Being Fully Human, Children, mothers day, peace, terrorism, war

Mother’s Day – Fail

Mother's Day Figure

Every year we set aside one day to celebrate our mothers or miss our mothers or lament that we didn’t have more loving mothers. Some of us celebrate that we are mothers, grieve the loss of children or the inability to have ever given birth.

But Mother’s Day has not always been a sentimental Hallmark holiday. The very first Mother’s Days were attempts to organize mother’s for political reasons and social causes.

One of the first organized Mother’s Days was led by Julia Ward Howe. It was 1870 when Julia appealed to mothers to rally for peace.

This was her proclamation:

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
at the summons of war,
let women now leave all that may be left of home
for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Julia’s words should hang heavy on us in this day when we continue to be steeped in violence, discrimination and war. Isn’t it time we hear her cry to protect children wherever they might live?

Mother’s Day wasn’t started as a way to celebrate moms. It was started as an attempt to rally mothers together for a cause greater than themselves – the cause of peace.

It doesn’t seem to have done the job.

Namaste.

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Being Fully Human, Children, education, empowerment, HIV, mutual consent, parenting, power, relationships, Respect, responsibility, sacred sex, self esteem, sexual ethic, sexual ethics, sexuality

Tulsa World: Talk sex with kids, for their own good – Tulsa World: Other Voices

This was published in the Tulsa World today. A fitting conversation to have on Mother’s Day!

Barbara Lee: Talk sex with kids, for their own good – Tulsa World: Other Voices.

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Being Fully Human, college, education, rape, sexual assault, Title IX

5 Steps Toward Ending Sexual Assault on College Campuses

campusLast night I had the opportunity to be participate as a panelist after screening the movie It Happened Here. This moving documentary explores sexual assault on college campuses through the personal testimonials of five survivors who transform their experiences into a springboard for change. Find a screening near you! For those of you in West Michigan, Loutit Library has a copy you can check out.

Our young people are simply inundated with adult sexual content – without being given the tools to deal with their own sexuality and the repercussions of their choices. We have traditionally framed our approach to sexuality in the context of shame based teachings. Shame is not an effective tool for experiencing healthy sexuality. If we are going to reduce sexual assault, we need to talk realistically about sex in a way the builds a foundation of self respect. People who respect themselves, do not disrespect other people.

  • Sexual assault and abuse need to be criminalized. Young people need to know that their actions will be taken seriously. They need to know that there are stiff criminal penalties and real life consequences awaiting anyone that violates another human being.
  • Our culture needs to stop glorifying male sexual conquests – that only creates an unhealthy need to prove one’s manhood through sexual encounters.
  • We need to recognize that college students are watching and using internet pornography and that this affects their world view.  We need to talk candidly about the differences between pornography and reality. We need to understand that pornography provides a lens for objectifying human beings so that we can present forums that re-humanize people and offer tools for healthy relationships.
  • We need to talk realistically about sex in a way the builds a foundation of self respect because people who respect themselves, do not disrespect other people. When we use shame-based teachings, we tell people that they are not safe sharing their true thoughts and feelings. We take away opportunities for insight and growth and drive unhealthy thoughts and behaviors deeper underground.
  • We need to make it clear to young people that there is never an excuse for abuse and it should never be tolerated. We need to give them tools to identify abuse in their own lives so that they choose to make healthier relationship choices.

Society is polarized between the idea that sex is a sin and sex is a sport. We need to find that healthy place where we celebrate our sexuality and treat it with moral integrity – a place I call Sextegrity.

Namaste!

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Being Fully Human, Compassion, nonviolence, terrorism

Nobody Likes a Terrorist

Nobody Likes a TerroristThe website Listserv.com has a compilation of terrorist fails put together by Morris M. This is one of my favorites. This is about the Colombian group FARC, a group that has nothing to do with religion. The FARC are a self-described army of peasant Marxist–Leninists with a political platform of agrarianism and anti-imperialism. They fund their operations by kidnapping and demanding ransoms, illegal mining, extortion and the production of cocaine. They’ve killed thousands during their 50-year battle with Colombia’s government. Their operatives are ruthless, brutal—and, just occasionally, hilariously incompetent.

In 2008, FARC leaders struck a deal with the Colombian government in which they were to turn over three hostages including former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and her son. The child was born while Rojas was a hostage and was now 3 years old and the government’s chief concern. The whole exchange was choreographed by the FARC leadership to be a PR triumph for the terrorists—and it probably would have been, had they not accidentally freed their key hostage two years earlier.

As zero-hour approached, it became humiliatingly clear that FARC no longer held Rojas’s son captive. One of the fighters had given the child up for adoption shortly after it had been born and somehow the leadership had failed to notice the total lack of screaming baby in their camp. Suddenly, the massive PR coup was nothing of the sort, as FARC were forced to release their other two hostages to mocking laughter instead of cheers of solidarity.

Think terrorist cells are run by a network of criminal masterminds? Think again.

Who Is the Terrorist?

Ever since September 11, 2001, we Americans have become a nation increasingly obsessed with terrorism. We wonder why we were attacked and what we can do to prevent being attacked again. We explore the causes of terrorism and debate how should respond to the next threat.

We also tend to have taken a pretty singular stance as we do so. We are the victims of terror. We are the potential casualties. And they – that group – those people – they are the threat. How shall we protect ourselves from them? That’s a convenient stance to be sure because it nicely isolates us from the problem – the role we play in this tangled web of power and corruption and desperation.

So if we are to take a more integral view of this whole messy business, perhaps we should start by asking the more fundamental question. Beyond the rhetoric and the scare tactics, just what is terrorism?

Caleb Carr, in his book “The Lessons of Terror” defines terrorism as “any form of warfare that deliberately targets a civilian population.” Terrorism is “any form of warfare that deliberately targets a civilian population.”

It’s not a particularly comfortable definition to some ears because it implies that terrorism is not only a means of individual extremists, but also something the regular military might use. And so it has. Think of Nazi Germany. Think of Cambodia. Think of Rwanda. Think of Hiroshima. Think of Iraq. Think of drone missile strikes.

Drone missile strikes from the United States to be exact. The human rights group Reprieve analyzed the available public data concerning US drone strikes. Targeted strikes aimed at 41 men have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of November 24. The Council on Foreign Relations also reports that 500 signature strikes outside the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a conservative estimate of 3674 civilians killed in these terrorist attacks. Oh sorry, I think the correct term is “collateral damage” when we’re inflicting it on others.

Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism

That’s the regular military. What about those bands of extremists? Here it is helpful to distinguish guerilla warfare from terrorism. Both guerrillas and terrorists consisted of small bands that would rise up against a more powerful enemy with quick action and fast retreat so that they could soon strike again. Both tend to work by hiding among civilians and recruiting their support. Both groups consist of the disenfranchised. Both attempt to use violence to change the status quo. But the target of their violence is very different.

While terrorists attack civilians, guerillas know the importance of strictly avoiding (or at least appearing to avoid) any such attack. By following this mandate guerrillas are able to maintain the support of their fellow citizens – even their admiration for the brave work they do. As a result there are many examples of successful guerrilla campaigns.

Terrorists, on the other hand, use civilians intentionally as targets. The goal is to instill fear. Because they fail to show concern for the people, the citizens blame the terrorists both for their actions and for the retaliation that often comes at their expense. This is why eventually, Carr maintains, terrorism always fails.

Nobody likes a terrorist.

Here’s an example: US citizens are killed when planes become terrorist missiles that slam into the World Trade Towers – the world immediately responds with prayers, support and sympathy – but then the US attacks Iraqi citizens and support for the USA plummets globally while fear of the US increases.

Killing civilians is not a good long term strategy. It always makes it more difficult for those who use it to achieve their ends. Here’s another example: The Palestinians and Israel. Whenever one acts against civilians, sympathy shifts to those who are being attacked or harassed. Terrorism is ultimately a self-defeating tactic.

Nevertheless, it remains a tactic used by a whole host of people all around this world. Why?

No Other Option

Because they see no other option. In his book The Many Faces of Terrorism, Ken Wilber looked at 50 major terrorist acts around the world from Protestant bombings of abortion clinics in the South to Buddhist subway attacks in Tokyo to Sikh separatists in India to Muslim terrorist acts including 911. He discovered that all have the same profile. They were groups of people who did not believe there was a place for their most firmly held beliefs within the modern world – and because the world would not make room for their beliefs, they were ready to blow up the world.

Wilber contends that 70% of the world is operating at no higher than an ethnocentric world view. Preserve and protect me, my family, my kin, my lineage, and those like me. Me, my family and those like me are united by our belief structure and a rigid code of right and wrong. We are united by obedience to our God or another moral order that glues together our particular ethnic group. We know what our God values and what our God wants.

But this nation or this world does not recognize those values and those wants. The world is a threat, a jungle full of predators. A place in which heroism is necessary and power belongs to the conquerors. Such is the seed of a holy war.

Terrorists are Soldiers

We all can fall pray to this mentality. All of us have within us the seeds of this kind of extremism. We all have tightly held beliefs and values and when they are threatened, we have the capacity to act to protect ourselves, our families, our Gods – whatever they might be.

Understanding the human capacity for both good and evil is critical if we are to have any impact on terrorism at all. For the first mistake we make is to justify the killing of civilians on our side and to dehumanize and call terrorists those who kill civilians for some other cause. In reality terrorists are soldiers and activists. Our failure to deal with terrorism adequately over the past few decades rests in the fact that we have refused to acknowledge that in their own minds they are not criminals, but soldiers engaging in acts of warfare.

Terrorism will continue to haunt us all as long as there is hunger and poverty, corrupt and brutal political systems, harsh discrimination and social inequalities, civil wars, environmental degradation and epidemic disease. All of these problems are sources of insecurity and hopelessness for millions. To be indifferent to these realities is to ignore the role we play in the perpetuation of terrorism.

In Buddhism there is a state of consciousness called compassionate detachment – the ability to step outside of one’s own self, above the human level, to see the wider view of humanity. From this elevated view, we see that there is suffering on all sides that has led people to act out in ways that hurt others and themselves. From this vantage point, there are no sides to pick, there is just the tragedy of human victims trying to make their way in a difficult world while carrying their own wounds and scars. From this perspective we understand the need for compassionate action.

A Compassion Response

But what about here on the ground? But what about ISIS? What about Boko Haram? What about Al-Shabaab? We almost can’t stomach the slaughter of college students in Kenya, the execution of Egyptian Coptic Christians and the beheading of journalists. As we recall those images, you can feel the energy in the room shift. We are filled with revulsion, outrage, and frustration. What does the value of compassionate action call us to when such evil is assaulting our world?

If you’re like me, the idea of practicing compassion in light of such horrific behavior stops us short. It’s hard enough for me to feel compassion toward the guy who cut me off in traffic last week or and my old high school classmate who posted their conservative rant on Facebook last night. It takes tremendous courage to practice compassion toward people who we love and who have caused hurt. Isn’t this taking things to an unrealistic extreme? And why would we do it? Why would we even bother cultivating compassion for men who barbarically mass execute civilians?

We bother because we genuinely want to be more fully human and that means we understand that violence only begets violence; that there is never an excuse for one human being to commit violence against another human being. And here’s the kicker – not only is nonviolence a more fully human response, it actually works!

The Buddhists and other spiritual teachers tell us that deep down inside those we call terrorists are just the same as us. They want to be happy and free of suffering, and so do we. If we had been born to their parents, in their country, and brought up in their environment, who’s to say we wouldn’t behave in exactly the same way.

The Making of a Terrorist

But let’s bring it closer to home. What about people born here in the United States becoming terrorists? Pete Simi is an investigator for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism. He has found that there is a lot of diversity among those who join extremist groups, including the fact that they come from a wide cross section of socioeconomic situations. While it is not always the case, the most common background characteristic is some kind of family disruption, either divorce, parental abandonment, a parent becoming incarcerated, or substance abuse by one or both of the parents.

In terms of personality, there does seem to be certain characteristics of thinking that make a person more prone or susceptible to recruitment. One is a low tolerance for ambiguity and a strong need to categorize things as “black and white” rather than deal with so-called “gray areas.” In fact, at the most fundamental level that’s what most of these movements are really all about — the oversimplification of a highly complicated world. Simi concludes black and white simplicity is a powerful incentive to offer people, especially those who feel lost and looking for easy answers.

Compassionate action allows us to see others as brothers and sisters. It witnesses to the fact that love extends to all. And it invites us to pay attention to the interests and welfare of those we might consider to be enemies. It recognizes that we all play a role in creating extremism, so we all need to find ways of diminishing extremism.

After Hate

Simi points out that “a common misconception is the idea that “once a hater always a hater,” once a terrorist always a terrorist, once a deviant always beyond redemption. This,” says Simi, “is folklore; it’s simply not true.”

People do leave extremist groups. Some leave as they become more familiar with the ideas and realize it really is a pretty warped world view. Moral uneasiness can emerge that creates distance between them and the group. Others realize that their future is likely prison or the grave and decide this isn’t the life they want for themselves or their family.

But Simi believes the most common factor for those who want to leave extremist groups is the growing realization that, “as much as the movement professes loyalty and kinship and all of these affirmative qualities, there’s really a tremendous amount of backstabbing and infighting that occurs. As people experience and observe this, they become disillusioned and begin to see the movement for what it is.

But leaving can be very difficult.  The organization LAH Life After Hate was started by former hate group members. The focus of their message is the importance of using compassion to inform prevention and intervention efforts and aftercare for individuals who want to change their lives but may need various types of support.

Compassion may indeed be the most powerful tool of all. Compassion does not mean condoning reprehensible behavior. So what does compassion look like in this situation? CompassionIt is a nonprofit and global social movement. They suggest that in this very moment, we can send terrorists (both home and abroad) a wish for peace by saying or thinking, “May you find peace. May you be free from suffering.” It’s pretty simple, really.

People at Peace Do Not Harm

People who are at peace with themselves and with others do not harm others. By wishing that others find peace, we open our own heart and cultivate peace within ourselves. When I am at peace, it changes my own world view and my interactions with everyone else. It is a truly a transformative and subversive action.

It might sound naïve, but we should never underestimate the power of non-violence. Preston Sprinkle points out that, “History doesn’t like to glorify non-violence; our nation and identity were born out of bombs bursting in the sky. But wipe away our militaristic lenses through which we view the past, and you’ll see that many seemingly invincible powers were resisted and overcome through non-violence.”

Compassion takes courage and practice. We won’t leave today and suddenly feel compassionate toward everyone just because we want to. It just doesn’t work that way. But we can set an intention to look at the world through the lens of compassion. If we do that, we can achieve peace…within ourselves.

So are you ready to exercise profound courage and subversion? Then close your eyes and begin by settling your mind with a few moments of breathing…

Now visualize a terrorist or a person who represents terrorist to you.

Send out these thoughts, “May you find peace. May you be free of suffering.”

As you open your eyes, may you find peace. May you be free of suffering.

Namaste

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Being Fully Human, cycle of violence, divine within, domestic violence, Easter, emotional abuse, Jesus, mary of magdala, partriarchy, resurrection, sexual abuse, shame, social isolation, women

A Call to Resurrection

Surviving Domestic ViolenceIn my book Sacred Sex I retell Will Willimon’s experience preaching in a croweded auditorum. He was given an introduction that far exceeded what he thought he would deliver and he remembered a teacher saying something like if you aren’t sure you have enough to say, say it louder. So he got up before the congregation and said, “And what is the most significant event our faith has to offer?” Then he bellowed out the answer, “The Erection!” Now that’s one Easter message I would have enjoyed hearing!

My message won’t be quite that provocative. I believe the Easter story and the Easter myth itself transcends the barrier of religion and that even if we don’t follow the Christian calendar, we can still find value in its premise. So I want to approach this story through the eyes of Mary of Magdala and dedicate this message to the women who have struggled throughout history into our modern times to find a place of genuine acceptance and inclusion as equals in society.

Mary at the Empty Tomb

What a poignant Easter text we find in John 20:10-18, so sad and so beautiful. Mary has come to the tomb of her beloved Jesus. You can imagine how she must have felt. Numbness fighting to still the shock still reverberating in her. Going through the motions of preparing the body, the one last way in which she can feel close to the teacher she followed and the man she most certainly loved. Feeling lost and alone and yet finding some comfort in these rites and rituals.

And then even that solace is taken from her. There is no body to touch or to cry over. There is no last time to speak her sorrow while gazing at the face she held so dear. Instead there is the certain knowledge that the joy has gone out of her life, that feeling of hollow emptiness and despair. The sense of being small and insignificant and utterly alone.

Indeed, 2000 years ago, women as a whole were considered small and insignificant. Women were nobodies. Women were property. They had few of the rights of men. They could not be witnesses in court or file for divorce. They could not be taught the Torah. They were to be nearly invisible in public. Public meals were for men only, and if a woman did show up she was assumed to be a prostitute. Women lived on the margins of society.

Jesus’ Treatment of Women was Scandalous

And for a brief period of time, Jesus elevated Mary and the other women he interacted with to a glorious height of equality. His actions toward women were nothing short of scandalous. He defended them, spoke with them, healed them, ate with them, and even learned from them. Mary was part of the intimate group that traveled with Jesus. She knew personally the warmth of his unconditional love.

And now so profound is her despair that when Jesus speaks to her she doesn’t even recognize him… until he speaks her name. When she is named, when she is recognized for who she is at a time when she feels again as if she is nothing. When she is recognized for who she is at a time when she has lost everything. When she is recognized for who she is, she recognizes her Teacher. She is filled with new life. In a very real sense it is Mary who is now resurrected.

So why in this moment of mystical reunion would Jesus torment her further by telling her not to hold onto him? Shouldn’t he have swept her into his arms and held her as she wept? Shouldn’t he have offered her words of comfort and peace, assuring her of his presence, promising her this was real and that he was there, right there with her?

John wrote the most mystical of the four Gospels that were included in the official Canon. In it Jesus is always using common language to say something beyond the obvious. So when Jesus says, “Don’t hold onto me.” Was his statement as obviously cruel as it sounds or could it be that this man who so often used common language to point to the spiritual is at it again? “No Mary, you don’t have to hold onto me. You don’t have to cling to me, because everything you saw in me is now in you. That same divine presence that you sensed in me, I now challenge you to see in yourself. This is what I came to teach and show you. See in yourself the Spirit you saw in me.”

Mary’s Call to be Fully Human

In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, a Gospel that did not make it into the Canon, Jesus tells his followers that the son of Man dwells inside them. And Mary responds by saying that Jesus is calling them and us to be fully “human.”

Perhaps to be fully human is to recognize that what Jesus says is true. To understand that it is within our humanity that we are all resurrected. Perhaps it is only in fullness that we learn not to belittle ourselves and dismiss our gifts and abilities. Perhaps it is only in human fullness that we come to realize that we are also fully divine.

The Terror of s

I’d like to tell you now about another women. I was returning with a group from Extended Grace from a Renaissance Festival when we stopped at a gas station. One of the teenagers with us went into the restroom where she was approached by a young lady asking her for help. Her name was Tanika and she looked barely 16 years old. Tanika explained that her boyfriend had beaten her for the last time and that she had finally left him for good. But he had followed her and when she stopped at this station for gas he took over her car with her child in it. I called the police. I left Tanika with the police officers and my card and told her to call if she needed any help connecting with legal assistance or a shelter.

None of us expected to meet Tanika that day or to find ourselves face-to-face with the terror of living in abuse. More often we can ignore the problem. More often it stays behind closed doors. But as unusual as our encounter with Tanika proved to be, there is nothing unusual about domestic violence. In the United States, someone is beaten by their intimate partner every 9 seconds. For 12.4 million people, home is not a safe place. Today even many teenagers view violence as an unavoidable aspect of their relationships, and 1 in 3 will experience physical or sexual abuse or threats during the year.

The face of abuse is shared by all races, all ages and all socioeconomic classes. Domestic violence has severe physical and emotional consequences for its victims. And while 1 in 3 women will be victims of abuse sometime during their lifetime, studies also show that as many as 1 in 4 domestic abuse victims are men. The FBI reports that 2/3 of all marriages will include violence at some point. Domestic violence is just as real and just as prevalent in heterosexual and same sex relationships.

“People Like Her Just Like to Get Hit.”

I never heard from Tanika again. According to the frustrated police officer, her boyfriend was in a lot of trouble for a lot of things, but in the end Tanika never pressed charges. The officer was angry with her – and obviously ill-educated about abuse. I was dismayed when he said to me, “People like her just like to get hit.” I tried to explain. I tried to help him see. I hope I made some impact.

Why would anyone stay in a violent relationship? This is probably the most commonly asked question – and for good reason. It seems so logical and obvious that these victims should just get out of the house. But the reality is that there are a lot of barriers to freedom. The reality is that the most dangerous time for a person who is being battered is when they leave. A full 75 percent of women who are killed by their partners are murdered after the relationship is over or as it ends. But that’s only one of the barriers to freedom.

Another is that many women and men don’t think of themselves as being abused. Abuse is generational and those who have grown up in abusive homes are far more likely to become the victims of the perpetrators of violence when they have grown. Abuse at its core is about control. It’s one person scaring another person into doing something. And it’s not just physical abuse but sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse and financial abuse. Domestic violence may include insulting and name-calling, isolation, intimidation, and threats, which may be directed at children or other family members.

Cycle of Violence

Another important concept to understand is the Cycle of Violence. The relationship doesn’t start out being violent. In fact, the abuser most likely begins as a seducer, buying presents and showering praise and attention on their partner. Eventually, though, this calm gives way to a tension-building period. In this phase, minor incidents begin and communication breaks down. The victim feels the need to placate the abuser and “walk on eggshells.” Eventually, the tension is released in an incident, which may take the form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

The next stage is a return to seduction as the abuser apologizes and may cry. A honeymoon stage ensues complete with gifts. And promises are made that it will never happen again. But at the same time, the victim is blamed for provoking the abuse, subtly planting the idea that it was their fault and that they can keep it from happening again. As time goes by, the abuser denies that the abuse ever took place — or at least that it was as bad as the victim claims.

In the calm that follows, the incident is forgotten. Some of the promises are kept and the victim is left with hope that the abuse is over. As the tension building stage begins again, the victim remembers that it is their responsibility to behave in a manner that will not bring about the abuse — which eventually recurs no matter what they do. The entire cycle may take more than a year to complete – or as little as a few hours.

Another barrier is religion. We all know that you cannot possibly use scripture from any religion to justify abuse. Nevertheless, we also know that scripture can be misused. Citing passages to “submit to your husbands” or to “turn the other cheek,” Christian men and women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships because of their marriage vow. For this reason, victims of abuse often feel doubly abandoned by God.

Beating Ourselves Up

When all is said and done, I find the best explanation for why people stay in abusive relationships was captured by Don Miguel Ruiz. He said that if you are with someone who is beating you up more than you beat yourself up, you will leave. But if you are with someone who is beating you up just a little bit less than you beat yourself up, you will stay forever. I also believe that people who beat up other people, never beat them up more than they beat themselves up emotionally.

I know Ruiz named my experience. I used to believe in my own unworthiness. My life was so flawed. I was so flawed. There was all this crisis and trauma in my life. I had failed at so many times in my life. I wanted somehow to make a difference, but realized that I probably never would. Then I met Dr. Rudy Featherstone, a truly incredible man. He as a retired professor of theology. A proud black man with snow white hair who spoke glowingly of his wife, his children and his grandchildren. And most joyful person I think I have ever met.

Recognizing the Divine Within

Rudy really shook me up that day. I couldn’t argue with him. Whatever energy permeates our universe, I am part of that universe and that energy is necessarily part of me. When I am fully human, when I am fully me, then I have to admit that the package of body, thought and emotion that is Barbara Lee is not all I am. When I am fully human, I realize that I am also divine.

This is the Good News of the Easter story. It is the refreshingly good news that has been proclaimed throughout the history of all faith traditions. It is the life giving good news that we can never be separated from God because however we define God, we live in THAT and THAT lives in us.

Odds are you know someone who is being abused – even if you don’t know it yet. There’s a good chance that someone hasn’t glimpsed the divinity within themselves. As helpless as we often feel, there are things you can do to help. Let them know you understand domestic abuse. Tell them clearly that it is not their fault and that there is NOTHING they can do to prevent the violence. If they choose to open up, listen nonjudgmentally. Offer to help with childcare, transportation and storage of valuables. Encourage them to contact Every Women’s Place or the Center for Women in Transition or to call the domestic abuse hotline.

A Reason to Hope

Try not to get discouraged. And above all, try not to blame. Victims of domestic abuse are suffering already from a great deal of shame and a sense of hopelessness. Don’t blame yourself if they don’t make the decision you would choose for them. Your role is to offer friendship, hope and a space for the possibility of change. It isn’t your responsibility to fix someone else’s world. More than anything victims need you to model what a loving relationship really looks like. They need a reason to hope.

I am pretty public now about my own history of abuse because I have met too many people who only trusted me with their story after I shared my own – after they knew that I would not judge them for the circumstances they were in.  As a result of my experience, I ended up founding and chairing the Muskegon County Domestic Violence Healthcare Initiative. In that role, I gave a presentation on Domestic Violence at the Lion’s Club. After presenting all of my information, I opened it up for questions. A man sitting in the middle of the room who didn’t even bother to stand up said, “I know someone whose wife won’t let up on him until he hits her. Sometimes there’s just nothing else you can do.” And a number of others seemed to nod their heads and murmur their agreement.

There is NO excuse for violence. Not against women, not against men, not against children. There is NEVER an excuse for one person to use violence in any form against another.

Domestic violence alters the landscape of our lives and the lives of those we love. Violence by an intimate partner, rips deep valleys through the sense of self; builds mountains of shame and guilt and isolation; twists, bends, and distorts notions of love and relationship, and shatters into rough and jagged pieces the spirit of hope.

A Prophetic Voice

We need to be the prophetic voice. We need to be the voice of Jesus and Dr. Rudy Featherstone for Mary of Magdala and Tanika. We need to call all of those who suffer at the hands of abuse by name so that they may also be resurrected to new life.

Individually we can make a dramatic difference in the life of a friend or loved one. Together we can create a society in which we will no longer ignore or excuse acts of domestic violence. It begins with us, it begins here and it begins now.

Namaste

Spiritual Inquiry Discussion Question:

Is domestic violence caused by the patriarchal values of our culture, or is domestic violence caused by individual socioeconomic and/or psychological factors (e.g. substance abuse, mental illness, unemployment)?

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acceptance, Being Fully Human, Bible, diversity, domestic violence, glbt, inclusion, Interfaith, Progressive Christianity, st. lucia, stories, tension in the tank

Tension in the Tank

Barbara Lee AuthorI write today a message of tension. Now I know a great many of you woke up this morning and thought to yourself, “I can’t wait to read a blog or two because then I will feel more tension in my life!” Am I right? Well, not if your images of tension are all negative – and so often they are. So my challenge today is to convince you of the need for positive tension in our lives.

When this country was still relatively new, fishermen out east started shipping cod across land by freezing it first. But when it arrived it had lost its flavor. So they tried again, sending it live in salt water. Now when it arrived not only was it tasteless, it was also mushy. So they tried one more time, shipping it with its natural predator the catfish. The catfish chased the cod all over the tank. When it arrived, not only was the flesh of the fish firm, it was also tastier than ever. This is the phenomenon of “Tension in the Tank” and it serves as a metaphor for many aspects of our life, including our spiritual life.

When there is no tension, there is the opportunity for complacency. There is no need to act. The result is soggy fish or a soggy life. When there is no tension, the stage is set for us to feel secure no matter how poorly we perform or how little we do. On the other hand, we can find ourselves at times in the grips of crippling tension, living in fear and insecurity about our livelihood, our relationships, our possessions and our physical needs.

Living a good life offers us another option: a life of accountability; a life that is challenging and yet rewarding beyond measure; a spirituality that challenges us to do our best, to not take what we have for granted, to take risks, to set our goals high and to believe they will be met. It’s as if we swim with catfish, but with the confidence that we will arrive whole at our destination.

What are the sources of tension in your life that keep your journey fresh and vital?

Tension Within

Tension comes first of all from within. It is the feeling that stirs us to act when we hear about disaster relief efforts, world hunger appeals or abuse prevention programs. It is the feeling that moves us to volunteer for Family Promise, attend the Summit on Diversity, pack our bags and go on a pilgrimage. It is the feeling that makes us restless when we fail to take time to reflect, to meditate, to pursue our own chosen path.

Tension also comes from living a life that’s not always easy, not always comfortable. Not of us is spared from tribulations and trials. We have known and will know difficulty, hardship and pain. We can choose to let those experiences weaken and defeat us, or we can use them to discover strength, resolve and resiliency we never knew we had.

Does God Love “Those People”?

Tension also comes from other outside forces. Let’s be honest. One of those external sources of tension for many of us is living in a conservative part of the country. In my first year of seminary I had a disturbing experience. No. I had many disturbing experiences. This was among the worst.

The professor asked what we would want someone to know who walked into our church. “We are friendly,” came one answer, “this is a place of worship” came another. “God is here” was followed by “the location of the bathroom”—that might have been tongue in cheek. Then someone said, “God loves you.” Ooh. Hey. Wow. “How does that sound?” asked the professor. “Do we want people to know God loves them?” “Yes, yes,” we all affirmed. Whew, one question I could get right.

Then that young guy with dark hair who always sat on the far right side of the room stood up and said—this actually happened—“Wait a minute. Can we really say that God loves everyone who comes to our churches? I mean I’ve read my Bible and it seems pretty clear to me that God loves some people and he’s really upset with others. I’ve heard you talking about welcoming drug addicts and prostitutes and homosexuals in church and I think God must hate that. I just don’t think we can say God loves ‘those’ people.”

I was dumbstruck. After all, at that time I was the minister at Extended Grace where our whole reason for being was to go out of our way to embrace “those” people. People who had been told or shown that they were not welcome. People who had come to church seeking grace and instead found gatekeepers that would not let them in. Gatekeepers who thought they had the right and the responsibility to impose their truth on other people.

The Real Consequence of Shutting Doors

Of course, when we shut doors, we are merely locking ourselves in, and stopping our own journey forward. Most of us have been disillusioned by institutions that claim to have God all wrapped up in a tight little box they call “truth.” We long for a deep relationship with the ultimate reality that is beyond human description. We seek truth in a way that is not bound to human dogma, or to the boundaries of gender, race, background, ability, or orientation.

And to do that, we pursue Open Inquiry, radically opening ourselves up to possibility and wonder. Seeking to connect the body, the mind, and the spirit with science, nature and art. What truth can be found comes not just from knowledge, but also from feelings and intuition. The truth is not “out there” but right here: in me, in you, in community, in our relationships to each other and to the world. This is a quest that finds us swimming with catfish: the catfish of ambiguity, the catfish of uncertainty, and the catfish of doubt – important companions on any journey worth taking.

Stories Add Tension to the Tank

Another source of tension are the stories we hear and the stories we tell. Stories are formative, whether they come from Aesop or Grimm or Greek mythology or scripture. They tell us something about the world, something about who we are, and something about what we can or should be. They add tension to our life and challenge us to be more fully human.

Many of the stories I heard growing up were in the Bible. Now we can criticize the indoctrination we received and the lack of choices we were presented with when we were children, but the truth is there is no culture in the world that does not teach children through story. Those Biblical stories, like Esther that we talked about a couple of weeks ago, still add tension to my life. These stories don’t teach me about science, nor do they teach me about God. They teach me about being human. Story after story illustrates human beings trying to figure out the world and their place in it. Human beings who sometimes succeed in being good and gracious and just. And human beings who fail miserably at those tasks.

There is something to be gained in stories from all cultures, all traditions and all religions. Because when we explore the stories, in context, and with an eye and an ear geared toward new awareness, stories challenge us to be more than we are, to be more fully human. To live a good life. In the story is the excitement about what we have been and what we could be. Stories add tension to the tank.

Your Visiting Catfish

In that way, I hope that this blog also adds tension to your life and, even though the image isn’t particularly flattering, I hope that you think of me as your visiting catfish. Yes, you find here words of comfort and support in a world that is so often hostile and full of fear. But I hope my words also discomfort you. That they challenge you to face your own shadows, to squirm in the reality that we are not being all that we can be, not doing all that we can do.

We are all human beings with different backgrounds and different lenses through which we see the world. And no matter what our vehicle of Open Inquiry it should add the tension to our life that we need in order to make a difference, to motivate us toward the good, toward being part of healing each other and healing our world.

Out of Our Comfort Zone

When was the last time you intentionally did something outside of your comfort zone? That was difficult or frightening? It is in daring ourselves to do what we haven’t done before that we discover new talents, new abilities and begin to develop new muscles.

I stepped firmly outside of my comfort zone when I traveled to St. Lucia last week. I was there to be interviewed on a local radio station. The interview itself went very well and afterward one of the people who heard the show called me as soon as it was over and invited me to come to the International Women’s Day event to be held later that day. I was glad to be there and met some wonderful, inspiring individuals.

But in the midst of all of the motivational speaking and calls to action regarding domestic violence and other abuse so often suffered by women – particularly women in developing countries – there was the continuation of the myth of a male God. These good hearted women where finding encouragement in the midst of adversity by relying on a Father God who would love them, never desert them and who had created them perfect and beautiful.

And I so wanted to interrupt everything to say, “Don’t you see what you’re doing? Stop looking for some Almighty Male God to love you and give you permission to be the amazing beautiful people you are! See that beauty in yourself! See that there is nothing out there that isn’t in here! Claim your own perfection and know that you have the credentials to do so!” Of course doing so was out of the question. It would have come across as arrogant, ignorant and rude. Any opportunity to have a positive impact, to plant a seed would have been lost.

Radio St. Lucia

There was even more tension when I answered the invitation to be a guest on Radio St. Lucia – the national broadcasting network. Having been lulled into a false sense of security in my first radio interview, I wasn’t exactly prepared for the onslaught of conservative rhetoric that was going to be thrown my way. The host was far more confrontational. He didn’t like Interfaith to begin, he didn’t like masturbation, and he really didn’t like (or more importantly understand) homosexuality. He said things that were both antiquated and offensive.

Then people started calling in. Offering many of the same challenges to my faith and my perspective. There was even one guy who called in to say, “Why do some people like to have sex with animals?” Seriously! And in the midst of that kind of tension, I was propelled to find new ways of containing my emotions in order to find a way to connect and communicate.

After the fact, I learned that Radio St. Lucia sees itself as an outreach of the church, seeking to reach those who are homebound, as well as the unchurched and the unsaved. The feel the threat of Islam and Rastafarianism. Can you believe it? At the end of the interview, I was longing for the rampant liberalism of my very conservative hometown in Grand Haven, Michigan!

So I have decided that this is my challenge in the coming days. To finding a way to craft that message in such a way that it can reach out and touch people where they are now, affirm them, and challenge them to grow in a way that respects and honors their starting point so that my words do not become adversarial roadblocks, but tools that anyone can use to propel their journey forward.

A Spiritual Life is a Life of Tension

Whatever our path, we should not be content to sit on the EZ Boy recliner of life in inactivity and passiveness. A good life, a spiritual life is ultimately a life of tension because it means choosing to believe in a different reality: one that believes in miracles and promises and the need to reach out in love and compassion toward everyone – even those we feel the least loving and compassionate toward. A reality that embraces all faiths and philosophies as equal and valid and challenges societies that favor only one path, where religious discrimination is the norm and even tolerance can be difficult to come by.

For all of our advances, our world is still a place of violence. We do not live in harmony and tranquility but in a place where wives are battered and parents abuse their children. Where the earth is plundered. Where competition is glorified and losers are humiliated. Where our international relationships are full of conflict and fear and the construction of war systems that virtually assure mutual destruction. Violence is a core structural element of our lives.

Today as people who seek peace we should find ourselves regularly standing in a place of tension, torn between two different worlds, two different value systems. Because the good life does not call us into a place of relief. It calls us very directly, clearly and undeniably into a place of tension.

This work isn’t easy and it isn’t fast. The promise of tension, as much as we long for it to go away, is often exactly what it takes to stir us to do the work we are in fact called to do. The challenges, trials and tribulations we face as we answer the call, the catfish we encounter on our spiritual journey add seasoning, flavor and texture to our lives. Prepares us in ways we cannot imagine to serve our world and to serve each other.

Hmmm… sounds a little fishy to me!

Namaste

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Being Fully Human, feminine, masculine, relationships, sexuality

Yin, Yang and the Arc of Sexual Attraction

Yin Yang Symbol Sexual PolaritySo how many of you celebrated Valentine’s Day yesterday? Was it romantic? Was it passionate?

How many of you celebrated Valentine’s Day by telling your child, your grandchild, your friend or your parent that you love them? I know there are others of you who spent time yesterday feeling lonely or grieving for someone who is gone. I want to acknowledge that the Hallmark Holidays are difficult for many people and I want you to know that I hold you in my heart.

Now, my blog today is going to be aimed at intimate relationships, but everything I share is true for all of our relationships with family members and friends. So I think everyone will find it both valuable and useful. So let’s start by recognizing that many people do find Valentine’s to be a time of celebrating romantic love. In fact, it is estimated that 6 million people expect to get engaged on Valentine’s Day. Last year one of those couples of Jim and Jan.

On their wedding night, they were getting ready for bed when Jim took off his pants and tossed them to Jan. Then he told her to put them on. She said, “I can’t wear these. Their much too big.” And he said, “That’s right. And let that be the first lesson of our marriage. I wear the pants in this family.” Jan nodded then took off her pants and tossed them to Jim. She said, “Put these on.” And he said, “I’ll never get into these.” To which she responded, “That’s right mister, and until you change your attitude you never will!”

Would you Choose to Accomplish Your Goals or Experience a Meaningful Relationship

So here’s my question today. If you had to choose, would you rather die having accomplished all of your goals but never having had a deeply meaningful relationship? OR Having experiencing the most deep and meaningful relationship possible but not having accomplished a single goal?

You can’t have both. You have to choose one or the other. And don’t worry. There are no wrong answer. Both answers are right. Here’s another way to look at it. Would you rather ravish your partner or be ravished by your partner?

The answer to these questions indicates your dominant sexual energy – either masculine or feminine. And it has nothing to do with your gender or your sexual orientation. Whether we are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or even asexual, it is helpful to leave behind stereotypical definitions of male and female and to think instead of masculine and feminine energy. Both the masculine and the feminine move within each of us. And at the same time, one or the other dominates nearly all of us.

Together feminine and masculine are represented in the Yin Yang symbol of Taoism. The Yin Yang is the concept of two halves or two dualities that together represent wholeness and completion. Yin energy is feminine. It is the black portion of the symbol. Yang is masculine and it is represented in the white portion of the symbol.

Neither Yin nor Yang are absolute. Nothing and no one is completely Yin or completely Yang. Yin and Yang are all about balance. Each trait contains the beginning point for the other trait. Yin and Yang are interdependent on each other so that the definition of one requires the definition of the other to be complete.

Yin or Yang

If you answered yes to the first question, that you would rather meet your goals, then you tend to operate primarily out of masculine energy, no matter what your gender or sexual orientation. If you answered yes to the second question, that you would rather have a deep relationship, then you tend to operate out of feminine energy.

Men and women who are in their masculine essence are goal oriented and purposeful. They want to get things accomplished. Men and women in their feminine essence are nurturing and creative. They are willing to go with the flow. The masculine drive is for freedom; the feminine drive is for fullness. Both paths, that of freedom and of fullness, lead to spiritual bliss.

But masculine and feminine tend to be drawn to different spiritual practices. Think about meditation. In meditation we sit in solitude and expand our awareness, allowing ourselves to leave the boundaries of our physical existence. It is a freeing experience – a very masculine practice.

Contrast that to the spiritual practice of service. In service we interact with others by visiting, feeding, clothing, helping other people. We experience a sense of loving fullness – a very feminine practice.

I am a woman fully engaged in a heterosexual relationship. While I am very good at fulfilling the nurturing role of a mom and “wife” I am also self-employed and highly driven. I am happiest when I am in control and making the decisions. I need security (feminine) and I crave freedom (masculine).

My partner Leif works for the Park system. He is charged with enforcing the rules and he values needs solitude (masculine). But he is also a primary caregiver for his 19 year old niece. When she was born with Down Syndrome her own father went away, and Lief stepped in to provide her with nurturing care, love and support (feminine).

Escaping the Box

Understanding that we all have both feminine and masculine energy allows us to escape the man box and the woman box. The man box defines men as domineering, aggressive, competitive, achievement oriented, and controlling. The woman box defines women as nurturing, supportive, passive, sacrificial, giving, and vulnerable.

Our society incorrectly dictates that if we move out of the appropriate man or woman box, we will be negatively labeled. For instance, men who move out of the man box risk being seen as weak and ineffective, of being called a “pussy.” Women risk being seen as threatening and unattractive, of being told they have “balls.” The truth is, each one of us can express both attributes of masculine and feminine in different aspects of our lives and that’s ok.

When we claim our whole identity and give others permission to be the whole human beings they are, we can celebrate all of our strengths and recognize that the traits we exhibit are present in both men and women alike. Escaping the man box and the woman box offers us liberation from that which oppresses, binds, and enslaves. It allows us to become more vulnerable with each other and more open to accepting people as they are.

Changing Our Energy Field

Now, it’s also important to realize that we are not frozen or static in our energy field. We can and do move back and forth between masculine and feminine energy all the time as we are comfortable and as the situation requires.

I am in my masculine mode when I work. I have to take control and make a lot of decisions. I have to organize people and situations in order to accomplish specific results. Sometimes after a hard day of work, I don’t want to make any more decisions. I just want to bask in my feminine energy. I want someone take care of me. Let’s face it. By the end of the day I’m ready to be ravished.

Let’s Talk About Sex

There will always be a mystery as to why we are attracted to someone else, but one aspect of the spark of sexual attraction is sexual polarity. In this case opposites attract. Masculine energy attracts feminine energy and vice versa.

If you and your partner are operating in different energies (and it doesn’t matter which is in the masculine and which is in the feminine) you can expect a sexual arc of attraction. But if you are both operating in the same sexual energy field, there will most likely NOT be a spark of sexual attraction. If both of you are in your feminine and willing to do whatever and just go with the flow, you might end up doing nothing at all and not feeling very well taken care of. On the other hand, if you are both in your masculine mode you may end up in a power struggle about who gets to decide where you go and what you will do. Or you may both agree on all the requirements of a romantic evening without experiencing any of the desire.

The cool thing is, you can change your energy field! Just by being aware of it, you can consciously choose to switch from your current energy to the opposite – and then watch the sparks fly!  That energy can even change within the sex act itself as we move from submission to dominance and back to submission again. As long as we operate in the opposite energy as our partner, we find connection and excitement.

In our sexual relationships, the joy is that we connect with each other in a really profound way. However, we cannot maintain that connection indefinitely. We cannot lay total claim to each other. There is a sacredness of the other, untouchable and inaccessible which plunges us into a kind of powerlessness.

Fear and Anxiety

We can celebrate that powerlessness and the gift of being unique and independent people, or we can respond with fear and anxiety. When we become anxious, masculine and feminine react in opposite ways. The natural posture for the feminine is to move toward greater attachment and increasing interconnectedness, even to the point of enmeshment. The natural posture for the masculine is to move into more separation and distance, even to the point of detachment and cut off. When these patterns continue, the masculine feels suffocated and the feminine feels abandoned and lonely.

Picture this scenario. Adam and Steve have a fight. Adam operates primarily in masculine energy and Steve operates in feminine energy. Adam tells Steve that he has to be alone to think about things and goes to the family room. Steve becomes even more upset, marches into the family room and demands that they talk. Adam walks away, grabs his coat and tells Steve that he’s going for a ride to clear his mind. Steve is devastated and starts begging Adam not to leave, pleading with him even as he pulls out of the driveway.

In this case we see that stress brings out Adam’s masculine energy and Steve’s feminine energy. The masculine drive is for freedom, the feminine drive is for fullness. The masculine fear is losing one’s self; the feminine fear is losing the other. So Adam feels suffocated and responds by needing to get away. Steve feels abandoned and afraid of being left alone.

The story ends much differently when Steve is able to give Adam space and Adam is able to reassure Steve that he isn’t going to leave him. Despite the messages on Hallmark Valentine cards, two people never become one person. When we can contain our anxiety and celebrate the uniqueness of our partner as a separate person, then we can dance between identifying who we are as individuals and the joy of connecting with each other. Then we don’t have to worry about losing our “self” or losing the “other.” We celebrate love and experience intimate communication with each other by relaxing into each other and spontaneously offering our deepest gifts.

Today’s Blog is Very Personal

Think about the times you felt either suffocated or abandoned. What did you do? The next time you are feeling suffocated, ask for the space you need while also offering reassurance that you are still in the relationship, and that you love and care for your partner. Challenge yourself to stay connected knowing that the masculine grows spiritually by learning to live as freedom, rather than by struggling for it.

The next time you are feeling abandoned, ask for the reassurance that you need and then do something for yourself while allowing your partner the space they need for their own self-care. Challenge yourself to accept the anxiety of being in your own company, recognizing that the feminine grows spiritually by learning to live as love rather than hoping for it.

When we relax into the Yin and Yang of the Tao we see that everything is ultimately interconnected and whole. The Taoists note that nature itself is interactive and full of creative, life-giving sexual energy. Rain penetrates the earth, giving birth to trees and flowers; rivers caress rocks; the ocean plunges into the sand; and the sunshine is absorbed into the womb of the earth, giving birth to all life. Sexual energy is the creative force that permeates the universe.

The goal isn’t to separate, organize and label every detail of our lives or to create unnecessary dualities, but to use it as a lens for recognizing patterns — in nature, in our relationships and in our own quest for self development and growth.

I want to close with a quote for Valentine’s Day that I hope we can all appreciate, no matter what our relationship status might current be. It’s from Charles M. Schulz who once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Namaste

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