Search This Blog

Friday, January 31, 2014

Spanking Rich Monkeys

After reading a Facebook thread in which wealthy Church leaders blamed young adults for the decline in the Church and said it was because young people prefer Empire over Community, Craig is on a roll!

Check out this episode!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Does It Take to Be a Man?

I have written in other places and spaces about the lack of rites of passage in our culture and the negative impact of what we have chosen as substitutes for legitimate of passage. Finally, on Facebook yesterday, I found everything I have been trying to say summed up in one photograph.

These two tragic individuals are but different sides of the same coin, both trying to prove they are now adults in self designed rites of passage.
For women in our culture the currently popular proof of adulthood comes at the expense of flaunting your sexuality in the most degrading way possible, thereby proving that you are now an independent adult. The unanswered question is just how independent one can really be when they allow the culture to determine for them what constitutes a legitimate expression of being all grown up. After all, if I am really self-determined and an independent thinker, shouldn't I be able to define my own coming of age event?
For men the current proof of adulthood is taking unnecessary risks, engaging in dangerous behavior, and having contact with the police. I get drunk and/or high, drive my car too fast and so endanger myself and others, and don't cooperate when I get pulled over by the police. While women like Miley Cyrus seek to prove they are adults by flaunting their bodies and in fact victimize themselves through their sexuality, men seem to prefer fast cars. Ultimately, the behavior is the same - I put myself and my career at risk to prove that I am now a responsible adult. You don't need to belong to Mensa to see what these attempts at rites of passage fail - they are contrived and don't ask anything of us beyond foolishness.
Perhaps the heart of the problem is that we no longer have agreed upon definitions of what makes someone a "grown up" in our culture. Many if not most of the people our culture seems to worship aren't real. By that I mean their day to day life is either far removed from the day to day lives of most people, as in the case of professional athletes, or constitutes our idols pretending to be someone they really aren't, in the case of actors and musicians. Even our so-called reality shows don't actually portray average people but instead feature people who have become caricatures of themselves to attract attention and ratings. Maybe real people are those who work sixty to eighty hours a week and make a lot of money at the expense of their families and their health? In truth, there aren't many of that particular caricature in existence, either.
It could very well be that if we are to have authentic rites of passage we are first going to have to develop some authentic models of what it is to be a responsible adult.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Drama, Mental Health, and My Crappy Back

It's long past time we eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health patients and chronic pain patients who need narcotic pain medication to keep their pain under control. A look at the last two weeks around my house provides ample illustration of those two truths!

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Collateral Damage: Living with the Seriously Mentally Ill

My daughter, like her biological mother before her, has bipolar disorder. She was first diagnosed at age twelve, not long after I started dating my current wife, Erin. Why Erin didn't run when all of this happened I will never know. Those early days, and right on through the teen years, were not easy. In fact, they were hard as hell. Granted there were good days as well as bad, but the bad days that resulted from a serious mental illness combined with the raging hormones of adolescence are more or less equivalent to storing nitroglycerin next to the campfire. If you're lucky, everything will work out fine, but somehow you can't help but feel with each passing day that you are pressing your luck to the breaking point.

After a series of events over the past two months I finally had to call the police Tuesday night to take my now adult daughter to the hospital. Some will think it's terrible that I am writing about this, but since the police were involved there will be a story in the police blotter about the call. That makes it public record. So, if it bothers you that I am writing about it I must kindly tell you that is your problem and encourage you to deal with it on your own because the truth is I just don't care. I don't care because I am tired, and worn down, and battered - and sick and tired of people telling me that I cannot publicly express my feelings about what has happened out of concern for the "sick person" as the "sick person" moves about inflicting collateral damage on everyone in the household with no sense of remorse or regret whatsoever. My frustration with this is compounded by the fact that bipolar folks are notoriously non-compliant with treatment, meaning that they could function at a much higher level but simply chose not to do so.

The problem with living with someone who has an illness that distorts their perception of reality is that it takes a toll on everyone. All the senseless circular arguments, all of the accusations regarding things that never happened, all of the insistence that their distorted perceptions are in fact accurate and the accurate perceptions of family members are not, and all of their endless sense of entitlement wears those of us who live with and care for the chronically mentally ill down until we seriously question our ability to carry on. Then there are the endless hours they spend on the telephone and on social media telling friends and family how terrible it is to be living where they are living, surrounded by the insensitive louts who are actually caring for and to a large extent financially supporting them! The truth is that if it weren't for our grandchildren I would have long ago asked our daughter to leave, but they deserve better than to be raised by a single parent subjecting them to this kind of chaos and crazy making behavior. Her behavior in front of them tonight before I called the police was just terrible, and reflected the probable existence of a personality disorder on top of everything else. It was as if I could see their future therapy bills piling up with every word that came out of her mouth.

And I am not supposed to speak or write about it.

Well, I am not buying it. I am not buying it because I know there are thousands of other people like me who are trying their best to do the right thing for a sick family member and receiving much more grief than reward for their efforts. I want to say that those of us in this position need to have a place where we can talk about our struggles. I am going to look into a way to make that happen. Watch for details, and until then know that you aren't alone!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism Then and Now

The Message from the Compassionate Heart Gathering in Milwaukee on January 12th, 2014. We look at the Baptism of Jesus, at the meaning of Baptism, and also discuss Rites of Initiation in contemporary society - or the lack of them.

Check out this episode!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What NOT to Say to Sick Friends

If there is one good thing about Facebook, it may be the opportunity to learn just how many stupid things people say in attempting to comfort their sick friends. Check out this piece from a well meaning friend of a friend:
"Let's all make sure we pray for X every day...prayer is powerful and God answers those prayers every day according to His will. God only does what's good for you."
Let's examine this statement for a moment. The person in question, let's just call him Steve, has a life threatening illness with an uncertain prognosis and is currently undergoing treatment. If God only does what's good for you, why does Steve have this illness? This statement leaves us in a theological bind, but more importantly it says something to Steve that I am sure his friend does not want to say - that God thinks it's good for Steve to be seriously ill. What kind of God would possibly believe that it is good for anyone to be seriously ill?

What about the prayer piece? We all need to pray for Steve every day. Why? Does God have some sort of dementia that requires we remind her every day of our concerns for Steve? Or is it that God thinks we aren't serious about our concern for Steve and so we need to repeat it over and over to convince God that we are serious? Perhaps worst of all, do we really want to say that God is of such a nature that we must constantly hammer her with our requests until she relents? What if the person doesn't recover? Are we saying they would have recovered if we'd only said six more prayers? Is that a vision of God or of a seriously mentally ill psychopath? Perhaps the real and healthy reason for prayer is to express our love and concern for our friend and send healing energy their way.

"God answers prayers every day according to His will." So if our friend doesn't recover then we can be pretty sure God had it out for him, right? Or maybe it wasn't that bad, maybe God was just completely ambivalent about our friend and just couldn't decide whether or not it was worth the energy to intervene on his behalf. Maybe God was too busy watching the NFL playoffs to heal Steve. If only Steve had the good sense to wait until after the Super Bowl when God's schedule was lighter, Steve might have had a chance. Honestly?

This kind of muddied thinking arose after people started making some pretty outrageous claims on God's behalf and then got called on them. That's when, instead of doing the sensible thing and reevaluating the claims, people just started throwing in qualifying statements like "according to His will." We added these things without ever considering their impact on the person for whom we are praying. Shouldn't our prayers at least be comforting to the person involved?

Perhaps a moment of honesty is in order. People get sick, sometimes seriously so. The reason we get sick isn't really known to us beyond that is seems to be the way life works. We can be certain that it has nothing to do with Divine judgment - and neither does recovery (or lack thereof) from illness. Sooner or later, we all encounter some illness from which we die no matter how many prayers our friends offer on our behalf. None of us ever knows when that day is coming. When we get sick, we want and need to hear that our friends are thinking about us and praying for us. We want people to listen to us when we need to talk and just be present with us when we don't feel like talking. We don't want any nonsensical promises based on contrived theologies that may give us great comfort when we are well and not facing any challenges but the impact of which on someone who is ill we have never considered.

In truth, we often offer platitudes when we don't want to hear about the pain and suffering that our friend or loved one is going though. Sometimes we offer them more to reassure ourselves that everything is going to be okay than to comfort our friend. Often times serious illness in those close to us forces us to confront our own mortality, something that most of us are loathe to do. We need to remember that since ostriches are not immortal, the odds are that ignoring that human beings are of the nature to age, get sick, and eventually die isn't going to change our fate. In fact, I believe that by confronting our own mortality now we not only will be better able to cope with our own health challenges but we also will be a better support to our friends and loved ones in theirs.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Have Found the Devil...

I have been thinking about the devil for some time now. It's not that I believe there is a guy running around in red pajamas carrying a pitchfork. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I don't believe in that guy, or any embodied devil - any more than I believe in an embodied God. Nevertheless, throughout most of history people have believed in some sort of devil or devil equivalent that seems to persuade us to do less than our best - at times much less than our best. Even today, in our scientific era, many people continue to believe in a devil. For contemporary folks, I believe that their choice to continue to believe in a devil is a creative way to avoid personal responsibility for their mistakes. If you can say "the devil made me do it," you can avoid responsibility in many people's eyes. Fortunately, that strategy doesn't often work well in the courts.

What about the spiritual giants of history? Many of them wrote of a devil because the devil was part of the Church's official teachings. They must have been having some kinds of experiences that led them to believe this devil business make sense, right? Surely all of these tremendously honest and forthcoming people didn't independently decide to play some kind of con game writ large by speaking and writing of a devil that wasn't there!

I have been reading St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. She wrote extensively of the devil, and has the usual medieval preoccupation with snakes, worms, and the depravity of humanity. When I read her descriptions of the activity of the devil, however, the suspicion I have had for a long time is confirmed. If you want to understand who this devil is that people wrote of, simply substitute the word "ego" for "devil." You can elect to believe that the force that makes you choose not to do the good you want to do and instead do the bad you don't want to do is an external devil, but it would be much more accurate in contemporary terms to say that it's the internal force of our ego.

Ego, in the eastern sense, believes there is a permanent and unchanging "me" that I have to prop up and defend at all costs. So when I see a homeless person who needs something to eat and I reach for a dollar bill, my ego screams, "don't do it, there may not be enough for me!" When I become aware that there are people without health care and I find myself thinking that the appropriate moral response would be universal health care, my ego tells me that I worked hard to get what I have and if we give people health care I will lose my position of privilege. When I start to see signs of my aging in the mirror, my ego tells me I need a younger partner to make me feel younger. When my partner gets sick and can't be sexual, my ego tells me someone as splendid as I am deserves sex whenever I want it. In fact, the ego is all about me, even - and perhaps most especially - when me comes at the expense of others.

Sounds a lot like the devil, doesn't it?

The remedy is to repeat the following manta, "It's not all about me." In fact, you might say that the less it's about you the more evidence of spiritual maturity we can find in you. The person who runs around primarily concerned about themselves, perhaps even seeing spirituality or religion as a way to get more for themselves, is in truth a spiritual toddler. Why do I call them a spiritual toddler? I call them toddlers because like toddlers they have created an imaginary world in which they play, a world which always affirms them, in which they are in charge, and in which nothing can ever go wrong. The problem is that world doesn't exist outside our imaginations - and more than a few church sanctuaries.

I have found the devil, and he is [in] us!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Learning Disabled Men

Today on Interspiritual Insights we look at Learning Disabled Men. In other words, we look at all men. Why do men not seem to learn from the mistakes they make and the ones they see other men making? Why do we continue to do self-destrucive things that don't benefit us? When will we finally refuse to buy into culturally determined models of what it means to be a man and demand new models?

Check out this episode!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Sound of Silence

I haven't posted in a while, mostly because we spent the month of December ending what might be called a great experiment - living in the City of Milwaukee. Increasing violence, culminating in the murder of our 84 year old neighbor, drove us out.

I enjoyed living in an integrated neighborhood with its reminders of my own childhood - a place where kids still play on the street and ride bicycles, something our own children always thought was beneath them when they were younger. It was nostalgic to see children running between garages playing hide and seek, and it was tragic to know that at any moment gunshots could ring out and take one of their lives. In 2013 three people were murdered within three blocks of our home, which was not located in the most violent part of Milwaukee. Near the end, hardly a week went by that we didn't hear multiple shots fired close to our home. Guns weren't the only problem, however. When our neighbor was murdered he was killed with a knife. If you believe that guns are the only instruments of violence in the hood, you are wrong.

In many ways it's the great liberal mission, moving back to the city. I was foolish enough to believe that I could make a difference in the most segregated city in America. I don't want to sound too cynical, but I could not have been more mistaken. None of us can make a difference by ourselves, and when the potential to make a difference comes at the price of endangering our own children and grandchildren, honesty compels me to admit it just isn't worth it to me. While I understand that the reasons for violence in our cities are many and the largest reason is economic inequity, if the people living in our cities are really interested in change they simply have to decrease the violence. Our four years on the fringes of the hood taught me that while it was certainly wrong for industry to leave our cities I cannot imagine any sane person opening a business in the midst of the kind of violence we see in most major urban areas today until the violence abates.

The problem is really quite simple. The vast majority of Americans have bought into the idea that money brings happiness. It's that quest for cash and things that leaves our urban areas destitute and in need of the alternative economy of the drug trade, it's politicians' perceived need for more control and more cash that keeps them enabling the drug trade, and it's the greed of suburbanites that keeps them enslaved to the one percent that actually control the economy. In the midst of all this, our spiritual institutions have failed to provide a viable alternative - precisely because they, too, are after money and not souls.

Here in the suburbs I do not hear gunshots. Nor do I hear drunken arguments on the street at three in the morning. There is not a constant parade of intoxicated people to and from the corner store. Not once have I heard the word "motherfucker" shouted in anger, nor have I heard anyone called "bitch," "ho," or anyone threatening to "kick your ass." Often, all I hear is silence. Quite honestly, I like it that way - and it doesn't make me a racist. I am tired of hearing that white people who don't want to live in the violence of the hood are racist - that's a victim mentality if ever there was one. I am simply someone who has a chaos threshold that, over the last four years, has been constantly exceeded. If I can make a difference, and I am not sure that I can, it will be by challenging the corrupt value system that pervades our culture. We need to recognize that money won't make us happy, and we have all the evidence we need in people with money. We need to claim a viable spirituality for the 21st century, one rooted in the great religious traditions but which speaks to contemporary people. Most of all, we need to understand that it's not about any one of us - it's about all of us.