Gaining Wisdom

“…acquire wisdom, acquire perception, never forget her, never deviate from my words.” — Proverbs 4:5, JB

I’ve been reading Proverbs recently and this little snippet caught my attention. Proverbs is all about gaining wisdom, acquiring it, and learning how to live life in full connection with God. What struck me is that wisdom is something to be gained, not something you either have or lack with no recourse.

The reason I found this idea so powerful is because, when I look around at the way our society treats people who make mistakes, it is clear that our standards for each other (and ourselves) are too damned high.

I’ve grown much wiser in the past few years, but that was after mistake after screw up after pitfall. It took a lot of lessons, often repeated with a healthy dose of karmic discipline, for me to grow into a better, wiser human being. In the midst of all those lessons, I lost respect, friends, and colleagues.

When I see other people make mistakes or having their skeletons thrust out of the proverbial closet, I see much of the same. Friends and family members curse, deride, or abandon. Society mocks, points fingers, all while securing the lock on their own closets even tighter. There is no compassion, no chance for redemption, no assumption that someone could do better.

Reading Proverbs, however, reminds me that when I look at my life and my failings, I am really seeing a long journey of lessons learned that enabled me to be the man I am today. I am proud of that man, and of the boy who never gave up so that yhis man could exist today. Further, I’m reminded that everyone has lessons to learn, and my job is to accept where each person is on their journey.

Does this mean sitting back and accepting or condoning abuse, hatred, or misconduct? Of course not. It does mean, however, that in all of our attempts to do and enforce what is right, we should also be compassionately present for those who are in the midst of the painful process of gaining wisdom.

Wisdom, knowledge, and righteousness are all things we pursue and gain as we live life. Unfortunately, learning in life often means making mistakes, sometimes a lot of them. Understanding this means not abandoning each other or writing people off. Rather, we should connect with those who, like us, are having to embrace some of life’s more painful teachings. After all, isn’t that what each of us would want?

Peace be with you!

Putting a Face on It

By the end of high school, I was a lot of things. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty (ironic?), anti-gay, pro-gun, creationist, pretty much fitting right in with the Republican state in which I spent my teen years. Now, however, I am none of these things, much to the chagrin of certain family members and friends.

So what the hell happened?

Well, I went to college.

I don’t mean that in a liberal, “holier than thou, educate yourself” kind of way. To be honest, my professors had very little to do with my change of heart. I actually changed so much because I met different people and grew to genuinely care for them, on top of being free to think for myself.

I met gay people who were kinder and more compassionate than most Bible-thumpers I knew.

I met and grew to love nonreligious people and people of non-Christian faith backgrounds.

There were faithful scientists who believed in evolution and God.

There were women who had abortions or who had been raped and didn’t seem evil for wanting to not start a family with their rapist’s baby.

I realized I didn’t really agree with what I had always thought I was supposed to believe. The idea of my classmates carrying guns into class made me feel less safe and more likely to be shot if someone decided to go on a rampage. I realized that I would never want to force a woman to have a baby she didn’t want. I found that my faith didn’t have to be challenged by science, and even if it was, it’s okay to think things through. I found the idea of killing someone to show killing is wrong made no sense to me. Finally, I could never believe that God would be so petty as to cast good people into hell because of who they loved or what they believed when they were some of the best people I had ever met.

All of this change happened not because college is a “hotbed for liberal indoctrination,” but because I met and loved people who challenged my perceptions.

I think our world would benefit greatly from “putting a face” to what we believe. We should meet and get to know the people who are affected by our decisions and ideas, and we should grow closer to those who think differently from us. Only in such a context can our beliefs truly be tested and reduced to what is kind, honorable, and just.

Do I think you have to agree with my points to be kind, honorable, and just?

No!

What I mean is that kindness, honor, and justice are only possible when we are driven by concern for others. Therefore, we can’t go on supporting ideas just because they keep us comfortable.

Even as my newer, more liberal self, I live my life surrounded by conservatives. I don’t see these people as hateful, backward racists and you shouldn’t either. The reason I can say that is because I’ve spent time talking with them and listening to their concerns, fears, and values. I see the faces of people I love when I consider these ideals that run counter to mine. Honestly, we all have a lot more in common than you might think.

So whatever you think or believe, test it. Challenge it. Look into the eyes of that death row inmate. Put yourself in the shoes of a gay couple trying to live life together. Try telling a woman to her face that you would force her to have an unwanted child. Listen to the stories of those who bust their asses every day for an “American dream” they’ll never afford.

But also…

Have coffee with that supposedly backward uncle that still supports only “traditional” marriage. Listen to the fears and insecurities of someone who looked up and saw a world they couldn’t recognize. Get to know the family who lost a loved one in a brutal capital murder by an unrepentant killer, or the proud gun owner who never did a thing wrong in his life.

Difference is not the enemy. Indifference is. Being challenged is not evil. Complacency is. Having strong beliefs is not a problem, but a problem arises when we fail to think or care about the ones who are affected by those strong beliefs.

We have to stop drawing battle lines and start crossing them. Only then can we see ourselves in our “enemies” and love them as we wish to be loved. It’s only when that happens that we can expect to see a desperately needed shift in how our world currently works.

Peace be with you!

In Advance

Over the next couple weeks, I am facilitating the discussion group at my Quaker meeting regarding George Fox’s idea that a faithful person should “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Now, we have debated the idea of whether or not we believe there actually is an element of God in every person; some of us do while others don’t. It has been agreed upon, however, that Fox (in true Quaker style) was less concerned about metaphysical truths regarding the Divine in everyone and more concerned with how the Quaker community behaved.

I feel there is a powerful lesson in this.

We live in reactive times. Everyone is one post, one word, one decision away from making or losing friends. Before we can love someone, we need to see what they’re like. Before we can treat someone with respect, dignity, or compassion, we need to know they deserve it.

Bollocks.

In case you haven’t noticed, being reactive isn’t working well for society. Our most immediate and visceral emotions are steering the ship, and we are going to repeatedly run aground until that changes. But how do we change it?

Fox’s quote could be of service in this regard. “Answering that of God in everyone” has nothing to do with what people deserve and everything to do with what we decide to do in advance. No matter what a person is like, we’ve already decided who we are going to be, and that makes all the difference.

I personally believe God’s image and breath and presence abide in every person, regardless of how they use, abuse, or ignore that gift. Yet even if that isn’t true, I’ve decided to live as though it’s a fact. As such, my interactions have started to change in a powerful way.

Don’t wait to be a compassionate or merciful person until “the chance arrives.” Decide now that that’s who you want to be, and start practicing! Don’t wait until someone deserving of your respect comes along, but decide now that everyone will be the recipient of your respect because you want to be a respectful person!

Of course we will still feel powerful, reactive emotions. It is also true, though, that our habits can allow us to process them effectively rather than hurling them into the world to do whatever harm they can. In that way, we can start to exemplify healthier ways of coping and interacting that are based on virtue, not offense.

We can’t control who others choose to be. We can, however, decide who we are going to be, and that has to be a decision made apart from other people. This is so necessary, as we are currently giving too much of our power over to others, allowing their behavior to manipulate ours in an endless cycle of mutual harm.

Take back your power, deciding in advance to go ahead and be the compassionate, healthy, loving, respectful person we all need. In this way, you’ll find yourself walking “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Peace be with you!

Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!

Godly Living Means Godly Loving

… Yahweh is merciful and tenderhearted. — Psalm 111:4, JB

I tried this post yesterday, and I realized I wasn’t staying true to myself or my goal, so here is attempt number two!

Again, I hope the rendering of God’s name is not offensive to you, dear reader. After all, biblical writings have The Name written everywhere, but I understand Judaism’s (and certain Christians’) differing perspectives on that particular commandment.

Anyway, I came across this selection of Psalm 111 and at first just thought what I always thought. “Man, I am glad God is merciful and tenderhearted.” But something bugged me. I don’t think God just wants us to know stuff because it’s “good to know.” God always has purpose, and it’s always the Divine will that what we believe becomes something we enact.

Then it struck me. If God is merciful and tenderhearted, we should also strive to lead lives of such mercy and compassion. Jesus gives us a pattern to imitate in terms of unity with God, and this unity comes with adopting God’s nature as our own.

So take a moment today to consider God. Though we may not always agree with ancient expressions, it is clear that God is described as just, merciful, faithful, and loving. Therefore, I hope we all will practice this way of being as well!

Peace be with you!

The Myth of “Facts Not Feelings”

In recent years, there has been a surge of certainty that I feel has led to an utter breakdown in communication regarding very important topics. I keep seeing posts and quotes pointing to supposed critical thinkers offering a snide remark to the effect of “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While this sounds great (not at all jerk-ish), denying our inherent biases (emotional or otherwise) in a debate is a really… really bad idea. Why?

We trick ourselves into believing we are objective.

Despite what we’d like to think, when it comes to abortion, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, Israel, economics, and pretty much any other policy or issue that affects us personally, no one is objective.

Everyone has feelings that surround and inform their understanding of particular topics. But when we want to be “right” all the damned time, we rationalize and find whatever argument we need to prop us up. We pretend we have no bias driving our perception… and we are quite wrong in doing so.

Our denial of our own bias makes us less compassionate toward that of others. We believe we are right, and that is a truth that cannot and should not be altered no matter who it hurts.

After all, if facts don’t care about feelings, why should we?

This is the hypocritical move that makes steam shoot out of my ears. What B.S. statements like “Facts Not Feelings” actually provide is a means of dismissing other people and making ourselves feel more secure in our own perceptions. However, should the same move be used on us *gasp* we are stunned by the lack of understanding and tolerance on the part of others.

“How dare they go after our beliefs and what I think?!”

My question is: When did feelings become so bad? How did we arrive at a place where we are so willing to find any way to make someone feel stupid so we don’t have to be bothered with their “baggage?” Is there another way?

Of course there is.

CARE.

My point here is that maybe instead of whipping out one-liners that dismiss each other, we should actually listen and respond to one another. Even if someone’s belief doesn’t match your reality, it matches theirs, and as such it needs to be respectfully received and addressed if any headway is to be made toward a more productive conversation.

We all have biases. Most of us have feelings that guide our decision making, and all of us have emotions tied to our positions on particular subjects. I’m not saying that all of those feelings are always “right” or factual, but they exist and need to be handled with concern and compassion.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

Frustrating? You bet.

Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Don’t Judge Your Journey…

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Sirach 8:5, NRSV

At age 27, almost 28, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve learned lessons about managing emotions, honoring relationships, watching the words of my mouth, and avoiding situations I don’t need to be in. I’ve learned about my relationships with God, religion. and other people. As you can imagine, many of the lessons I have learned came through the undesireable avenue of mistakes made… and I used to hate myself for it.

As a society, it feels like we have gotten in the habit of judging not only the lessons we have learned, but also those others have had to learn. While one person may struggle with addiction, they cannot fathom why someone would cheat on their spouse. When one person works their way to an early grave, neglecting their family and friends, they can’t stand those who are overzealous with their opinions online or at social gatherings. In all these instances, we are resentful of ourselves because we weren’t born perfect, and downright wrathful toward those who have had to learn things we didn’t.

As I said before, I used to HATE that I ever had to learn how to be a decent spouse, son, friend, etc. I hated myself for not having a natural gift for navigating complicated people and situations. On top of that, I would find relief in the obvious flaws of others.

Guy that yelled at me after a sermon? What a jerk!

Lady that flipped me off in traffic for stopping at a stop sign? Rude!

Overzealous Facebook warrior? Crazy!

It feels good to hammer on people who are flawed in ways we are not. We are able to rationalize OUR mistakes because WE have good reasons, right? We couldn’t say the same about others… Could we?

The Book of Sirach teaches that we shouldn’t reproach people “turning away from sin” because “we all deserve punishment.” The language is somewhat condemning, but the message is powerful. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 7:1-5.

In more positive terms, instead of condemning others for their darkness because we don’t want to confront our own, we should remember that just like “them,” we have lessons to learn, and THAT IS OKAY. We are imperfect creatures, and each of us is on a path. When we despise our path, we start to envy or judge those of others, and no one gets anywhere.

Instead, we should mind our own road, fearlessly and compassionately embracing that which we must learn about life and ourselves. In that process, we become more understanding of others and what they are going through. That understanding enables us to lovingly embrace others where they are, possibly helping them along just as Jesus does in the Gospels.

All of this boils down to treating ourselves more kindly. I had to learn through long processes and lots of therapy that my lessons are nothing to fear or be ashamed of. They’ve made me a better man, husband, friend, son, and (God willing) father. The acceptance of who I am and how I got here has also made me more accepting of others, and I believe this is something God desires for us all.

I pray that you will ease up on yourself. Learn the lessons before you, for that’s what mistakes are intended to be. Through them, we learn humility, patience, and how to do better. Embracing that ride also helps us to be more compassionate toward others, and I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

God loves you. I love you. It’s time for you to love you, so you can love others.

Peace be with you!