My strongest guy is 91!

Okay then, all set.

Toward the end of the conversation he came out with something I didn’t expect. He said to me, “You have an innate wisdom.”

I was a bit knocked over. I can’t remember my dad ever saying anything so affirming to me although he has often complimented and encouraged me. Actually, it rather gently stunned me — with pleasure. It warmed the space between us and flowed back into the past like a spring rain in my psyche.  It didn’t blow up my ego: it just gently affirmed the original grace in my life, something that has blessed my work, my marriage and my relationship with my daughters.

Affirmation — genuine and unmotivated any desire to manipulate or control — it adds to our ability to endurer.

Affirmation — it is sweet soul rain.