Some Good Things

As we close the year 2013, and enter into a new year, I find myself reflecting on what was good, what was bad, and what I want to be different in the coming year. I gave up on making resolutions, because I don’t stick to them, and then I made goals, which were inevitably too lofty – so now I decide to make attempts. I still try to do something I can measure, that I can reach, and that still challenges me to do better. So, the past few days, I have been thinking of things I want to improve on, things I am working on, and things I am already doing well (or, at least, I’m on the right track.) There are a few things I am working on that I think we all should give a try.

I’m a counselor of the Rogerian/Interpersonal/Feminist persuasion, so advice giving seems strange to me. Instead of framing it in that light, I want this list to just be a list of good things. I am a Martha Stewart fan, and on her show and in her magazine, was always a list of simple crafts, recipes, and tips she labeled as “good things.” It is in that spirit that I offer you my list of good things.

1. Eat real food.

When I was an in-home therapist, I found myself in remote areas which could definitely be classified as the “food deserts” we heard of recently. The only chance for a snack was the dollar general store or a gas station, and in the heat of the summer, packing a lunch was impossible. So, I found myself eating highly processed chemical laden substances that can hardly be classified as food. My wife and I were also depressed, and we both stayed exhausted from our jobs and never felt like cooking. Fast food became a normal routine.

After a trip to the doctor about chronic pain, and after I quit my in-home therapy job (which was insanely stressful for less money than I made at Home Depot as a cashier), I began to make some changes in my diet. We both did. My doctor challenged me to eat five vegetables AND five fruits a day. That hasn’t happened very much, but I have come close most days, and some days, I even meet or exceed that challenge.

I went to a Chinese medicine doctor for my fibromyalgia pain, and when I went, she told me something amid the acupuncture needles, the Eastern music, and the heat packs. She told me to only eat foods that had been prepared with love.

Wow. I really believe there is so much truth in that – that when we eat things made in anger and frustration, we take that energy in.

One other significant moment for me came in the form of a video – the scarecrow Chipotle ad.

I had read in magazines and articles, had watched videos. I knew what the food industry was doing. For some reason, though, I was moved to tears by this production. So, to our cage free eggs, organic non-hormone milk, we also added organic humanely raised meat, with no antibiotics or hormones. Absolutely the price is more – but we found something else is true – the taste and texture is better, and the meat is so fresh that the wrappers do not even stink up the trash. Seriously. What kinds of negative energy are we ingesting when we eat meat that comes from mistreated and “pumped up” animals? Not to mention the harmful nature of the chemicals, hormones, and antibotics.

For more on nutrition from eating real whole foods, I highly recommend http://www.westonaprice.org/.

So, eat real food. Prepare it with love. Connect with the earth and appreciate it as you enjoy your meals.

2. Compost. Compost. Compost.

As you are eating more fruits and vegetables, save your peelings. If you forget about something in the fridge, and it starts to wither, compost it. Save your coffee grounds, egg shells, newspapers, and even paper towels. All of these compost well. You can buy an inexpensive bucket with a lid to keep inside, and then, carry it out to your pile or barrel when it is full. Make sure you add leaves or paper to keep the compost from being too liquid if you are using a barrel. And turn it frequently, or stir it if you are making a ground pile. Compost is great for any garden, but it is vital to a strong lasagna garden bed.

3. Plant a garden.

Put your compost to use, and save yourself a pretty penny by growing your own organic vegetables. Make sure your seed is free of GMOs. To do that, only get your seed from companies that have signed a pledge saying they will not knowingly sell GMO seed. That list is here.

Also, do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides. They kill bees. Instead, plant flowers and herbs next to your vegetables. There is a wealth of information on herbs and flowers that attract beneficial bugs (ones that eat the pests) and bees to pollinate your vegetables. Sometimes, you may just need to remove some pests (like horn worms) by hand. Weeds should be pulled, and if you must spray – vinegar and salt work well for beginning weeds, and flame throwers are also a good non-chemical solution.

For fertilizing, just use your compost, and natural substances – no chemicals.

4. Practice peace.

Here is a biggie for me. I tend to let things get to me, and I get very anxious, depressed, and angry. But now, I am resolving to stop that bad practice. By focusing on the present, focusing on the simple things, and reducing my intake of social media, news, and controversies, I am trying to cultivate a healthier inner and outer life. I am reading books on ways to redirect stress, and focus on controlling my reaction to stressors.

Not getting caught up in controversies is easier said than done. I have a lot of words swimming around regarding the ludicrous nature of the whole de-quackle (oh I am corny.) I also have a lot of inspiring things I am feeling about Robin Roberts (You are amazing. Light Love Power Presence). I want to write about the waves of equality and how there is so much more work to be done. However, I am not going to spend my time writing and focusing on things which make me angry (chick fil a and camo, seriously?)

Instead, I am endeavoring to focus on what is in front of me, and to put things in front of me which are, as Robin put it: Light, Love, Power, Presence.

Things like my wife, our pets, making healthy meals together, planning our garden, and reading from the lectionary, and practicing the common prayers. Things like investing more in friends, watching less news, riding our bikes and hiking more. I am placing sources of peace in front of me. What a good thing.

Well, that is a small list, but a very good start. I wish for you all, a wonderful new year filled with love, faith, hope, and joy – and that we all would work and pray for peace. Here’s to 2014 being better than 2013, and to making sure we make that happen.

This year, I was struck by how much of Christmas is about a baby. I cried all through Advent service, at every song and every prayer, as it struck me at my core and reached a part of me not reached til now. A new, expected, long awaited for baby who brought so much hope, love, and change. Let’s continue to celebrate and hope for that newness being born in all of us.

Love,

C.

Calling Out The Humanity: Even When Bullied

This post is not what I originally intended it to be, not the original thoughts or plans that I had. Nevertheless, it is my heart, and my current thoughts on “Calling Out The Humanity.” It is much later than I had anticipated, but it is here. This is the close of the series. (At least, for now.)

 

Calling Out The Humanity: Even When Bullied (by Charity)

I was my chubby, short, twelve year-old self. My huge teeth with an overbite were probably coming over my bottom lip, and my shoulders most likely in their nearly constant tensed up position. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and could feel my face going pale and painted with fear. As I looked around me, I saw over half of my gym class, girls with stern faces, surrounding me in a circle, with one girl in the middle – facing me.

I despised gym. I couldn’t keep up, my body was so weird at twelve, and I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Add to that the dreaded locker room, where girls were changing and I needed a place to look and a place to hide and not be seen or to see. Just the week before, I had gone to the bathroom to find my wallet, and some of my other belongings floating in a toilet. My worth and my value to the other girls was clear – I was shit to them.

The girl in the middle of the circle who was facing me had flashed a pen at me, one from my purse which she and whomever else had gone through and taken what they wanted, while dumping the rest in toilet water. She was angry that I called her out on it, and now she was threatening me. She told me she was going to beat me up, and she had her fist in the air. I tried to get out of the ring around me, but the other girls blocked me, even girls who I thought were my friends.

I was filled with fear, shame, and defeat. I haven’t felt like that in years.

Until this week.

Bullying makes the news all the time, and I recently read a beautiful article in our local paper about a high school bully who regretted his actions, and sought out his victim to apologize. It seems there are a lot of stories like that – about the remorse people feel when they finally “grow up.”

But bullying takes many forms, and happens in places that should be safe, and it happens to adults, by adults. It happens in hate speech, in maltreatment, in discrimination, and in gritted teeth and hateful looks and tones. It happens in threats and in abuse of power. It happens in the workplace, in houses of worship, in families, and in organizations and groups.

I found my heart pounding in my chest, fear gripping me, and tears running from my eyes, and I couldn’t stop. All I could do was lean on my wife, very literally, while she tried to console me. Through my tears, I sobbed, “I feel like I’m twelve again, and there is a bully after me.”

The very next day, I had a doctor’s appointment. What through me off guard was the kindness of every single person – the receptionist, the insurance specialist, the phlebotomist who had a hard time finding my veins because I was dehydrated from crying, and the practitioner who saw me that day. I felt surrounded by care and warmth, and felt respected and seen and heard. And somehow, I left there feeling a little better, and a little more hopeful, and as D drove me back to work and I was still fighting my anxiety a little, I started to think on this series.

What do we do when we can’t reason with someone? How in the world do we see humanity in bullies, much less try to appeal to it, calling it forth? Is it a sense of low self worth or misery, or is it inflation of self? Does this even fit into the conversation? What if I don’t want it to?

Rewind back to my seventh grade personal hell.

As I was feeling like I was about to experience being beaten up, to my surprise and my relief, two girls stepped in, and started to defend me: girls who used to make fun of me. They told the girl if she touched me, they would hurt her. The girl hesitated, and looked afraid. I ran for it, yelling for the gym teacher who had been in her office. She came running, and she caught the girl who had been running after me. She restrained her and told me to run to the principal’s office, which I did. Once I got there, my cousin was in there – helping the assistant principal, and she held me and rubbed my hair while I cried and told her what happened. My bully got suspended, and she stopped bothering me.

Perhaps we should try to appeal to bullies’ humanity. It feels so difficult to say that, and impossible in some ways:  Another girl used to make fun of me incessantly. I told her to stop, that I was a person, and didn’t deserve to be treated like dirt. Later that day, I heard someone say “hey Charity,” and as I turned, my twelve year old cheek received it’s first and only punch. I think that deep down, I still fear this type of response when standing up for myself, or for calling people out for their wrongs. This girl got suspended too, because I told my mom, and my mom called the school.

Even with that fear, I think a little deeper about the similarities – and that similarity is the humanity of my helpers. Something in my own person, appealed to their person. Perhaps it was a look, a memory, or the deep calling out to deep. Regardless of what brought it out, help came, and love won.

Maybe we focus too much on fighting, and too little on gaining allies. What if instead of hurling back insults, we respond with listening, stay calm, and then focus our energies in a positive direction? In the direction of our helpers? In calling out the humanity in those whose hearts are open and ready to receive us and defend us? What if we did not resort to name-calling, and only referred to others with their names – would that help? Wouldn’t it at least help us in gaining allies when others see how respectful we are?

It still breaks my heart, and I still have tears about these incidents, and still some anxiety about the current one, but even writing this out has been healing and helpful to me. Helping me to see the hope.

No matter what darkness we are fighting, we need more and more good people to stand against it, to stand on the side of loving one another, and to actively participate in the collective endeavor for justice and peace.

Advent is upon us – my favorite time of year.

I think of Christ, and the candles we light to celebrate his coming to earth. I think of his example, and how the accounts we read seem to be him spending more time with those who love him, than with his accusers, and yes – his bullies. How his response and his focus on the good changed the world. How we are asked to do the same.

We will continue to work for good, and continue to try to respect the divine in one another – the image of God that lies in our humanity.

Love,

C.

Calling Out the Humanity: Jordan’s Thoughts

Today is a post by one of my dearest friends, Jordan. Jordan is a gifted writer, and an amazing friend. I can’t say enough or even begin to describe how much her friendship means to me. Her post deals with a hot topic in Chattanooga, TN. I hope her thoughts will carry far.

Much love,

C.

—————————————-

Calling Out the Humanity (Jordan Davis Henry)

In conversation with a friend recently, I realized something obvious and eye-opening about myself: when Jesus and I are on pretty good terms, I LOVE people and want to know everything about them and hear their stories and write about their stories and talk to them for hours; when Jesus and I are not doing so well, I HATE EVERYONE. Two things have happened recently in rapid succession that have shed some light on this fun little personality quirk of mine. The first is that I got fired for the first time; the second is that my friend was arrested for doing nothing wrong.

Event 1: For the past year, I had been working in a field that I enjoyed and doing work that I felt good about. There were the normal upsets that you experience as a working human when you’re not self-employed (ie: when you have to talk to other humans). Then there were some deeper frustrations and some breaking of trust that happened more recently, and I did not handle those events very well. Ultimately, I got fired because I behaved like a disrespectful, angry little girl who just couldn’t learn to keep her mouth shut.

Event 2: If you or someone you know live in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area, you’ve probably seen the Facebook groups, the YouTube videos, the Huffington Post article, and local news interviews profiling the events that took place on the UTC campus a few weeks ago. The long and short of it is that my friend was arrested when he very calmly, very politely told a UTC-approved street preacher who had been telling students that they were hell-doomed fornicators that if she wanted to spread the Good Word she shouldn’t be yelling at everybody.

My friend was arrested about two weeks after I was fired. In those two weeks, I had done a lot of complaining to myself about the injustice of it all (as in: “how could they fire me, the Crowned Goddess of the Universe, who had never not once in my whole life done anything wrong?”) There was a lot of hyperbolic self-praise, a lot of internal temper tantrums, and not the tiniest molecule of accepting my part in the whole thing.

And then my friend was arrested, for actually not doing anything wrong. (If you need proof that he didn’t do anything wrong, go watch one of the YouTube videos documenting the event. My point is not to give you a list of reasons he was unfairly arrested – you can see it for yourself.) He approaches this woman, who for a week had been hurling insults and hate speak at the student body, and tried to speak some words of reason and (dare I say) peace.

For many of my friends who grew up in the greater Chattanooga area, the only “gospel” they’ve ever heard is this kind of hate speak. A list of reasons you’re already damned, that you’ll never be worth loving. “I am part of the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out, and I’ll be laughing up in heaven with Jesus at you while you’re burning in hell.” I have friends who have been so spiritually blasted by their upbringing that they can’t believe in anything – and I don’t blame them.

I’ll be honest: “the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out” is the demographic I most struggle to love. (Particularly when they also shout things like “Lesbo alert” at a young gay woman in a public forum, as this woman did.) Because they tell people I love that they are unlovable. Because they cause others to confuse Jesus with the devil. Because they are ugly and broken and twisted and ignorant and stupid and evil and unlovable….

Except they aren’t all of those things.

They have hearts that beat and have been broken. They have experienced psychological and spiritual trauma. They have been let down by someone they trusted. They look a whole lot like me.

At my very best (by which I mean “when the Holy Spirit intervenes in my spirit and opens my eyes”), I see potential when I look at people like this street preacher. I see the chance for redemption, for resurrection.

Because I am filthy and ugly and twisted and ignorant and unlovable without grace.

(I in no way mean to suggest that those affected by this woman at UTC should just pipe down already and stop being so pissed off and wounded by the whole thing. They should be angry. I’m still pretty angry. And don’t forget that Jesus did his fair share of turning tables over when he was pissed off, and I think Jesus is pretty mad that my friend was arrested without cause in order to protect a woman who was spreading hate in His name.)

But I also believe that Jesus loves that woman just as much as he loves my peaceful, grace-filled friend. I believe there is redemption for the street preacher, just as I believe there is redemption for me. I believe that the same Creator who draws Spring out of Winter and new life out of decay can change someone’s heart.

I was fired because I spoke out of my anger and woundedness instead of speaking from a place of peace and grace. There’s more to it than that. I could explain all the reasons I was angry and wounded. But that’s not the point. The point is that I realized that it had been many, many months since Christ had been welcome in me. And when I stepped back from the anger and woundedness, I saw the person I had become, and I really, really did not like her.

I saw a person who bore a seriously ugly resemblance to the street preacher who’s spreading her anger and hate around the UTC campus and other campuses. I don’t know this woman. I don’t know the experiences she’s had that have brought her to this point in her life. But I know that there is grace for her, even though she has no grace for the students she’s abused. Even though there seems to be no grace in her worldview. There are still people like my friend in the world who call out the humanity in people like that preacher. Who say, If spreading any kind of Good Word is the goal here, maybe you should start with some grace.

Which is, I suppose, the point: if we’re living the Good Word, this beautiful, rich, exciting message of Shalom, maybe we should start by seeing others through the eyes of grace. And especially to look with grace at those who are just really, really daggum hard to love.