Today, I Take It Back

Today, I take back my church and my country: you, my politicians, have done enough.

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When I was 17, I was born again. Not in the snake-handling, tongue-speaking, bomb-a-clinic kind of way. In the “I believe in a frontline God, a Creator who stands with me as I face this human experience: joy and loneliness, hunger, pain, heartbreak and exhilaration.” (I mean, like ,so frontline that S/he would come down from that high and mighty place and live here for a little while in a measly little human form with all its rollercoaster of experiences.) After this realization that I believed in a compassionate God , I found an amazing spiritual community. In college, I found other Christians who believed in radical kindness and taking care of the planet and the weak and the poor and “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I found sisters who kissed me on the head and celebrated my spirit and body as I muddled through society’s contradictory messages to me as a woman. I found men who believed both in God and in my right to be a strong woman (and by the way, being a strong woman did not mean becoming more male). I lived, worked and served side by side with some of the most generous of spirit, time and money.

Then I went out into the world. And the world looked back at me complacently and said, “Oh no, sister, you can’t be a Christian and an environmentalist. And also that’s nice that you’re a feminist, but I think we’ll just stick to our language of Almighty Father, obedience and conformity, okay?” Insert head pat here. Well, actually, in many cases there wasn’t a head pat. It was more of a blank stare. 

My disengagement grew as the political system increasingly made Party and Religion synonymous. I didn’t know this was happening. I thought I had just hit a spiritual nomad phase and couldn’t find “my people.” Friends around me assured me that science was the answer. (It is…if the question is “How?” not “Why?”) Some churches told me there was only one way to interpret this incredibly layered Biblical text. (It was not my way; it was their way.) Other churches said “It’s about loving yourself.” Hmmm…not what I was thinking either. I was unsuspecting that these voices were being influenced by the political us and themGradually my spiritual community dwindled to a few spare contacts kept alive through social media and occasional telephone calls.

The election on November 9 sparked grieving for me. The grief wasn’t about government policy – big government vs. little government or tax cuts or increases; it was more about character. How had we – conservatives and liberals both – allowed the greatest role model in our country to be a man so devoid of moral character. Many made a difficult voting decision based on policy issues that deeply influence their lives. I struggle, however, that this means we’ve trusted this man to act in our and our children’s best interest rather than his own; I don’t believe that he will. I don’t believe that he’s paying attention to the weak, the poor, the middle class, the marginalized or “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I struggle that we have given him permission to be our national leader.

In these last months, I thought a lot about this situation and my role within it. I didn’t believe he would win and I sat back. After November 9, I waited and hoped that I would be pleasantly surprised. I hoped that the first weeks in office would show me a man who didn’t walk the party line and provided a much-needed shake up in our political system. I sat back.

As it turns out, these first weeks have been a shake up for sure. The shake up is not one that honors some of the most important foundations of democracy: input from the people, checks and balances, and collective good. I’ve watched this man – and many other politicians on both sides – manipulate the public into seeing the world in black and white. If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. They dictate our affiliations. You can’t be both for women’s rights and a republican; you can’t be a democrat and believe in conservative fiscal approaches; you can’t be republican and disagree with Muslim bans…and you sure as heck can’t be a Christian and a liberal. We’ve all been buying into this divisive dialog for too long. 

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MMKohli 2009

I’ve absorbed too much of this “either or” outlook. I’m awake to it now. I will not sit back and complacently allow political rhetoric guide my sense of spiritual belonging. Nor will I allow myself and other Christians with a feminist and ecological ethic to feel like we don’t have a seat in the congregation. Nor that I have to pretend to be one or the other – Christian or environmentalist – when I show up for a town hall meeting. I am taking back all belief systems. I refuse to believe that I can’t be a Christian and desire equity. I refuse to believe I can’t be a Christian and have progressive ideas. And more importantly, I refuse to let the political rhetoric convince me that I can’t be both. I’ve let political divisiveness chase me from the Church and separate me from an amazing community of kind, grace-filled people.

I have known many Christians whose behavior is a living testimony to grace and generosity; Christians who are kind – not to convert people to Christ but because kindness is what Christ would’ve done. Christians have been among the bravest people I know – willing to have meaningful conversations with those most different from them. Many Christians I’ve known have refused to accept hunger or poverty or abuse as unavoidable aspects of society. We need to stop letting politicians present Christians as self-righteous and exclusionary.  We need to stop letting politicians pitch liberals as godless and selfish. All scientists aren’t atheists; all devoted congregations aren’t haters.

 

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We’re gonna have to keep it light if we’re staying in the conversation for the long haul.

The blessing in this garbage dump of a political situation is that it has called me and many others to action. For me, this means permission to own my spirituality, which means honoring and caring for other humans and the planet. It also means a kick-in-the-ass to step into the conversation that defines the direction of my church and my country. I am done sitting back. I am done letting the rhetoric seep mindlessly into my brain, beliefs and behavior. You do not have to be either or. You can be both and. Define things for yourself but most importantly get into the conversation and stay in; it’s gonna be a long one. Take your seat at the table back – whether it’s in a congregation or a town hall meeting. Politics is not a dirty word; complacency is.

Peace be with you.

**If you’ve found yourself on the fringes because you think you no longer have a place in the church, check out John Pavlovitz. **

Inside Out

Inversion

I go in search of a wide open vista and breathtaking view, motivated by the tantalizing pictures and the prospect of a cool experience. Along the way, though, I am interrupted by a hail storm miles away from shelter, getting bruised and mud-spattered as I run home. Not everyone appreciates the abuse of a long hike. When I get back from a long, muddy, lightning-filled walk, I am filled with appreciation for my own pounding heart and the fresh air fueling my lungs. When I peel away the wet socks and sand falls to the floor, I am filled with appreciation for the shower that will wash away the grit of the day and the warm water that will soothe the strain of my muscles. I love an outing that turns me inside out and upside down. It shakes out the sand of my assumptions and leaves only the important stuff behind. This blog captures the stories of my many inversions. 

Turn Your Light On

“Slow down. You’re too important. Life teaches you to to live it…” if you only wait long enough. ~Tony Bennett

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The blinding light of the mountain snow is glaring through my window and outside is so cold I can see rainbows in the air, every drop of moisture crystalizing into prisms of ice. I am spending my weekend reacquainting myself with my indoor hobbies. Work was so quiet this week that I felt like my light had blown out, but after a Netflix binge of quirky comedies, I realized that I just needed a little restorative couch potato time after a busy fall.

Among my trips this fall was a wedding of a summer camp friend from middle school. I’ve missed a lot of weddings since I live so far from home, but I had both time and money for this one, and Peabody (as only a few of us call him) was a pivotal friend in my life. What gift to be able to join his big day.

A few years ago when I visited him, his light had gone out. You’ve probably seen it in others … the sparkle in their eye dulls, a weight sitting on their chest. The same friend sits next to you and talks, but the life in them is gone, a different person staring out at you. At the time he was feeling done with adventure and looking to settle down and not having luck finding the magic lady. He was worn out with unconventional living and ready for some normal. And now he has his new normal. He has her, and both of them have their light on. As I dolled up for the wedding, I wondered if my light had gone out. Heading to a wedding, single and knowing no one. Did Peabody know how much I love him to subject myself to this? The cruddy irony of celebrating someone’s love when you are wondering where yours is.

At his reception, I was quick to start chatting people up before my introvert shell froze my conversational abilities and made me want to slink back to my hotel. Sitting with his college friends – all couples – I turned and asked one of the guys, “So, what do you do?”

“I go to the beach,” he replied.

His wife spun around, “Did you just ask what he does and he told you, ‘Go to the beach’?”

“Yes,” he and I both giggled.

We moved on to talk like grown ups about the thing we do that pays us, but we did get back around to the idea that he had answered a typical small talk question about a job with an atypical response about a passion. He answered me not with what he does for eight hours a day but with what turns his light on.

I’ve watched as the brightness in friends is snuffed out, often smothered by divorce, burnout, death, exhaustion of parenting. As we talk, I secretly try to nudge the cloud aside and find my old friend underneath the smoke. I often can’t, not then at least. I have to wait for the heat of life to release them. Sometimes that takes years.

I can’t help but wonder, after this simple conversation, what if, instead of asking these weary friends about work or kids or the house, I asked, “What turns your light on these days?” What would they answer? What would you answer? And would I get to see the sparkle in their eyes – in your eyes – return and sense the soul re-inhabit the lifeless body next to me?

What turns your light on?

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#liveyourbestlife #livingthedream #findyourpassion #youarenotyourjob

 

Comfort in a Bullseye

I’ve had a bullseye on my head since my first trip to China in 2012. My six weeks in Henan Province began with a lengthy lecture from the State Department on security threats and  how I, as a government employee, was a prime target. But the bullseye on my head isn’t from being on an international Most Wanted list; it’s the imprint of the lessons I learned about risk and change during the trip.

Off the beaten track of Western tourism, the other-ness isolated me into a bubble of silence – I couldn’t understand words nor read signs or body language. The State Department lecture made me feel like my person missteps could be a matter of national security, so I was paralyzed by both cultural ignorance and worry. The isolation and disorientation I felt could only equate to waking up suddenly blind or deaf.

Translation on Beijing Zoo sign: Beijing Zoo Water upstream pass a vote of Monopoly window

English does not equal understanding.

Upon arriving in the country, everything required a surrender of privacy. Our hosts tended to us from daybreak to sunset. Logging on to the internet required a passport number. Moving into our on-campus apartment required registering with campus police. Our independent American selves had full intentions of self-sufficiency but instead we found ourselves being fed hand to mouth by our hosts – sometime literally. They took care of all our meals. They picked our groceries in stores because we could only read packaging of Western food like Snickers and Lays potato chips. They set up our internet, fixed our plumbing so we had drinking water, and read the bus maps for us. While we had prepared ourselves to keep boundaries between ourselves and our hosts for all these security threat reasons, we depended on them for everything, especially since we were only there for a discreet amount of time and we had work to do. Bumbling through getting daily needs met would have taken all our time.

Once we had pots and pans and groceries and a daily schedule, we took a few days to rest. We drank neon-colored wine coolers in the solitude of our grubby apartment and re-lived the chaos of our days during our dreams, collapsing for 13 hours of sleep each night to recover from culture shock and jet lag.

The increasing radius of daily adventures marked our gain in courage, starting with the inner circle around our apartment: a 15 minute run around the campus pond, then a 30 minute run around the perimeter of the camps, then a 45 minute run with a quick exit of campus’ West Gate. Meals marked the next step to the mid-range circle: going to the campus cafeteria to muddle through food selection and payment; walking to the nearby market to buy some sweet potato chips and bananas; and finally visiting the line of outdoor restaurants and stumbling through menus, communicating with waitresses and seeing the locals laugh when a meal three times larger than what we needed arrived.

I have never been so microscopically aware of the incremental steps of risk taking. I moved a little farther from my apartment each day. I moved a little further from my American habits each day, testing the language, the bus system, the bargaining culture in the market.

Part of what struck me is how I and my travel companions moved outward through a geographic bullseye, methodically expanding our comfort zone was: from apartment to the university campus to the surrounding neighborhoods and markets. What if I could approach all my life’s challenges with the same, methodical steps towards risk and the expansion of comfort?

Bullseye with inner circle, "not even thinking," middle circle, "Hmmm...curious," and outer circle, "That's not safe"

The Bullseye of Comfort

Because of China, I can see challenge through a different lens.

Because of this trip to China, I now view life through this bullseye lens – with perfect comfort at the center and utter discomfort on the outside circle. I use this view to plot my next steps that expand comfort zone – and my horizons.

They say moving is among the top three stressors in life next to change in marital status and losing a job. When I moved to Wyoming, it wasn’t “in my life plan.” I left a job at Grand Canyon I thought would be mine for the next 20 years. I knew all the quirky stories and compelling science of the park. The red rock landscape was fully circulating in me; I’d literally been drinking from a spring in Grand Canyon for seven years.

I was a “go to” at work, had a surrogate family and a man who I was going to marry. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t.

I arrived in Wyoming, moved into a house that didn’t feel like mine, looked out at a park I knew nothing about and met co-workers who didn’t know I was a “go to” kind of person.  And I set to work on my targets. I nested in my home. I explored the trails the curled into the mountains just outside my home. I highlighted each new trail hiked and watched the veins of yellow bleed across my map. I found my favorite coffee shop where I could sit alone and be comfortable by myself. I got to know my direct reports and immediate coworkers; then colleagues in other departments. In the awful process of making friends in a new place, I focused on the ones who returned texts and phone calls and slowly expanded the social circle from there. I tested the online dating scene one app at a time. (That’s brutal no matter what part of the target you’re operating in.)

Making Wyoming home was not simple; despite my brilliant epiphany of bullseyes and comfort zones, change is still excruciating. But I didn’t get stuck.

It is so easy to paralyze ourselves when we are out of our element. Having a strategy to visualize change is can help us push through the ruts and the impossibilities.

Instead of beating myself up for getting stuck, I can ask,

Center circle, "Control," middle circle, "Influence," outer circle, "can't control"

Another bullseye I like, “The Sphere of Influence”

“Did I try to jump straight from the inner circle of comfort to  the outer circle?” Maybe there is a step in between.

If I ask, “Am I static?”

Maybe I’ve been swimming in the center of comfort for too long.

“Can I handle all this?”

Maybe I can influence the outcome.

I’m going to make it a game.

Jane McGonigal studies the benefits of gaming and sees evidence that gaming expands your creative problem solving. So, maybe we use the bullseye of comfort and compare it to darts. Reverse the scoring: instead of the center of comfort being 100 points, maybe the outer ring is 100 and the center worth only 10. What’s the next strategy going to be to increase your score and expand your comfort zone?

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts
Listen to the wouldn’ts and the couldn’ts and the won’ts
Listen to the never haves then listen close to me,
Anything can happen, child, anything can be.”

-Shel Silverstein-

#travellessons #China

Words for the Worn Out

Last week I read this poem to a group of interns on closing night after a week together. We were all reflecting on a week of inspiration and amped up with dangerous levels of idealism. It was a good segue from the insulated, safe world of orientation week towards going off on their own to their parks do the Real Work, the Good Work. 

TIRED

OH so TIRED

I make myself bend to see the world

How do they see it?

If I stand on my head with my legs in a pretzel

Will it help me VIEW from their Eyes

Will it help me get my Way

or MAYBE

Change THEIR lives

– or mine –

I bend for my Health – to get things done – to Move things Forward

because my little tiny tired soul – deep down – she is willing to bend like a swan to Twist to Contort

because she believes that if she does and looks and transform her View

She might just

TRANSFORM THE WORLD

…but no pressure.

Tired.

I mean, it could be how I Feel

Or it could be a different kind of adjective

… a car can be well-tired

GET IT?

Or it could be newly tired with good traction for the snow.

When I say that I am “tired”

…maybe I am well-tired.

I’ve got Good Traction for Life.

(That road is slippery. And I am tired of winter.)

I’ve got fresh treads to carry me far

a nice round shape so I am

Well Balanced

for the journey.

I’ll make good time

I’ll get good milage

…and since I am Newly Tired

– Well-Tired –

I’ll take this mission far

get this vision delivered

see this life of wide open spaces

REALIZED

– and I have space for Passengers –