Paradoxical Readings – April 2014

Recently I’ve read a couple of different articles that went viral about the wisdom most of us gain by our 40s. What You Learn In Your 40s and This is 45: The Eye of the Life’s Storm. The latter particularly resonated with me. In sum, the premise is “The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come.” Both articles speak to mid-40s being the age of perspective, of knowing exactly what it means that you are responsible for where you’ve been and where you’re going, for being wiser for having learned some of life’s hard lessons, and enjoying the present moment with gratitude. I can’t relate to everything in this article, as I am not straight and I am not a parent, but there are many nuggets of wisdom and humor that express what I feel, such as:

Your brain has reached capacity and to retain any additional information, some things leak out.

or:

At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies.

and:

You begin to realize that granting yourself permission to just “be” is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt.

At 45, we’re all a little softer around the edges, literally and figuratively, and that’s kind of nice, actually.

This article in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was an interesting read. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve talked to enough folks who have read it and found valuable nuggets of wisdom in it. This piece claims that “leaning in is killing us.” The author says that before she took Sandberg’s advice, she had more time for a personal life. All of this seems to speak to the old question of work-life balance that is never satisfactorily answered. Again, I’m not a straight woman and a parent, and I do think that is the audience for Lean In and this article, so I can’t relate to everything here. What strikes me as I read this and think about my straight female colleagues and friends who have careers and children is that, with exceptions, their male partners assume the stereotypical role of secondary caretaker of children and household. I do try not to be judgy, but it looks to me like as a culture we still have a long way to go towards gender equality in our professional and personal lives.

This article from the New Yorker about self-help books is a little depressing. The author posits that the positive thinking that these books teach their readers tend to have quite the opposite effect. I guess I don’t find this surprising.

The most effective way I have found to combat depression is to be pro-active, actually do something, as opposed to just thinking positively. One thing I do when I’m depressed is practice gratitude. I intentionally think of all of my blessings and offer up a prayer of thanks, meditate on the abundance in my life, or even send a thank-you note to a friend who has done an act of kindness for me. Practicing gratitude is included on this list of 19 Ideas to Start & End Your Day With Joy. On this post I found a few new things, and was reminded of a few I already know, to help me stay soft around the edges. These are all practices of self-loving, and good ways to stay mindful of all of the lessons I have learned by mid-life, and to stay open to continue learning.

More stats on what you can do proactively to combat depression: The Science of Happiness.

I love the Brain Pickings blog. A recent post about The Benjamin Franklin Effect tells the story of how Ben Franklin won over a a troll and a nemesis with kindness. In this story is the lesson for all of us to stop hate in its tracks by fighting it with love.

Speaking of fighting hate with love, there were a couple of really nice examples in the last few weeks. On the heels of the death of Fred Phleps, some local folks staged a demonstration of his funeral in the style of the Westboro Baptist Church, only with a compassionate twist.

In another loving response to hate, Honey Maid responded this way to hate mail that they received in response to ads depicting diverse families, including a same-sex couple and their son. I think I might be craving graham crackers!

What are you reading?

Thanksgiving Observations: November 4-10

My observance of gratitude this week:

  • Finally being legally married to my wife. We have been trying to be married for ten years, and we finally were able to make it happen at the end of October. Even after all this time it feels different. It means a lot, and it’s going to make a huge difference in our lives.
  • The generous community that has supported our marriage from the beginning. Through all the hard times, friends and family have had our backs and shown us nothing but love.
  • My father, an amazing and generous man who continues to inspire me each day. In his retirement, he has discovered that he is an artist. He’s painting, and creating a website to promote his art. He’s even selling some with my sister at her studio in St. Paul. This week he sent me a package of prints of some of his recent creations.
  • A job and career that provide me with meaningful work. I work with wonderful colleagues, in my office and across the country. I get to promote philanthropy, help build meaningful relationships, and have fun doing it.
  • The change of seasons. I confess I don’t love winter, but I love the transitions of one season to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed an extraordinarily beautiful summer turn into a lovely autumn. On a recent morning walk, sunshine was coming through a hazy fog to light up the bright yellow, orange, and red trees that line the streets of my neighborhood.
  • Having multiple delicious meals throughout the week that my spouse and I cooked together. Oh, and leftovers for lunch!
  • Invitations from our neighbor to let Jack run in their yard and play with their dog. He had a great time, and he will be calm and content for the rest of the afternoon while I get some work done.

Thanksgiving: November 1 – 3

It’s November, and while I’m not likely disciplined enough to post something I’m thankful of every day, I’m going to try to practice gratitude during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Noting at least one thing I am grateful for each day, here goes:

November 1-3

  • Old friends who show up when I need them, even when we haven’t seen each other for 14+ years.
  • Beautiful dates with my spouse that enable us to experience and learn about things in our region. This past Friday, we went to the National Consitution Center in Philadelphia to see an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winner photographs. We didn’t have time to get through the whole exhibit, so we’ll have to go back. We then had a lovely walk through the city, up Spruce Street to 13th, where we dined al fresco.
  • Sleeping in on a Saturday morning and having a leisurely morning in our sweet little town. Jack and I started the day with a lovely walk. After that, the wife and I ran errands, meeting up after at the French pastry shop for coffee. We then went to the local grocery where we were greeted with hugs by the proprietors.
  • Practicing yoga with Jack, who always reminds me of the fundamental importance of breathing and unconditional love.  He has pranayama breathing DOWN.

Jack 20120429

Fear And Prejudice On Trial

Perry v Schwarzenegger put Proposition 8 on trial. More precisely, as attorney David Boies put it, the case put fear and prejudice on trial.

In case you missed it last night, the recording of the reading of 8: A Play About The Fight For Marriage Equality will be available for one week. The new play about Perry v Schwarzenegger, the Proposition 8 trial has been produced and promoted by the American Foundation for Equal Rights as a strategic move in the marriage equality movement. The defendants in this case, the proponents of Prop 8, have argued successfully so far to keep the videos of the actual trial sealed. They want to keep them sealed because they know those tapes will damage their overall cause. They performed so badly and their arguments were so ridiculous that it was laughable. And the families that were there to tell their stories were so touching and compelling, public perception can’t help but land in favor of marriage equality.

You can certainly read about it, as the media covered it. When the trial was going on, I was following the news very closely as an interested party. When I read the news, I remember laughing out loud at some of the testimony. The burden of the defense, the Prop 8 proponents, was to show how “traditional” couples and families would be harmed by gay and lesbian couples getting married. They came with nothing. They could not demonstrate how this would be so, and they looked foolish and mean-spirited in the process.

So, in lieu of being able to see the tapes of the trial, we have “8”. It’s an all-star cast, including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Jaimie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, John C. Reily, and others, all HUGE names behind this! And with Rob Reiner producing, there is an amazing amount of clout and power behind this. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate their commitment to the project and the fight for marriage equality.

Call to Confession, June 5th

Today’s call to confession at my church really struck me as a perfect paradox:

We allow ourselves to get caught up in the here and now, and forget to look forward to God’s future with great joy. We allow ourselves to get caught up in the promises of a glorious future full of love, and forget to live in love now.

In my yoga practice, I meditate on equanimity, and I try to carry that forward into my day-to-day life. It is the paradox of the balance expressed in the words above, being present in the here and now, yet not being so stuck there as to move into the future with joy and gratitude.

Namaste.

My Stewardship Testimony

Recently, I shared the following story with my church, which illustrates all of the reasons why I make financial contributions.

When I was a child, my family attended a Lutheran church, one of the largest and wealthiest in the Twin Cities. It was a big, beautiful building downtown, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, absolutely breathtaking. A beautiful building located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, where there sizable Native American population.

My grandfather had been a founding member of the church, and my parents were upstanding members of the community. They were involved in the Christian education program for adults and kids, and we had many friends in the congregation. I learned the meaning of spiritual community there. I was getting ready to begin Confirmation classes, and the church began to go down a road that forced my family to make a difficult choice. It is illustrated by this story:

One beautiful spring day, we were having a pot luck in the parking lot. There were lots of people and lots of food. Some folks from the neighborhood lined up with the rest of us, grabbed some plates, and got ready to get some food. They were hungry.

I remember being surprised and ashamed to see someone with authority tell them that the food wasn’t for them, that they were not members of the community and therefore were not welcome. The message that sent to me as a child and member of the community was that those people were not like us. They didn’t look like us, they were in need, of a different economic status, and we didn’t want them there to make us feel uncomfortable.

My mom took me aside later that day and was very clear with me: What that church member did was wrong, and that was not what Jesus would have done. Those people are members of the surrounding community, and should have been welcomed by us and offered food.

Shortly after that time, my parents made the difficult decision to leave the church. They made sure to let me know that the church was no longer representing their theological views, and they wanted to raise me with different values. They could no longer support or be a part of a community that was teaching exclusivity, not welcoming.

Growing into adulthood, I have struggled with claiming my place in the Christian church. I have hung out with Quakers, Buddhists, and all kinds of Christians, and I still hang out with Yogis and Yoginis. Finding a church home that feels like a good fit has been difficult. The important thing to me is that my parents instilled in me the values that Jesus taught, those of generosity, sharing, community, love, forgiveness, justice, and healing.

When I found Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, I knew I had found my church home here. At BUMC, all are welcome. This is a community that walks the walk of social justice, generosity, and love.

So a few Sundays ago, I offered up this story as testimony, telling the story of why I financially support Broadway. I give because the transgender and gay homeless youth in the Lakeview need our Youth Lounge program. I give because the Lakeview Pantry needs our donations of food. I give because the community needs the Wednesday Night Live adult education classes. I give because Broadway offers much needed support to members of our community who suffer from depression and mental illness. I give because Broadway is unwavering it its support of LGBT civil rights.

I give because I need Broadway, too. This church walks the walk of my theology.

I encourage other members of Broadway to share their stories about why they give, in whatever ways they give: Time, Talent, or Treasure.

#Gratitude and the Silver Lining

In Light of the Midterm #Election

After last Tuesday’s brutal election results, it has been slowly sinking in what this means for progressives like me and our movements for civil rights, social and environmental justice, and feeding hungry people. The results of that day do not bode well for us.

I take solace in the persistence of all that we do every day in my community of friends and family. Everyone I know is in their own small way determined to make the world better for everyone. So we get up in the morning, make our coffee, and get down to the hard work of living. Simply taking care of ourselves and each other in some cases is a radical act.

We are determined to build communities that thrive, families that raise healthy children, provide homes for wayward animals, get married and commit to loving each other, volunteer at our local libraries and food pantries, build our spiritual communities, plant gardens, support local businesses. All in all we are simply taking responsibility for the way we live every day to make life a little sweeter for ourselves and our loved ones, leave a lighter footprint while enjoying the blessings of this life.

My Dad sent out an email to the family on Wednesday morning, encouraging all of us to think of everything positive in our lives in the midst of this unfortunate outcome. We have a lot to be thankful for, so let’s remember that and share our good news with each other.

Yes, Tuesday was a bad day, but as a result of that outcome, nothing is going to change for me in terms of the way I live my life. Our opponents may throw obstacles in our path, but that is not going to stop us from building our vision of a more just and kinder society. The outcome of the election might make things a little harder in terms of the social climate and the very real limits and disadvantages that the radical right would like to impose on me and my family.

I know I am privileged and blessed, and to the extent that I am able I will use that privilege and blessing to make my life and the life of my community better. For all of that I am grateful.

.