Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Non-Violence and America

Today there was a shooting (actually more than one) - but the high profile one was in Alexandria involving Representative Scalise and congressional staff and Capital police officers. I hate it, and I hate the ease with which we seem to be able to maim and kill each other. I pray for all who suffer under violence.

After learning that the shooter had been a volunteer in his campaign, Bernie Sanders made a statement of his horror and condemned the actions. In his statement, he said this: "Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society... Real change can only come about from non-violent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values."

I deeply respect Sanders' comments and believe they come from an authentic place of sorrow for what happened today.

But something about his words struck me. I'm in the middle of reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' book "Between the World and Me." Through this book, I've already been introduced to concepts that have completely transformed my thinking. Coates speaks about American history in contrast with African American history. Growing up, the ascribed American heroes (founding fathers, war heroes, etc) are heroes in violence. They are conquerers. They fight for our freedom, they stake their claims, they are enmeshed in war and violence. African Americans were not allowed the same heroes. Their heroes had to be that of non-violence to fit into history books. I finally understood the appeal of Malcolm X. It was a light bulb moment for me as I re-watched the scenes of American history through this new lens. I am not saying it nearly as eloquently as Coates, and I recommend that if you have never read this book, you do so soon.

This thing that Coates brought to my attention, I never really saw it before. And now, I can't unseen it. As a Christian, I believe deeply in non-violence. I believe that it is the moral high ground as well as the best and true way to begin a new thing. I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. that "hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

However, as I listened to Sanders' speech, I couldn't help but think... No- no, violence isn't unacceptable in our society. In fact, we are deeply violent. Look at our justice system, with capital punishment that is the very epitome of the "an eye for an eye" mentality. Look on social media when people speak about things that other people disagree with- you will find horrifyingly violent responses. Minorities and women seem to be the most common victims of these violent outbreaks. We have a government who is unable to pass reasonable gun legislation for the very reason of violence: people want to be able to 'protect their own' from the Other. That means, in Florida, that if you look scary to me, I have a right to shoot to kill. (I may be maligning the legislation, but I certainly am not maligning the interpretation of the law in courts.)

We are not a non-violent society. We have the most powerful (ridiculously) military and weapons in the world. And we use them. We use rhetoric that dehumanizes enemies, such that we don't feel so bad (in fact we feel great) when we annihilate a "target."

Of course there is the other side of the coin, we have amazing humanitarian efforts in our military, government, private and public sector. But as a society, we are NOT primarily non-violent. Violence is completely acceptable (applauded!) to more Americans than I would like to admit. I'm learning that as I get older. People threaten to beat someone up over getting cut off in traffic. Someone wants to kill someone else's dog because that dog pooped in their yard. Someone hopes a certain political figure will have a heart attack so we don't have to deal with them. Someone wants to kill the rapist. Someone wants to hurt the person that hurt their friend, family member. We don't want any of this to happen to us, and we certainly assume people will give us the benefit of the doubt if we happen to make a mistake. But we feel justified in carrying out our own brand of justice if it corrects a perceived wrong.

We are violent. And I'm not excluding myself from that. I have been conditioned by my family and religion to be on the lesser end of the violent scale, but I can't deny I have had my thoughts of violence pop up. But even as I seek to find more productive ways to deal with anger and frustration, I witness a culture that sponsors the opposite in the people around me: HOW OUTRAGED ARE YOU ABOUT THIS?! WILL YOU FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS?! THIS SCUM WILL SERVE TIME IN JAIL, IS IT ENOUGH?! WAR ON YOUR DEEPLY HELD BELIEFS, WILL YOU SUBMIT OR FIGHT?!

Our entire American existence right now seems to be in all-caps. Everything is a big deal and everything is something to fight about. Our society has been pumped with adrenaline and outrage, not non-violence.

Perhaps this is part of the problem. When violence happens that we don't like, we act like non-violence is a social norm, when it isn't. Sanders said that "real change can only come through non-violent action." While I believe that is true at the deepest of levels, history teaches us differently, doesn't it? Violence changed a hell of a lot. Violence nearly wiped out the Native Americans. Violence was the foundation for a slave-trade that we still can't talk about in America like normal adults. Violence is the knee-jerk reaction for solving world problems, and has been the ongoing heartbeat of all our conflicts across the globe over time. We've improved our weapons, but not so much our negotiation and communication skills. Violence spread certain religions over certain places at certain times (nearly all religions and political regimes bordering on religious zealotry have had their turn in human history). Violence has actually been a MAJOR function of change in history, and especially in American history. Some of it we laud as heroic and sacrificial.

This history of violence has disproportionately negatively affected the poor and minorities. This history of violence has disproportionately negatively affected the poor and minorities. This history of violence has disproportionately negatively affected the poor and minorities. This history of violence has disproportionately negatively affected the poor and minorities. This history of violence has disproportionately negatively affected the poor and minorities.

Because violence by those in power is glorified, while violence by those without power is demonized.

Violence enacted by those in power (be it physical, mental, financial) seems to be sifted through a lens of just-war negotiations or at least an attempt to understand and justify. Violence by the poor and downtrodden are dismissed as savage and stupid.

Our deeply held American values need a gut-check. We are a violent society. Denying that is to be deeply unself-aware. Violence is not only accepted, in the right context it is honored, and we do not do nearly enough to check this. Violence lives and breathes in our legal (and penal) system, our financial institutions, our daily interactions with each other, our glorification of violence in our past (or, equally damaging, our erasure of it) and in many other tiny crevices I haven't noticed yet.

We need to be more self-aware America. We love violence, and the more we pretend we don't, the less we will be able to fight the violence that we have been planting the seeds of since day one.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman

Sunday night I went to see Wonder Woman. 

I keep thinking about all the little and big reasons why I loved it. And I do not feel ashamed that a big blockbuster superhero fight em' movie made me feel this way.

This blog is about the movie, I'm not going to do major spoilers, but I am going to talk about the movie a little - so if you're a purist and cannot know a thing before you see it- come back later.

The beginning of the movie is set where Wonder Woman, Diana, grows up- on an island full of powerful and colorful and badass women. There was something magical about this movie not having a single male actor for the first 20 minutes (I'm not positive on the timing). It wasn't because I don't like men. Love them. Married to one, have two for kids. It was the simplicity and not-fussiness of having a bunch of women kicking ass like it was not a thing. Many movies start with a ton of men kicking ass like it is not a thing. But seeing this scene with nothing but women- and not women in typical female prescribed roles, but women on horses, women training, women walking around. Women being completely content to do what they want to do. It was a fabulous sight. I had no idea I even needed to see it until I saw it. 

The costumes and dialogue gave me powerful women who were independent and had no shame. I don't mean that in the "Have you no SHAME?!" way- but imagine our epic character Eve before she eats the apple- walking around the garden with confidence and contentment. No reason for shame. What a release! I felt the peace of it. No burden of an entire history of submission and limitation. For a wonderful time, I felt the freedom of this!

Then the male characters are introduced and the lead female role is not diminished as a result. Amazing. She is still her. She is still interesting, powerful, independent. In fact- I had to look up the main male character's name to tell you about him because I had forgotten it (it's Steve)!! Steve and Diana have a fun back and forth about social niceties. Steve doesn't want to sleep next to Diana on their boat to the war because it is socially a faux pas. She doesn't get this at all. And it isn't  a weird sexual conversation. It is very frank and shame-free. He tries to see how much she knows about sex- she tells him she's very educated, and that her people had determined that "while men are necessary for procreation, they are not necessary for pleasure." This was said very matter of factly, to which Steve sort of humbly accepts the truth, and then she bids him good night and turns to go to sleep. THAT SCENE WAS EVERYTHING.

Wonder Woman showed the audience a woman who was authentically strong, a leader, and also kind and compassionate. No excuses were made for her strength or kindness. There were definitely moments where her kick-ass-ability was played up by the supporting male cast as a wow factor. But I didn't feel like it was only because she was a woman that they were wowed. They were just wowed. Her strength was accepted as legitimate and they followed her. 

The first scene where Diana really sort of steps up to the plate and does her bad-ass thing on the war front, I felt this emotional connection to the scene. I rarely feel that. I could relate to her. 

I left the movie feeling strong. I walked out the doors with a bad-ass feeling in my steps. Like I could take on the world. I was intoxicated with empowerment. Very rarely do I experience that after movies. I feel entertained or sad or humored or vulnerable, but this movie- I was ready to go join a kick-boxing class. I don't even like to exercise! But maybe now I will. Because I want to be strong like Wonder Woman. I want to fight for love. I want to feel like I can do anything. 

I finally want to be a super hero when I grow up.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Left Behind

Growing up a military brat, you are trained to leave. Trained to adapt, to set down surface roots that are easily transplanted. You blend in, make friends to sit at the lunch table with, but you keep your roots close to home. You don't dig too deep. Your settlement is always with the next launch in the back of your mind. Should you paint that wall? How easy will it be to paint over if you need to? Should you plant that tree? Will it grow enough for you to really enjoy it? These are all inherent in your decisions, and completely logical.

For me, leaving is easy. It isn't but with a lifetime of practice, it is like any other hard thing you've had to do a million times.

Getting left behind? That's another story completely.

The first time I felt like I feel right now was when my best friend, Tasha, moved away. Her Dad was military too, so we should have known better. We knew that the odds were against both of us to stay in the same place for a long time. But in one short year we found ourselves spending all the time we could together. She was one of my first authentic "best friends" - the kind that I allowed my roots to dig in a little deeper. She was a soul sister. Then came the day that we had ignored would come. She was moving.

When she moved I cried. I had lost a piece of what made the place home. She was no longer a part of my everyday life and I had nothing new to distract me from her absence. I remember asking my Dad, bewildered, why her move had been so hard for me when I had moved so many times myself. I had never experienced these emotions, because I had never really been left behind by someone I cared this much about.

He said "it's easier to leave than to be left behind." It is. For me anyway.

The next time I felt like that was actually twice by the same person: when my sister moved to college, and when she moved away from the college that we both attended. Her first move to college was hard on me because for an entire summer- we were each other's only friend. We moved before my senior year of High School and she was home for the summer after traveling for a year with Up With People. She always had a group of friends, so it was a rarity that she chose my companionship. In this situation we both had no other option. We dug in with each other and made our summer enjoyable. When she left, I cried when I saw her red hair in the hairbrush she left behind. I felt ridiculous about it. Three years later, my second year of college, her last- she left for an internship which would be the last thing she did before her graduation. I cried. We had been each other's back up plan for everything for two years. My back-up was leaving me.

I've learned. I don't put my roots down. I don't dig in. Often I'm the first to move.

Now another friend is leaving me before I have the chance to leave her first. She's moving clear across the country, and even though I'm an adult and we have more means of communication, it feels again like those times. I had set roots down. I dug in. When she left this morning, I cried.

I'm not terrible at goodbyes, I'm terrible at being left behind. When you take my roots with you. Am I supposed to regrow them?

I want my kids to experience what it's like to stay in one place and develop long-lasting friendships and relationships, but I am hurting with the pain of being left behind. I feel the urge to move. To leave. To be in charge of where the roots go. To settle lightly somewhere. To keep everyone at a safe arms-length.

My heart actually hurts, and it's like exercising a muscle that I didn't know existed. I'm not used to letting this place hurt. I want to skip over it. I also wish I knew how to be left behind. I wish it was one of the hard things that I've been doing so many times that it didn't hurt so much. I don't really know what to do with this unfamiliar feeling. It's so uncomfortable. It hurts and I hate it.

When my friend left this morning, I cried. But then I stopped myself. I gathered my remaining roots and whispered to them: "stay close."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Graduate to Grace or Die

I'm not feeling optimistic these days. I have not found much light for the darkness. I have a small candle, but it feels vulnerable.

I saw a powerful prayer by a woman who named the current darkness not to be of the tomb but of the womb, to give birth to a new light, a new life, a new age. I cried it was so beautiful.

I want to believe her. But I'm not convinced we are the light that gets to be born. We might be a tightening contraction, running a circle of pain around the womb of creation, to fight for birth, but  ours may not be final stretch, and the condition may not be pregnancy. Throughout history creation has groaned with each new birth of so-called progress. Pain, war, famine, injustice have squeezed progressively harder at an increasingly focused humanity. The rest between has felt like light, has felt like progress, has felt like evolution. But we have not yet been born. We have not arrived. The Kingdom is not actually here, Nirvana is still out of reach, heaven is not a place on earth. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a birth.

I do a lot of work researching for a book that talks about a story that happens during the second world war. This work has opened my eyes to my ignorance about the history of civilization. Even something that we still have eye-witnesses to- we are already forgetting, we haven't learned, we don't know. I thought about this idea of new birth and thought about the world wars. Two great contractions, one right after the other. Pain and darkness that should have potentially moved us into new birth. But we didn't arrive. We just prepared ourselves for the next tightening. The world is tightening all around. My western and euro-centric view doesn't even account for the tightening in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle-east. Tightening. Pain and violence, famine, flood, the end of times sort of thing. Or is it for the beginning of time?

Then I decided to question the frame of this story: Pain produces birth.

What kind of sick sadist requires the pain and darkness to be that dark for new birth? I'm going to tell you childbirth was a challenge, but it wasn't dark night of the soul stuff. Also, we have evolved. Childbirth isn't quite the fatal risk it used to be. Of course there is still risk and fatality is still a very real possibility - but the odds have shifted. The pain has dulled. The process has become more about the birth and less about the pain. Let's also remind ourselves that our legend in Christianity about birth is that the pain was a result of a curse. I won't get into the problems behind women being cursed literally for wanting knowledge (why have I never noticed that before?!)- but I just want to say that in that narrative, the pain is not something that was original to the plan of creation. Right? Can we agree on that? So maybe we shouldn't fall so easily into this pain = new birth mantra. Maybe we should tell a new story. Maybe we should try another approach in this analogy. If this pain of the world produces no life to be born, then the pain and darkness might be a tightening for death. Maybe pain can only ultimately bring death.

All the religions of the world ask us to hope for the new life. All the religions of the world ask us to believe in redemption. I don't think atheists really believe there is no God, they just believe there is no redemption. Without redemption, there is no God worthy of the title. For me redemption is the triumph over pain, death, darkness. So it seems that we're in a cycle. The redemption is not final. Many Christians (and other faiths) see this and talk about the constant working out of their salvation, or reincarnation, rebirth, again and again the light must pierce the darkness.

Maybe this is our big problem: the great myth of pain leading us to new birth. This idea PERMEATES our lives, our society, our psyche. No Pain No Gain. No Work No Food. No Shoes No Service. (I just wanted to slide that in). It's the human condition, that without struggle and pain we are worthless and have no value. All of our lessons about life rest on this foundational wisdom. Without darkness you can't see the stars. Without pain, you have no muscles. Without struggle, you don't have appreciation and gratitude. I literally don't know if it is possible to escape this primary concept. SO therefore, we are stuck in this vicious cycle. We will be in painful childbirth forever and it will result in a temporal birth of new life that will eventually die, it will result in death, or it will be a hamster wheel of pain.

We're so screwed.

I remind myself that I am a Christian. It's hard to remember sometimes. Because being a Christian really means to have a RIDICULOUS hope in redemption. Redemption with finality. The kind that gets us out of the cycle. And sometimes it is difficult to hold on to that hope. But dammit if hope doesn't poke in places. Redemption keeps manifesting itself all over the place. This makes despair a bit hard to keep up. I wish redemption didn't feel like a stupid weak candle and would feel more like a giant floodlight shining a bat signal. However, even a candle light is enough for me to recognize that the light exists. And then there is Jesus. He's hard for me to ignore. He also didn't buy into the whole no pain-no gain bullshit. He did not do boot camp with his disciples. He did not ask people who wanted healing or food to perform some task to deserve it. He just did it. Free and all. Then when he had all the pain and all of the suffering- he died. Just straight up died. It ended his ministry as a human on earth. Christians believe that he came back to life three days later. Guess what he didn't do? (Let's assume you believe that Jesus did come back to life- and I hear how crazy it sounds to people who didn't grow up with this story.) He didn't get revenge. Like- literally zero of his energy went into correcting his wrongful death. Zero. There is no revenge. No retaliation. No zombie curse said. No hexes. No "I hate those people." Actually- AS he was dying- he forgives the people. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. It's also one of the reasons (of which I can find a zillion) why anti-semitism by Christians because Jesus was killed by the Jews- is ridiculous. I can't even begin to count the ways that that whole argument breaks down (Jesus was a Jew, the Romans killed Jesus, etc etc etc). But think about that- Jesus forgives his murderers as they are murdering and mocking him- then when he comes back to life- he spends NO time looking for justice. Why didn't everyone else follow suit? Oh right, because Jesus had evolved out of the pain cycle and we hadn't.

And that's my next leap. I'm going to be weird and say that I think Jesus was not about justice.

I think Jesus was asking us to taking a flying evolutionary leap and move beyond justice. I'm about to throw out a churchy word: grace. Often we hear the word grace in reference to justice. "God loves me despite the fact that I'm a shitty person." = Grace. We think of grace as being given a second chance when we screw up. We think of grace as this idea that someone else is willing to sacrifice themselves or the law for the love of another person. Grace - in this equation- always requires sacrifice. And usually the thing that gets sacrificed is justice (or Jesus- for people who are into the whole sacrificial analogy).

What if what Jesus really meant to do when he died and didn't do shit about it- was to communicate that his Grace was above and beyond justice. That we didn't even need to think about Grace as a sacrifice- but a way of being, of life, of love. That Grace didn't need to be in conversation with justice at ALL.

Let's swim in that idea. What does this look like? Take the parable that Jesus told of the workers. You know- the one where everyone works for different amounts of times and all get paid the same? EVERYONE HATES THAT PARABLE. (Maybe not- but certainly business people hate it). Here's the thing- people can't stand it because it implies that your sacrifice and work isn't worth anything. And we simply CANNOT handle that. CANNOT. That not handling thing is based on this idea that resources are scarce or at the very least limited- so for someone to work and not get their due (whether they get more or less than they deserve)- woah- we can't live like that. We can't live with the insecurity of knowing that we might not be able to earn our slot on the earth. When people start talking about how some people actually work really hard and still don't get ahead, or how a lot of people just get lucky and land in a pot of gold- we don't know what to do with that. We still need things to work according to justice- that's our foundation. But I mean, if I found a gold pot I'm not going to turn it down.

Here's the thing. Maybe the tree of knowledge was actually the tree of Fake News. That tree told Adam and Eve that there are limited resources, that people deserved or didn't deserve things. Then everything became a competition, everything became a scarcity problem. Everything needed sacrifice and blood, sweat, and tears in order to obtain it. (Seriously- will we ever escape this pain narrative?!) And of course we only recognize our own sacrifice, so we feel we deserve all the goods.

But God, Jesus, Buddha, and pretty much all the spiritually evolved beings who have tried to speak truth- have all said this thing: treat others as you want to be treated. Love one another. God may be a little exasperated by a set of people who look at an earth crawling with millions of different species of bugs and myriad varieties of flowers and diverse ecosystems that just dance- and say "it's not enough." What the hell people? I deserve this iced mocha because I paid for it. Lord Jesus and everything holy wants me to get over myself and my justice. Graduate to Grace.

That's nirvana, heaven, etc etc. And I am trying REALLY hard to believe it is possible. But I'm struggling. This pain is not new birth, it's a cycle that we seem to be doomed to repeat until we evolve. And I'm not sure humanity is willing or able to evolve. Perhaps we're not the pinnacle of creation. Maybe the beetles will be the ones to rule the world.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Belonging

This week there was a new headline about a woman claiming an ancestry that isn't genetically hers. I am not going to talk about that specifically, but it made me think of something broader. Lots of people are asking why (like really why) someone would sacrifice an identity full of privilege for something that is at the very least- a disadvantage.

I thought about this and I'm going to be thinking about it even more after I write this. Belonging. My guess is the foundational reason is that this person wants to belong somewhere. There are some serious ethical questions about a white person trying to find belonging in a group that has been historically oppressed by white people. 

But let's leave that story behind and think about other scenarios. Belonging. When I was in High School, I went on some sort of church camp where there were other churches from other areas convening. I distinctly remember these girls from another camp who were getting a lot of attention from the boys in our group. And it wasn't because they were sort of "perfectly pretty" in a mean girls way. They were weird and dressed differently. But it worked for them. They had short punky hair and tight tank tops with long, wide, baggy pants. They were unique. They were like the underdogs who don't care what other people think, which made them cool. I suddenly felt weird in my boot cut jeans and loose fitting t-shirts. My long hair tied back in a safe ponytail didn't feel exciting, and now I suddenly had the nerve to stand out, if it meant I could belong. My general rule of thumb for dressing was to blend in, which meant that I had a chance to belong in most groups. But these girls were cool, they stood out and had a sort of special, smaller group that they belonged to.

I didn't cut my hair (then) or start wearing tight tanks and baggy pants, but I remember that feeling. Wanting to belong to a group for the very purpose of standing out, if standing out was accepted, or if at least I could be proud to be weird with stalwart friends. Being a part of a group of underdogs who aren't mainstream can give you a sense of superiority for not bowing down to the expectations of culture. And you get to share that pride with other people. For white people who were born acceptable under society's standards, this is a choice. To chose not to be acceptable makes you feel daring and cool. It makes you feel like you belong to something bigger and more sacred. It makes you feel like you have purpose, something to fight for.

I listened to a podcast a while ago by Rob Bell where he reminds his listeners that the Bible - especially the Old Testament, needs to be read in the context that the original audience and protagonists are the underdog. When you read about victory and triumph, it wasn't a story of easy wins by the obvious powerhouse. The bible is written by a group of people who come from a line of culturally and historically oppressed people (or at the least, not the big guns on the world stage). Keeping this in mind, it feels inappropriate when someone who has never really struggled quotes scripture about triumph when all they had to do was just keep being oppressive. So when American Christians talk about being persecuted, they are appropriating a story that quite honestly, is not their own. They insert themselves into the role of underdog, when really they should be allowing themselves to be humbled by their striking similarities to the Romans and Pharisees. It makes sense that sometimes the words of an oppressed people might feel usurped when used by a powerful and oppressive force. I think it's obvious in many ways why we like to see ourselves in the role of hero and underdog. We want to belong to the righteous, the cool, the purposeful, the triumphant over evil.

Those in great power who don't care about belonging abuse this desire in the folks who think they don't have power. They prey on our desire to belong, and tell us why we should fear, why we are actually quite vulnerable, why we belong to the group of victims and oppressed. That way we ignore our conscience. We ignore the signs that we are the oppressor. We remain blind to our backpacks full of privilege. Because we belong to the least of these- and blessed are they. Because if we don't belong to the oppressed, the alternative is too much to bear and our identity is wrecked. We will no longer belong.

I think that is part of the reason why Christians in America, who are the powerhouse, not the oppressed, feel the need to emphasize their martyrdom or their sacrifices or whatever it is that allows them to feel persecuted and oppressed. Because then they can read the scriptures and feel victorious and that their small side will win. But the reality is that they are actually more like the Romans, or on a smaller scale, the powerful Pharisees within the religious community. If they identified correctly, if they realized that they belong to the powerful group- then they would have to face their sins and humble themselves. So they make the decision to try to be the underdog, because everyone wants the underdog to win. What they choose to ignore is that they have already won, and their need to belong to the group of the oppressed, only forces the actual oppressed to continue to suffocate under their weight. 

Belonging is a human need. It might be one of the most powerful. It's linked with our needs for relationship and love. Belonging is a little different though. You can feel like you belong without as much effort into relationship and love. You can join up in a group without really investing too much- and you get much of the same side effects. Belonging means that you are not alone, you are valuable, and there are people who agree with you. Belonging in this way also means that you do not need to change.

If you don't need to change, then belonging has given you the gift of safety and security. 

That gift might not be the gift you needed.

I think that everyone should have the blessing of belonging. But the problem is that we often settle for this shallow belonging, the kind that allows us to stay unchanged, and keeps others outside. The kind that allows us to stay in fear and be a self-perceived underdog. The shallow belonging is the kind that needs an "us and them" to create a sense that we belong, only because we are not like them. That belonging is not helpful, creative, or ultimately safe. It churns danger, just like a stick inside a wheel completely halts the ability of a bike to move forward. We have to belong- ALL belong- in a way that allows us to be uniquely us and also able to move and change. 

Belong, but not because you have drawn a fence around yourself. Belong, but to an idea or vision of hope, not an isolation or feeling of power. Belong, in such a way that allows for everything to belong. Because there is room for all of us to belong. ALL of us. Scarcity of value is not real. Scarcity of worth is a lie. Scarcity of beauty is ridiculous (have you seen our universe?!). Your belonging does not need to be at the expense of someone else. You don't have to be fake-oppressed to belong. You don't have to have power to belong. You belong.

If you see someone settling for a shallow belonging, create space for them to belong with you. That's going to be my first step.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Make Good Choices

A certain Representative was quoted as saying that Americans need to make good choices and perhaps choose to invest in their own health care and not a new iPhone. He later clarified his comment by saying the exact same thing but not mentioning iPhones.

See here the quotes: "Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care."

Clarification about what he really meant: "What we're trying to say - and maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could- but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance, and they're going to have to make those decisions."

OK now that we're clear, I want to introduce this person, and what I'm learning to be a SIGNIFICANT amount of people in power to what the world ACTUALLY looks like. While there may be just buckets of choices for this man and his friends, those choices look very different for others.

First: what can we agree on? Making good choices. 100% agreed. I definitely think that there are things that are far more worthy of our investment than others. I think that there are choices that most folks would agree to be universally wise, and others to be universally unwise. 

What do we maybe have agreement, but some caveats about? Americans have choices. OK- in a way, I agree. Americans do have choices. But I think that a lot of Americans at the top of the food chain don't realize something, when you go down the economic ladder, your choices become narrow to nearly obsolete, or at the very least ridiculous. "Food or healthcare?" "Shelter or healthcare?" "Job or healthcare?" These are real choices that many lower income families have had to make. I think, in part, that this was the complaint of many folks with very low income (but not medicaid qualifying) about the ACA- the affordable health care still wasn't affordable, and they were penalized for not having it. I can see the frustration. It isn't a perfect plan, and I would be really happy if we could work on it to make it truly affordable for everyone (or come up with a new system all together). I also had friends who I knew to be quite stable financially complaining about their raised health care prices. I understood their frustrations, but was far less sympathetic to them. If my added contribution to the whole means that millions more get healthcare (and indeed lives were literally saved)- then it is a sacrifice I am willing to make. I understand that the more comfortable complainers may not have voted for the legislation, and therefore the sacrifice was not willing. I get it- but I'm still not convinced that your burden is unlivable. Not every painful thing is wrong. 

Back to the choices that Americans have.... in an ideal world I could choose to have zero assets (so I can pay for healthcare), live in a low-cost-of living area (which incidentally also has a high job rate and high quality mass transportation so I can have a job but not need to own a car- a luxurious thing). If this was possible, I think many Americans would go for it. But this life is almost imaginary. I don't think that choice is very likely- or if it is I better be single and gifted in a very specific job field (to be announced once I find that magical place). The trouble is- where the good jobs are- often- so are the expensive houses. Funny how that works.

So when we say that Americans have choices, we mean different things. You think that Americans have a lump sum that they choose to spend on extravagant things (like an iPhone) when they should be investing in their health care. I think that you have no idea that many, many Americans do not have lump sums. In fact, many are in terrible debt. They could not get that phone (which might be their only phone, and likely was purchased second hand because if you're poor- you know about these things)- but it wouldn't make a dent. If you don't buy a TV or phone, that does not free up your finances for a lifetime of health insurance. SO you may as well be happy and entertained while you are dying. 

It's hard for me to argue with this ideology (that people just need to manage their money better) because it is based on a false premise: all people have money to invest. If your argument is based on something that isn't true, it renders the rest of your argument as null and void. Additionally, if anyone thinks that health care coverage is simply about investing the right amount then they have shown their privilege card. It shines a spotlight on your ignorance of the plight of the poor. If everyone had enough money to invest (even when pinching pennies) in order to have quality healthcare- then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I think that the folks that Trump whipped into a frenzy about repealing Obamacare truly thought that they would get better health insurance that didn't cost as much. And those that were rich knew exactly what the Republicans meant and knew that maybe they wouldn't have to subsidize their employees' healthcare plans, or at the very least they could go back to providing the bare minimum. Helping the poor will always mean that those who have more money might have to fork out more money. Rich people don't like to look stingy or uncaring, so they hide behind platitudes like "self-reliant" that make poor people who don't need a doctor or government help feel like they are some kind of heroes. But it doesn't help ANYONE. Equating ability to acquire wealth with the ability to be self-reliant is a dangerous and terrible equivalency. The ONLY people who can afford to pay for their own healthcare at cost are the extremely wealthy. The REST of us HAVE to have health insurance or face bankruptcy. A wealthy person purchases health insurance because it is a better fiscal deal. A middle-class person purchases health insurance because it is a fiscal death sentence if anything happens (and as we know- shit happens to everyone). A poor person "chooses" not to have health insurance because they need to pay rent and feed themselves.

I have a friend who is in that scary space between health care and rent money. She doesn't qualify for medicaid but also doesn't have employee based health insurance. She chose rent money. The penalty is less than healthcare coverage. She shares an apartment with I think five other people. She is getting married in a year and is holding her breath until then. I found myself suggesting she elope just for the sake of getting on her husband's health plan. No one has to know you're married, I said. Isn't that a romantic story? I'm praying nothing happens before she gets married. 

Health care is expensive. Too expensive. That is an issue that I believe has bipartisan agreement. The disagreement is about how to lower those costs. Unfortunately no one has figured out a way to make everyone happy. Which I get is nearly impossible. Republicans seem to be aiming to please business owners who don't want to subsidize their employee's health care, and the super elite who want a fatter paycheck at the end of the day, damn the poor. They tell the poor that they will somehow get them better health care for less money, and I'm really curious how that's gonna work out while also being this new brand of Republican that is hell-bent on "self-reliance."

I get it- we don't want to hand out silver platters, but last I checked- most people just want to be healthy and not have to go bankrupt getting there. I am not even asking for hearing aid coverage. It would be nice- but I've lowered my expectations, it's called compromise. I'll pay for my own damn hearing aids if you will not close the only nursing home that has medicaid beds. Because when I worked for hospice- that was hard to find. We had to chase dead people to get our patients into available beds that would take medicaid payment. By the way- the baby boomer generation is aging, and they're living longer, and a lot of them lost their savings when the hosing market crashed, so we're about to face a shit-storm. But back to the point. 

Something that seems to be getting lost in the process of making everyone happy is all these people who can't go to the doctor or do go into crippling debt or DIE because of the INHIBITIVE cost of quality healthcare. 

I was born with a spinal condition that required (as of today) three surgeries. All covered by insurance with some out of pocket expenses that were paid either by my parents or myself (two of the surgeries were while I was still under their healthcare plan). Because I am squarely in the middle class and lucked out with quality health care- I am not bankrupt, nor are my parents. Oh, I was also born hearing impaired which necessitates hearing aids. Those aren't covered by insurance, so I save a little money in order to pay for my inevitable new set of hearing aids every 5-10 years depending on the quality and luck of the set I bought. Some (few) insurance plans cover hearing aids, but as my only option for affordable insurance is under my husband's plan which is not one of the few, I accept that I am responsible for saving up for these important things myself. I cannot do life without them.

Last year a man who was under the influence of drugs hit my minivan with me and my kids in it. It was his fault, he was ticketed, and his insurance paid the bill and gave us a little extra for any health issues (which none of us had luckily). My van was older and paid for. I now have a monthly payment I did not expect because my paid-for vehicle was totaled, but as it was older, it wasn't worth as much as the newer model I now drive. I have the best car insurance, but I didn't get money for a brand new car because that's not how car insurance works. It gives you the value of your vehicle, and while my vehicle had plenty of life left in it- its greatest value was that I didn't owe anything on it. That monthly payment was not something I made a plan for because my old van still had a lot of miles left on it, so I wasn't paying myself huge payments to prepare for the next vehicle (which is what I've been trained to do after I pay off a vehicle). I had only been putting away about $150 a month towards the next vehicle because I knew I had longer to prepare for a new vehicle, and I had other payments (like the hearing aids) that I expected would come first. So I didn't have much other than the insurance to put down on the van, and now here I am with a monthly payment I didn't expect. But that's life- and that's why I have an emergency savings, because even when we weren't making a huge amount of money, we had enough to put away in small amounts. 

So this is just a tiny little example of someone who is making really good choices but still had some set backs. I'm hoping that my hearing aids last a little longer than usual so that I can afford to buy the replacements without taking on debt (or dipping into emergency savings). I'm hopeful that my other, older car (that was supposed to "go" first) lasts a lot longer than I expected. Because if any other financial catastrophe happened, I may have to choose between hearing aids and a car. Which I can do- because of my current life situation. 

My story is about as boring and privileged as I thought you could get. Because ultimately, I know I can make sacrifices if I need to. I have a few safety nets. Obviously my hearing aids are important, so if we have to make it work to become a single-car family, we'll figure it out. I can get a job because I have a skill set that is marketable in a field that pays more than minimum wage. But guess what- I am actually not as privileged as they get, and I think that rich people think I'm poor. The kind of poor who can choose not to have a iPhone so they can have health care. But I'm not. I'm pretty comfortable. Which makes me realize that they have NOOOOO idea what it's like to live on less than $50K a year. The medium household income for folks in the United States of America is (to round up) $52k. That's the number that takes out the outliers of crazy wealth and crazy poverty, and it is household- meaning all the people in the house. 

Literally one hospital visit without insurance can put you back $52k. How do you save for that? I guess what the Republican was saying was that you save for the health insurance. Ok. Gotcha. Health insurance (the way this new plan has it) for people who desperately need it (pre-existing conditions, maternal, cancer, etc.)- is going to be hella expensive. So expensive that you might wonder if it is worth it. Or if you should just stay in pain, go off the depression and anxiety pills, stop physical therapy, not get the surgery, not have the baby or not get prenatal care and hope for the best. What does that give us? A society with sick people. Last I checked, sick people aren't very productive. And as much as I hate it- our society spins on productivity.

I live in an affluent area (not by choice, my husband is a pastor and we live in the church owned parsonage). I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful community with amazing schools. Our last church was in a more blue-collar area and we loved it there too. I'm part of an online community with folks in this area and recently someone asked what the average tuition was that folks were paying for private school. My mind was absolutely blown. BLOWN. First, we live in one of the BEST public school districts there is. Second- people paid around $30k for each child to attend these schools. The discussion was so blasé I realized that this was normal to them. They actually had an extra $60k to spend on their kids' schooling- EACH YEAR. I'm not going to get into the whole public vs private school debate here because that's a completely different blog. However, this conversation made very clear to me just how oblivious some of these folks were to the rest of the world. One talked about struggling to make it work, and I thought- no- struggling to send your kid to private school when you have high quality schools down the street- that's not the same kind of struggle that the regular American suffers. It just opened my eyes to the wide chasm that is between the "haves" and "have nots." 

So when someone says that we should just not buy an iPhone in order to invest in healthcare... I just get really, really angry. Because I realize that here is a man who honestly thinks that most of America can have quality healthcare if they just save enough money. So either this man has absolutely never met a poor person, an elderly person, a disabled person, a person with a chronic illness, or a hard working person working minimum wage, or a couple with masters degrees with a premature baby, or grandparents who saved for two and now have two grandkids because the parents died, or LITERALLY 98% OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Either he hasn't ever met them, which means he lives in a bubble and should be revoked the right to represent if he represents a fraction. OR he doesn't give a shit. And both of those scenarios are reprehensible. 

But you know, make good choices. Be born wealthy or have your hard work and luck be one of the success stories, and forget everyone who helped you get there. Because you are self-reliant. You never had teachers, friends, parents, loans, roads, nutrition, or anything. You did it all your damn self. 

Make good choices. Get off the TV and go meet some Americans.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lead Blanket

I've written about depression before. I've written about the descent into the black hole that is numbness and blah. But now I want to write about the lead blanket. This is what I might call slight remission. It's the feeling when you can do life, but with a good amount of extra effort.

One day you might do all the laundry and make all the beds and even work productively for a good amount of time and make a social plan. You feel good about that because it took every thing you had to do it. Then you realize that normal people do this every day and call it normal. They aren't self-congratulating or eating peppermint patties to reward themselves. They don't feel proud because that is silly.

I literally just stopped this blog and stared at things for 45 minutes. For no reason. Something inside me is telling my brain to sllllooooowww doooowwwwnnnn ssssttttoooppppppp. And then it's fuzz for a bit. I notice that I started something and go back to it, feeling weird about being so easily distracted from it, but also feeling guilty that I haven't finished it or anything else. Right now I am forcing myself to write each and every single letter and something inside me is asking me to please stop writing. Please stop focusing. Please stop doing anything and stare back at the trees or screen or cars or dogs or candy or anything else. Stop writing words. I had to fight really hard to write three sentences. You read it in five seconds, I reread it and didn't understand why it was so damn hard to write. But it was. Below is what happens when I sort of gave in to the lead blanket and wrote through the experience...

It's like having a toddler at the control station. But not a lively, happy toddler. A toddler who is having a bored temper tantrum in his sleep. Green leaves. White basketball court, silver car. What are you writing about again? Oh yeah, the fact that your pseudo depression makes you lazy and it's hard for you to focus and you can't do anything without the most effort. No one will believe you or care. Why do you care to communicate it? The sun is so warm. I wonder if I will get a sunburn. Part of me hopes I will. Remember that woman who died of skin cancer? That's the weirdest thing to remember right now. Siren. Bugs. blue car.

Siren continues.

Mother getting her kids in the car.

Dirty grill. My dog is barking. Birds chirping.

Depression is that lead blanket that makes your feet so painfully difficult to get out of your bed and onto the floor. Depression on the good days means that you made the effort to make meals. Congratulations. The only one who feels a little bit good about this is you (and now you don't anymore).

Do I need medicine? Can we afford it? I don't want the side effects. I feel fine most of the time. If I can just sit in the sun enough. The vitamins will fix me. The sun smells like my childhood. I spent a lot of time swinging under the sun as a child. No wonder I've always wanted to be able to fly. I wish I wasn't afraid of heights, a new fear to go with adulthood. Not that humans can fly anyway- the way I want to - with wings.

Children are exhausting because they move so fast, without the lead blankets. They don't understand why it is so hard for you to keep up.

Fix me sun. Fix me. Paralyzed. Slow. Low blood pressure and slow heart beat. Health? Or death?

The sun is so nice and warm. Finally.

I'm tired of writing this. Those who understand understand. Those who don't just don't. I will always be lazy. I will always have to work harder just to be normal. What I wouldn't give to feel light again.

Should I post this? Or will people start asking me too many questions or making too many suggestions or caring too much and adding so much more weight to the lead blanket?

Why do I sound so dramatic? Get over yourself.

The sun is so wonderfully warm.