Category Archives: politics

All By Myself

 

Last weekend as we drove through the small Bavarian-themed  mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, I was reminded of an incident that took place more than twenty years ago. I was in town for the weekend to celebrate my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. All of the bridesmaids had rented a large room in a seedy motel, and we went out for dinner, drinks, and eventually, karaoke.

When six females in their early 20’s go out on the town in a tiny place like Leavenworth, it’s hard to miss. We got a ton of attention, mostly in the form of free alcohol. By the time we got to the karaoke bar, we were all a little (or a lot) tipsy. (Don’t worry, we were on foot, not in a car.)

I have limited recollection of the evening, but I do remember participating in a rousing rendition of “Summer Loving.” Then , unexpectedly, one of the girls wasn’t feeling well, and all of them followed her to the bathroom. I didn’t react quite as quickly, so I was sitting alone at the table when I was handed a microphone, and the song one of the girl’s had previously selected began playing.

The song was, “All By Myself,” by Eric Carmen (later Celine Dion).

And I sat there, by myself, forlornly singing about being all by myself.

It’s kind of how I have been feeling a lot lately.

I’m a Christian. And I’m a political moderate.  I used to be further to the right, but my deepening faith and understanding of Biblical principals have pushed me left to the center. On some issues I’m over the line on the left, on some, I’m over the line on the right.

It used to be that I felt like I had a lot of company in the middle; that when push came to shove, most people didn’t hold extreme positions. The parties they voted for would produce a platform, but only the hardcore dems and republicans actually subscribed to the entire checklist of ideologies.

It was easier, then, to have spirited, but civil debate about issues.

It’s not that way anymore. The extremists on both sides have managed to pull in a lot more people, all the while pushing others to the opposite side. Those who once considered themselves moderate liberals and conservatives, now feel the need to take a stand on one side or the other.

In the past few years I’ve watched people I had previously considered to be moderates move further and further towards the ends of the spectrum. They’ve stopped listening to the other side and listen only to viewpoints that feed their extremism. They have used the behaviors and words of the other side to justify the unjustifiable.

Just this week I have been sickened to see loving, caring people make excuses for horrific behavior in the name of politics, in the name of balance. There’s been a raging competition to prove whose party is guilty of the most abhorrent actions and words.

The actions of the opposition have been used to justify things that I simply cannot believe. Since when did we start operating tit-for-tat  on a societal level?  We seem to have thrown out the basic rules of public decorum.

Do not confuse moderation with not having strong passionate views on things. My views are just as deeply engrained in me as those who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

I passionately believe that humanity requires us to take care of each other. Even if it’s not a religious value for you, I’m certain that, presented with circumstances requiring action to save the life of another person, most would do what they could. However, your ideology doesn’t always represent that.

That’s the problem with ideology: it doesn’t take into account what real human beings do and feel in any given situation.  Most pro-choice people say they would never personally get an abortion, and definitely wouldn’t be comfortable performing one. Most people who angrily rejected Obamacare wouldn’t shrug their shoulders at a dying child who can’t afford medical care and were thrown off their insurance and say, “That sucks for you, but in this country we believe in self-sufficiency.”

And yet… the middle is becoming a very lonely place.

Last week, I got called a cynic by a conservative (who doesn’t personally know me) because I made a critical observation of the president. Me, a cynic. The person who always believes things will work out in the end, who wants the bad news first so I can move on to the good news, who has been called naïve on multiple occasions for taking people at their word and assuming the best about them.

It’s nearly impossible to make a values-based claim without it being criticized as a political statement. For example, I have great concerns about the health and well-being of our planet. Does that make me a liberal? Because the way I see it, God mandated Adam and Eve and their descendants to care for this earth. That isn’t a political agenda, it’s a moral imperative.

I think violence or threat of violence, or portrayal of violence against another human being, whether or not you disagree with them or are angry with their actions, is unacceptable. Period. For me, this is as black and white an area as you can get. It’s not okay for either side of an ideological disagreement to incite or perpetrate violence against the opposition. THIS SHOULD NOT EVEN BE UP FOR DEBATE OR DISCUSSION.

Every day the extremists get angrier and louder. Every day they demand that those who have approached these conversations with caution to “stop the fence sitting.” I am told “there is no room for compromise. Compromise means validation of their actions or views.” I am told that not going all in on one side makes me complicit with the other.

And I reject that. I reject that I don’t get to decide, issue by issue, person by person, how I feel about something and what I want to do about it.

I reject the idea that because much of the Christian church has been co-opted by the political agenda of Ayn Rand and her subscribers, I must be ashamed of my faith and stand silent as every believer is painted with the same broad brush.

I reject the idea that because I have great compassion for immigrants, refugees, and those who are persecuted for their race, ethnicity or religion, I am a snowflake who doesn’t love my country.

I reject the idea that finding common ground makes me a co-conspirator responsible for the bad actions of the party of those I have chosen not to condemn because of who they voted for.

I reject the idea that common decency, courtesy, concern for our fellow man and the planet on which we reside are political fodder, and that one side owns the rights to call themselves good while the other is evil.

I will name the evil when I see it, but I will strive for grace and mercy in my interactions because that’s what has been modeled to me by my God.

The evil I see today is hatred. I see name-calling. I see avocation of violence. I see condescension and disrespect.

You can stand up for your values without denigrating those who disagree. You can stand up for your values while continually dialoging with those from a counter-perspective. You can stand up for your values, name bad behavior, use your voice to create movement and change without sinking to the levels I have seen recently.

We are all hypocrites. We just are. We justify our own side’s bad behavior while condemning the other for the exact same offenses. And instead of owning that, we dig in our heels and double down. And then we wonder why we feel so icky all the time. Why we feel so agitated, easily offended, angry, sad. Misunderstood.

Come back to the middle. The water is fine (lukewarm, actually.) Help me be a better person by challenging me with questions that make me think, not insults that make me want to push you away (or over a cliff.) Help me see the heart behind your statements, and let me help you see the heart behind mine. I really believe it’s not too late.

(Would a cynic say that? No, so take that, Patrick!) Yeah, I know, I have a long way to go on the grace and mercy stuff.

 

We Can’t Always Choose The Music Life Plays For Us, But We Can Choose How We Dance To It

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Once Upon a time (365 days ago to be precise) we all stood together on the precipice of a new year. We sipped champagne and shared midnight kisses,  cheered and threw confetti, talked excitedly about future plans and resolutions.

I’m not sure 2016 turned out the way any of us anticipated, and it’s likely to go down as a year many would like to forget. 2016 is the Voldemort of years- the one of which we shall never speak again. When someone attempts to  begin a sentence, “Do you remember back in 2016 when-” we will all shush their mouths as quickly and gently as possible.

I’m turning 45 in 2017. I’ve seen some years. I have never seen a year like this one. Between democalypse 2016 (we miss you, Jon Stewart), increases in race-related conflict, police brutality and police under attack, increases in hate crimes, reduction of interpersonal civility, global unrest, terrorism, and humanitarian crises, this year was already a stinker. Add in a larger than normal amount of iconic celebrity deaths and it was a cesspool of ugly.

But it wasn’t just that stuff that made this year so hard. I lost 2 people significant to me and to people I care about to cancer this year. I attended the funeral of my friend Jason on a Saturday and 6 days later I was comforting my sister and her children over the unexpected passing of her long time significant other John, my nephew Luke’s father.

All year the people I love struggled through loss and grief of various types, fought to keep their heads above water, as one said to me, “I’m operating in 15 minute increments, putting one foot in front of the other.”

This year was just plain hard. Was it harder than other years? Can we statistically prove that? Who knows, but that doesn’t really matter. With a few exceptions, most of my friends and family are ready to be done with 2016.

However, it’s not in me to leave it there. The Pollyanna in me wants to know that there was beauty in the pain, lessons learned, strength gained.

So, in order to not let this shitastrophic year get the best of me, here, in no particular order, are the joyful moments that in some way managed to redeem the rest:

 

In January I went on a three week Facebook fast, which I will be repeating this year . I started a Bible study on gratitude and spent every day looking for beauty around me. I focused on my family, my writing, my spiritual development. I had lunch dates and coffee dates and was present in my life. I connected with those I love.

In March I was able to celebrate my sister Shannon’s 50th birthday with her by going to visit our sister Colleen In Southern Cal. We sat on the beach in Laguna and talked and laughed. We surprised my niece as she performed for the last time at her high school cheerleading expo. We went out to Palm Springs and sat by the pool and connected.

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In an effort to simplify, I let go of some of my “have-to’s” and focused instead on my “want-to’s.” Turned out I didn’t have to do most of my have-to’s, they were simply burdens I needlessly placed on myself. Holidays had less pressure, and I was able to just be with my people, and we connected.

We spent our spring break at beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. We rode four wheelers and got dirty and explored and we connected.

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Parker rode on a camel at the fair, Zoe played a dwarf in her school production of “Shrek,” and an unusually warm spring meant lots of days enjoying Lake Washington and the stunning place we live.

camel lake

Sydney and I sung together for the mother’s day tea, Parker bet on the ponies at Emerald Downs, We celebrated Papa Ted’s 90th birthday,  and my birthday surprise was a giant poster Parker unfurled at the school concert.

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Jeff and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary in St Pete Beach, Florida and missed the hurricane by 12 hours.

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Nathan graduated from high school and became a freshman at Washington State University.

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Zoe, Parker and I went to Harrison Hot Springs, Canada to go in search of Bigfoot

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(We didn’t find him)

We saw Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie in concert, Zoe got to go to Disneyland, Nathan took a graduation road trip with his friends and we spent much of the summer on the sidelines of a soccer field.

In the fall Jeff and I got to celebrate our friend and neighbor Brian’s 50th birthday in Las Vegas and then just a few days later I was making the rounds in Socal, seeing my sister and her family, old friends, newer friends and spending time with my extended family at our reunion.

rock-harbor tbd vegas mix thayer

In all of these moments the priority was connection.

Zoe added volleyball to her schedule which, as an indoor sport, is a nice change. Nathan leaving for college was hard, but watching him thrive on his own is amazing.

Birthday week was a 6 day extravaganza of celebrating Zoe’s 13th, Parker’s 11th and Sydney’s 22nd.

We spent Thanksgiving with Shannon and her family in Spokane, celebrated the holidays with friends and family at various events, culminating in Christmukkah at our house.

And now, as I sit here typing this, my kids are gathered ’round the table. It’s snowing outside. And we are connecting.

So as it turns out, the reason 2016 can’t beat us is because we are stronger together than anything it tried to send our way. In the midst of pain was blessing. In the midst of struggle was joy and growth.

I’m not sorry to see this year come to an end, there’s no doubt. However, the reason I’m most looking forward to 2017 is not because 2016 didn’t have its moments. It’s because this year Sydney will embark on a new career path. It’s because Parker will finish elementary school and enter middle school. It’s because Nathan is making plans for moving into an apartment with his friends for his sophomore year of college, one step closer to the rest of his life. It’s because Zoe will have my calendar filled with activities as she lives each moment to its fullest.

Jeff and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage this year. This is our 24th New Year’s Eve together, and we have all sorts of plans for the future.

Even if none of those plans come to fruition, there’s one thing that will matter in 2017… how we connect. If I have a resolution, it’s to be better at connecting, to be in the moment, to find the beauty in simplicity of sitting face to face with someone in our shared humanity.

So here’s to fresh starts… and real connection. Like the quote above says, we can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance to it. May 2017 be a year of dancing.

Cheers!

(I picked this photo to end my last post of 2016 because somehow an Alan Alda quote with a typo superimposed over a dolphin seemed to fit exactly right. )

dolphin-new-year

 

 

Faith In Action: Democracy, Hypocrisy and the Pomegranate

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When I started this blog three and a half years ago, I intended it to be a light-hearted outlet for my writing. I believe my second post was about bananas. Some of my readers started following me because I was attempting a modicum of humor on a regular basis. I’ve probably lost a few followers recently because of a change in the tone and seriousness of my writing, but that’s okay with me. I’d rather lose readers than stifle my needed expression.

 

About two years ago, I entered into therapy. I highly recommend it, by the way. So much so, my 13 year old has gotten into trouble with her friends by suggesting they see a counselor. I had to explain to her that simply because I extol its benefits without shame or embarrassment, that doesn’t mean everyone appreciates that type of advice.

Counseling has changed me, and I’d like to think for the better. It’s allowed me to see myself more clearly, it’s freed me from bondage that has impeded both my personal growth and my spiritual growth, and it’s helped me clarify what really is important to me.

As a result, you’re much less likely to find silly blog posts here. (Also, since I’m in the process of writing a book, you’re much less likely to find ANY blog posts here. ) That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor, it just means that I’m finding if I’m going to exert the energy to write something, I want it to be meaningful; Worthy of both my time and yours.

So, now that those disclaimers are out of the way, I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath (ha!) to hear what has roused me enough to break from writing my novel and post my first blog in months.

It’s fruit. Pomegranate, specifically.

 

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Did you know that pomegranates are filled with vitamins, antioxidents, and anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and pro-heart health properties?

If you’ve ever eaten a pomegranate, you know that the seeds can be difficult to reach. They’re a combination of both sweet and tart. They can get messy. Really messy, but so worth it.

Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, and it is often consumed on Rosh Hashana to symbolize the desire for fruitfulness in the upcoming new year.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he describes the Fruit of the Spirit. These are all the qualities that should be born out in a person’s life as a result of the Spirit living within us, and as a visible manifestation of our faith.

fruits-of-the-spirit-love

These are all great qualities. I like to think I possess them. However, the past several days (probably even the past several months) have challenged me on whether or not this is true.

On Tuesday our nation elected a new president. While the majority of people voted for the candidate who lost, our system is set up not for a majority rule, but with a less-direct version of democracy, the electoral college. Apparently our founding fathers feared a “tyranny of the majority.” As to why each state but two has a “winner take all” electoral allotment system, I don’t have an answer to that.

Regardless, the outcome has been decided, and truth be told, I’m having a really hard time understanding it. When you don’t understand something, it’s much harder to accept it.

I’ve struggled to understand how people could hear the hateful words that I heard, and still want that person to represent them, represent us. I have struggled to understand how people who are proclaimed followers of Jesus, the most inclusive, loving, generous, immaterialistic, peaceful man to walk to planet, heard the things I heard and chose to look the other way, or worse- excused it and picked that candidate. I’ve struggled to understand how the American church has become so co-opted by a singular political party and hateful rhetoric of the “opposing candidate” that as a whole, was completely unwilling to extend grace to one side, but was able to extend so much unmerited grace to the other. Or, barring either candidate being consistent with Biblical values, conscientiously abstained , voted third party, or as I did, picked a write-in candidate.

And I have asked questions. Lots of them. I’ve attempted to understand. I’ve seen lots of Facebook posts decrying the accusations lodged against them of being racist, unintelligent, hateful, and a whole number of things. It saddens me that they have been attacked. They have cited a myriad of reasons why they voted the way that they did, and most of them have to do with party platforms rather than the person they actually elected.

For me, though,  this wasn’t a choice of politics, it was a referendum on civility. I believe everyone lost on Tuesday, whether they realize it or not.

HOWEVER… and here’s where I start to get to the point of this whole convoluted thing.

In a conversation about the election with a friend of mine whose life is devoted to ministry, previously as a pastor, currently as a global missions director for a charity that does a whole lot of good in the name of Jesus, he accused me of assuming that I have taken THE moral high ground.

He’s absolutely correct. I have assumed that.

But his statement has stuck with me. It’s gnawed at me. It’s caused me to look at my own life and my own “belief” system.

If I say I believe something, but have no actions to back it up, it’s not a belief. It’s an opinion. And boy do I have LOTS of opinions. I’m a writer, it’s how I express my thoughts. If I were to compare the amount of words I have expended vs. the amount of effort proving those words with actions, there would be a giant discrepancy.

When I was younger, I was always a little nervous about the verse in James that says faith without action is dead. Because I was brought up with the doctrine of grace, “works” was almost a dirty word.

The reality is that it left me without a clear understanding of either.

Jesus told us that faith was a visible thing, not just things you think or feel. The only way your inner beliefs can be seen is through action. Loving people is a verb. Mercy isn’t feeling pity, it’s compassion. Compassion is a verb, exhibited through extending help and forgiveness .  Sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, reading the Bible or spouting off on Facebook about morality isn’t faith. We don’t ask, “What would Jesus think?” We don’t ask, “What would Jesus feel?” We ask “What would Jesus DO?”

I can have all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the poor, maybe even write a post, or share an article about the tragedy and injustice of it, meanwhile my mother in law is quietly serving at the soup kitchen every week– who then is the one who truly BELIEVES helping the poor is the right thing to do?

This morning I studied this concept of living my beliefs through my actions, and it was a heartbreaking indictment.

The following, in no particular order, are the verses that convicted my heart today:

Matthew 12:36 “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgement day for every idle word you speak.”

Idle: without purpose or effect, pointless.

John 21:16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said. “You know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

Revelation 2:19 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. ”

Philemon 1:6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

James 2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?

James 2:22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.

1 Peter 2:15 For this is God’s will, that you silence the ignorance of foolish men by doing good.

Matthew 25:34- 45 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me a drink, I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply , ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “

And finally, back to the pomegranate.

Matthew 12:33 A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.

Or non-existent.

Have you ever planted a tree or vine that didn’t bear much fruit, if at all? Last summer I planted a raspberry bush. Number of raspberries it bore year one? Zero. Year two? Three. So instead of providing me with the joy and sustenance of its berries, all I’ve got is an overgrown bush covered in thorns.

Sometimes in my way of living and interacting with others,  I’m that raspberry bush. I give a couple measly berries and an armful of scratches for your trouble.

I want to be a pomegranate tree, and not because those suckers could bean someone on the side with the force of a baseball to get their attention, although at times it’s tempting.

If my life is bearing pomegranates, that fruit is not only providing goodness, it’s also filled with a multitude of seeds that can turn into more trees.

It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, as long as I’m producing fruit, sharing it with others, seeding new trees.

I need to put my preaching into action, starting with the very people in whose choices I’m disappointed. Love, compassion, mercy, grace… if I am only willing to bestow these things to those who agree with me, I am a fruitless pomegranate tree. If I rail against injustice, poverty, bigotry, but it’s limited to a blog post and a Facebook rant, I am a fruitless pomegranate tree.

If I want to see pomegranate arils permeating this country, my friendships, my government, my family, I’ve gotta first fertilize my own tree.