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.