Monday, October 6, 2014

Looking well on the outside

This week is National Mental Health Awareness week. It also happens to be when UCC clergy person Sarah Lund is publishing her book "Blessed are the Crazy".  In an effort to bring more awareness to mental health - particularly how it intersects with the church, I am part of a syncroblog.  

Growing up I loved the Berenstain Bears books.  I don't remember much now, but one story stuck with me. Sister was making a pie with Mama bear and pulled an ugly Apple out of the basket. She was going to discard it, but Mama used it anyway. It was a delicious apple.  Sister pulled a big, bright, shiny Apple next, and it was rotten inside. The lesson was the appearances can never tell what is under the surface. That lesson has stayed with me for the last thirty years. 

Part of the time I knew that applied to other people. They could look well on the outside, but not be well inside. Or, they might not look as out together, but actually be wonderful, loving people. I think I started to associate this idea with a mask or barrier when I was about 13 or 14. I started to have a really difficult time at school. I was severely bullied.  I still did well in school and put on what I called my 'brave face' every day. I thought I could simply will the tormenting away, or perhaps forbid it from hurting me. Neither worked. I was depressed, suicidal, and developed social phobias. 

My family moved away, so I got to start over. You would think this should be a good thing. But a new school brought new anxiety. Rather than make friends, I would sit alone in a hallway reading. They couldn't hurt me, if they couldn't find me. I only made friends when classmates were persistent about talking to me. It would take several more years before I would approach someone I didn't know and longer still before I felt comfortable doing it. 

Yet, through the battles with depression and anxiety, I have almost always managed to appear well.  Like the bright, shiny apple, no one knew what lurked inside. It was only through admitting first to my parents and then to a counselor that I needed some help, that I was able to get the help I needed.

Most of my work now is looking at the people are my and trying to see last whatever barrier they may have erected so that I can be truly effective in ministry with them. The question with each person I meet, is how do I love, encourage and support them to be as well and content as they can be. We all work to find our own equilibrium between the dark days and the bright ones. God is with us in both. Walking along another through that journey is an honor and a privilege. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

Human Dignity

Roughly ten years ago I took some classes at a culinary school.  One of my favorite classes was my pastry and bread making class, which is a bit ironic given my later Celiac diagnosis.  That, however, is not the point.  This class was taught by this talented and incredibly kind chef.  I learned a lot about baking from him, but the more important lessons I learned were about the value of work and of human dignity.

This particular chef had been born in East Germany.  He talked about the limitations that were placed on what kind of work he would be suited for.  Not every young person was permitted to go on to college or pursue technical careers.  He hadn't wanted to in any case.  He loved to cook and bake.  He wanted to be a chef.  This pursuit was supported by his family.  

And then the Berlin Wall came down.  Germany was reunited.  His family, once divided, was able to move back together on the Western side of the country.  Suddenly his dream had criticism.  In West Germany all young people were encouraged to study math and science.  They should want to go to college and become doctors, engineers, or academics.  Whatever they chose to do, nothing was lower than a job working with one's hands.  Chef was mocked, ridiculed, and paid horribly despite having a great education.  (And baking the best bread I have ever tasted)  He eventually moved to the United States.

In Germany, he was not valued even though he provided a service that was vital to the economy.  He was seen as a lesser member of society because he worked with his hands rather than in a science or math field.  (I would argue that proper baking involves an understanding of both science and math).  He was taken advantage of and oppressed by the larger society for not conforming, despite his skills being necessary to their comfort and lifestyle.

Though this chef found greater success here, we are no different.  We live in a country where CEOs of large corporations make as much an hour as their employees will make all year.  This is while many of these same employees need to work multiple jobs or rely on food stamps and medicaid.  Arguments are made that the work being performed is somehow 'lesser' than other jobs and careers.  It is not.  All work is work for the betterment of society.  All of it is necessary for us to continue to function.  The person who does back-breaking labor to pick fruits and vegetables for the tables, the person who prepares it in the kitchen, the person who serves it, and the CEO who runs the company are all necessary.  Just as the person who manufactures an item, the person who stocks it, the person who rings it up, the person who manages the store, and the store owner are all necessary.  None exist without the other.  All should be honored and valued.  All should be paid in a manner that they can feed their families.  None of them should be looked down on by those of us who depend on all of them.  

All people are worthy of respect.  The human dignity of another is in no way diminished because of what they do for a living.  They deserve to be able to make a living doing it.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Post-Online Dating

I met my lovely and very private boyfriend online in late 2012.  Knowing how adverse he is to any internet presence, I'm a bit shocked he signed up for an online dating site.  I, on the other hand, use multiple social networks so I suppose it isn't much of a surprise.

I communicated with several different people before I met He-Who-Desires-Privacy.  Most of whom I did not meet.  At some point during email exchanges or while texting before setting up a date, I would feel uncomfortable and decide not to meet some of these gentlemen.  All of this was more than a year ago.  I had not given any of it a second thought, until this January.

Not long after New Year's I received a text message from a number I didn't recognize.  It addressed me by name, apologized for not contacting me in so long, and asked how I had been.  I apologized and said I didn't recognize the number and asked who I was speaking to.  It turned out that this was one of the gentlemen that I had decided not to meet over a year earlier.  I politely told him that I had met someone and wished him well.

I find this dumbfounding.  I wasn't interested in meeting this person months earlier.  I was no longer on the dating website.  What made him think that things would have changed?  Why would he have kept my phone number?

But then it happened again.  In the last month, a grand total of four people that I decided not to meet (for various reasons) have attempted to contact me.  It's starting to feel a bit like a conspiracy.  I simply cannot understand this mindset.  These are people I did not even meet.  They are people I barely talked to.  And yet, here they are, more than a year later.

I can understand contacting someone you actually met and had a relationship with.  Perhaps we want closure or want to try to reconnect.  But someone you don't know?  More than a year after a pretty basic conversation?  All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't decide to meet these men.  I'm really glad I met the one that I did.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The One About the Superstorm

A massive typhoon, Typhoon Haiyan, hit the Philippines as I am sure many of you are aware.  The news keeps talking about how this storm is the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history.  The weather people have made comparisons to hurricanes Katrina and Andrew and to superstorm Sandy. Typhoon Haiyan just doesn't begin to compare.  In case you haven't heard any of this, here are some of the facts for you:

Haiyan had winds clocked at 195 mph with gusts reaching 235 mph.  Hurricane Andrew which caused $48.1 billion in damages clocked in at 167 mph.

Haiyan's storm surge was between 40 and 50 feet depending on which island coastline was being measured.  Hurricane Katrina which caused $108 billion in damages had a storm surge of 28 feet.  Haiyan's impact is consider 3.5 times more powerful than Katrina's

The massive size of Haiyan is unlike anything we have ever seen in the US.  The storm would stretch the entire east coast of the US, from Florida to Maine.  Haiyan managed to cover all of the Philippines and is now on the way to Vietnam.

We are about to hear a lot more about this storm or the media is going to forget it completely.  I do not think we should forget about it.

The scope of this storm is something we simply cannot fathom.  We compare it to storms we have endured in order to make it seem more real.  But most of us did not understand Andrew, Katrina, or Sandy.  We watched the news coverage and we were terribly sad for the people who were affected.  We may have donated to an organization that helps.  Some of us may have gone to help.  Or hired someone that was displaced at our business.  Maybe we adopted a pet that was left homeless.  We did what we could.

But we do not understand what happened.  And we cannot begin to understand what has just happened to the people in the Philippines.  First, we probably did not know that they just endured an earthquake.  The island of Bohol sustained a 7.2 earthquake on October 15th.  222 people died and nearly 1,000 were injured.  Bohol has not even begun to heal the damage done or even finish searching for those who were declared missing.

At this point the military has begun surveying the country.  In one particularly hard hit area they have reported over 100 bodies in the street.  They have said it looks like a tsunami hit.  Communications are down throughout much of the country so it will be some time before there is much news.  It will also take time to figure out how much damage has been done and to see who is missing, who can be reunited with loved ones, and who has died.

Even those of us who have lived through earthquakes and hurricanes cannot fully understand what the people of the Philippines are going through at this time.  What we can do, and what I think we should do as fellow human beings, is to pay attention.  Don't turn the channel on the news.  Honor the humanity of our Filipino brothers and sisters by acknowledging their pain and their suffering rather than turning it off.

Pray for them.  It doesn't matter what faith you belong to or if you describe yourself as a spiritual person and not a religious one - pray.  There is great power in faith and in our faith working together to heal the world.  God listens to all of us.  Keep talking in whatever way you know how.

Consider helping as you are able.  Donate to responsible organizations at your religious organization.  As a United Methodist we have UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) which uses 100% of all donations to fund relief efforts.  I'm sure there are other organizations in other faiths and denominations. Or when the Red Cross comes out with its handy text to donate $10 do that if you can. I'm sure there will be other organizations that pop up that are specific to the Philippines, but do your homework.  Make sure whatever you choose to give will actually go to and help the people.

If you can't help, don't feel guilty.  We aren't all relief workers who fly around the world to help those in need.  Nor are we all reporters who are paid to travel and bring us the news of these events.  And sometimes we cannot afford to text in for $10 for charity.  Caring and wanting to help are important.  You can also spread awareness to those who do not know what is happening.

Our brothers and sisters are hurting.  I am asking you to care.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The one about the Washington football team

It was suggested to me that I should start a blog.  So now I have.  I will probably write about all sorts of news and faith issues, but this first post is one that is deeply irritating to me.  I am rather passionate about not oppressing people.  Native Americans are one of the groups that I find people know very little about.  The remainder of this was originally contained in a note on my Facebook page. 

Dan Snyder has made his position clear once again (as if anyone thought it would change) about the name of our local football team.  It's his team, he can name it whatever he wants.  I do have a few issues with his logic though.

1.  Claiming you had a coach and players who were Native American and therefore cannot be racist against Native Americans is inherently flawed. People are often intolerant of groups they claim to love and support directly in front of them.  May I introduce you to the phrase, "I'm not racist, but..."

2.  Consulting with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund about your logo is a lovely thing to do way back in 1971.  Images have changed in the last 42 years.  Also consulting over an appropriate image is not consulting over the offensiveness of a name.  Do you know or care that Pine Ridge, SD is the second poorest county in the US?  Are you hoping to get sympathy points by name dropping them?  The Lakota didn't take kindly to Johnny Depp attempting that earlier this year.  Or are you actually doing anything to further support young Lakota athletes? 

3.  The Annenberg Public Policy Poll was conducted "over [a] very long period of polling, October 7, 2003 through September 20, 2004" (per their website).  Do you think people's thoughts may have changed in 10 years?  The poll was also done of 768 people who self identified as Native American, you claimed nearly 1000.  The population of the Pine Ridge Reservation, which you name dropped earlier, is estimated to be 40,000.  I could personally find 768 people who could prove their tribal affiliation offended by the name of your team in less than a year. 

4.  The Patawomeck tribe is not a nationally recognized tribe.  They were rediscovered by an anthropologist in 1928 as an offshoot of the Powhatan tribe.  Ironically, they would not be included in many federal programs and polls about Native Americans.  While I have no doubt that Mr. Green and the estimated 500 members in the Fredericksburg area tribe have had struggles over the years and certainly have much to contribute to any discussion on Native American culture and issues, you cannot discount the 2.9 million Native Americans in the US because 500 are not offended.

5.  People buy all sorts of things.  Yes, they buy your merchandise.  They would buy it with a new logo too.  Just because people purchase things does mean it is not offensive to others.

6.  Lastly, you do not get to decide who is offended and who is not.  You are a white man and are the most privileged member of our society.  You are probably the last person who will be offended.  Who you discount is entirely up to you, but do not pretend to understand when there is no equivalent for a person of your position.

In case you would like to read his letter,