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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

TSL Pt. 3 - A Lukewarm Life

One of the consequences of trauma can be that we have felt pain for so long that we decide the only way to move forward is to dampen the pain. Whether our original pain was physical, emotional, or both matters little because all suffering eventually impacts our emotional life. Consider that chronic physical pain eventually has emotional consequences. We don't just say, "Ouch! That hurts!" Sooner or later we start to ask why this has happened and the pain - now physical and emotional - starts to wear us down. Eventually we blunt the pain, effectively turning down its volume. That decision comes at a price, however, because we can't selectively dampen only the pain. The result of turning down the pain is that we turn down everything. It doesn't
matter how we turn our pain down, whether chemically, through concentration techniques, through distraction, the effect of our "remedy" is that we live a lukewarm life. Beyond that, our coping techniques only work up to a point. There is pain that is too intense to be ignored, and all of our pain will eventually rise to the point where we can't ignore it. Then we may have a second problem on our hands, as the shot of whiskey that used to help us get to sleep turns to two, three, and four or more shots.

Human nature being what it is, the odds are we will put off addressing our issues until we are left with very little choice. Since it is almost certain that the "very little choice" moment will come eventually, why not start dealing with the impact of our trauma today? Why not take an honest look at where the past is influencing how we deal with people or circumstances today? In my last post I wrote about trust being impacted by trauma. Those trust issues are ubiquitous, affecting all of our relationships - even our relationship with the Divine. If I can't trust other human beings that I can see, how will I ever trust God who cannot be seen? Even before all of that, when we have been betrayed so often that we have lost count we likely don't even know how to tell when trust is appropriate. We have some work to do!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Trauma and the Spiritual Life (TSL) Pt.2 - Trust

We may as well just jump into the deep water. If we have experienced trauma, and in Part 1 of this series we established that nearly everyone has, we will have problems with trust. If we sit with the question for a while, we will even come to see that we don't trust ourselves. We don't trust our judgment about nearly everything. We have been burned so many times that we may even wonder if we can choose which pair of shoes to wear today! We have trouble deciding what to order for lunch, which movie we want to see, it seems our lives are ruled by ambivalence. It is a self-protective attitude that eventually turns on us. We say we don't care because we are trying to protect ourselves from disappointment, but our ambivalence leads to some pretty crappy lunches - and much worse - which further erodes our trust.

For years I walked around with one foot in my relationships and the other outside of them, waiting for the least sign of betrayal. When that sign popped up, or even a hint of a betrayal that might come a decade down the road, I was out the door. This was only compounded by the fact that I was so sure I was unlovable that I wasn't very discerning in who I let into my life. In my professional life I chose to work alone, either in the field away from the main office or in self-employment. My trust had been pretty thoroughly demolished by some very professional trust hit men and hit women, and I wasn't going to let it happen again. The problem is that very attitude almost guarantees it will happen again. We set up a kind of feedback loop that doesn't serve us very well at all.

The solution? The solution is NOT to trust indiscriminately. We need to trust ourselves first, and that means we have to make some choices. We have to care what is for lunch, we have to dive in and choose a pair of shoes, and we have to decide what we want to do this weekend. A year from now we might be able to defer decisions, but right now we need to learn to make them. We also need to learn to establish boundaries. If we can't say, "that's not okay, stop that" then people will continue to walk over us and our trust will be further eroded. All of this takes practice, and it much more complicated than can be addressed in a short blog post. That's why this topic will come up repeatedly in this series!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Trauma and the Spiritual Life, Part 1

I have been tossing around the idea of writing about trauma and the spiritual life for some time now, asking myself if it would be to self revealing. The last thing I want to re-create is that great coming out of Hollywood people who needed the world to know they had been abused as children, acting as if they were the only ones. It degenerated into a festival of both self pity and self promotion, a curious game of "my life is a bigger pile of crap than yours!" You must admit, that is a rather odd contest!

Nevertheless, the truth is that many if not most Americans have experienced trauma at one or more times in their lives. Merriam Webster defines trauma as: (a) an injury (such as a wound) to living tissues caused by an extrinsic agent, (b) a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress of physical injury, (c) an emotional upset. Wikipedia defines psychological trauma as "...damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope, or to integrate the emotions involved with that experience.

We can experience trauma producing events more than once in our lives, as well as from all three categories in the Merriam Webster definition. Possible causes of trauma are automobile accidents, bullying, all types of assault, combat, witnessing violence or being acted upon violently; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; child abuse and/or neglect, harassment of all types including sexual, and a host of others. It should be rather obvious that most people experience trauma inducing events in their lives. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, we have different levels of impairment that arise as the result of those events.

My interest in this series of posts is to explore the impact of trauma on our spiritual lives. As a nation that has been at war for nearly two decades and, if we are honest, has struggled to navigate daily life since the Industrial Revolution, I believe we desperately need to understand the impact of these events on our lives and our spirituality. We begin the journey with my next post! 

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Line Separating Tradition from Cement Overshoes

It has been said, I think by Jaroslav Pelikan, that tradition is the living faith of dead people while traditionalism is the dead faith of living people. What he meant was that blind adherence to the way things used to be, or "always have been," eventually leads us to stop growing - to die, if you will. The truth is that every living thing has two basic choices - to grow, or to die. There is no real choice of equilibrium in a living thing. It must either continue growing - replacing dead cells, processing nutrition, breathing in the way appropriate to its species, and so on - or it will die.

For religious and spiritual people, this truth represents a challenging reality. There are things to which we have sentimental attachment. Our mother's favorite hymn, Grandma's prayer beads, the translation of the scriptures we used when we first understood our faith, the third pew on the left, a pipe organ that shook the rafters, and the clothing clergy and religious wore "back in the day" are all examples of things to which we become attached - and these are good things. They are also things that will change, and that is a good thing too. Each new generation needs to find things that speak to them, that help them feel at home in their spiritual journey. Some of these will be the same as their parents, others will be different. We parents need to see that our children and grandchildren finding their own meaningful symbols isn't a rejection or us or our symbols, but rather a discovery of their own unique paths.

Sometimes when I am reading a spiritual "classic," I find myself wondering how the text in question could ever have spoken to anyone. I sometimes face the same question when reading contemporary texts. The problem often is that my world, my reality, just doesn't contain the same concerns as those of the author of the text in question. This is why we have a constant need of new classics, classics in training if you will, that do speak to contemporary people. It's also why we need to constantly be mentoring new, younger leaders to one day take our place. For those of you in leadership today I ask, are you mentoring someone or have your cement shoes already been delivered?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Diversity? Only When Convenient.

We like diversity, we value diversity, we believe in diversity - as long as it only has to do with appearances or other external qualities in adults, that is. If you happen to be a child, or if you happen to excel at things that aren't within the subject areas the institution has decided are valuable (STEM), or if you are creative in a way that isn't officially sanctioned, then you are pathologized.

If you are a child and you don't learn in the same way the majority of children learn, then you have "special" needs. We all know that any child in "special" education is pathologized as "slow"or, by their peers, or "stupid," yet we don't bother to change that labeling or challenge the stigma because once you are othered you are determined to be less valuable, less likely to succeed, less likely to be profitable to the capitalist  and academic institutions - but only because those institutions are too lazy to teach you in a way that maximizes your potential. That potential in all likelihood exceeds that of the average students, but we don't want to take the time to deal with you.

Maybe you perceive the world around you only too clearly, and you are depressed about the future and what it holds. Once again, the pathologizers rears their ugly heads. Those who have not been sufficiently anesthetized by the culture will become subject to a psycho-pharmaceutical anesthesia, labelled as mentally ill, and sent to very caring people whose future employment depends on diagnosing enough people in predetermined categories, the treatment of which insurance companies will subsidize. If you deviate from those predetermined categories in an attempt to better reflect what is happening, you won't get paid. Could their be a greater motivation for compliance?

So before you tell me how unfortunate it is that your special interest cannot gain acceptance, please tell me why you would want to be accepted by a broken system.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

When did bullshit become acceptable?

When did it become acceptable as a business practice to just spew nonsense with a straight face? I realize it's been acceptable in politics for some time, but I would like to know when the bald faced lie became a practice that businesses employed, convinced that doing so was a good idea and a good business practice. In short, when did bullshit become standard practice?

My wife and I were involved in a car accident just before Christmas, and one week later we were the proud owners of a new to us car that we just love. The dealer gave us a registration receipt they said was as good as a real one until the permanent registration came from the State. It isn't. Last week I went up to the dealer to check on the progress of the registration, and one of the people in the finance department told it takes six to eight weeks for the State to process registrations. I found that odd, because when we bought the now totaled car we transferred these very same plates and had the new registration very quickly. Still, I thought perhaps my post-concussion memory was a bit addled and so I smiled and thanked her for her help.

This morning, what should back up my driveway but a UPS truck! The nice UPS man delivered one of those UPS envelopes from a different branch of the same car dealer. Hmmm, I thought, as I opened the envelope to discover a temporary registration on the appropriate State form that (hopefully) the appropriate people in my life will find acceptable. Mind you, this form didn't come from the State, it came from the dealer. Where do you suppose the hold up was? Despite the very nice representative's claim that they transmitted the information to the State directly at the time of the sale of the vehicle, I smell a very familiar, musky stench usually whiffed while driving in farm country. Clearly the theory is to push the blame off on someone else and hope that by the time evidence to the contrary appears nobody will care. I believe that most people do, in fact, care. I believe that dishonest significantly impacts the likelihood of a customer returning to do business with the same company again, because trust is built on honesty and trust matters. Leave the bullshit to the politicians. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Why Truth Matters

It seems that contemporary culture has lost its sense of the value of truth. Our politicians certainly have. I saw a quote attributed to extreme right journalist cum politician Steve Bannon that advocated flooding the media with lies until people can't tell the difference between lies and the truth - or, more cynically, until lies become truth. You might be thinking that lies can never be the truth, but if we lose sight of that then there is no difference between the two, and they are effectively the same.

There are a lot of old maxims that hang on the reality of truth. You have likely heard that two wrongs don't make a right. If there no longer is a meaningful distinction between the truth and a lie, then there is
no longer any means that are not justified by our end goal. If I want to be rich, I can steal with impunity as long as we agree that being rich is a good thing - and there are no shortage of people who believe that being rich is a good thing. What we do have a shortage of are people who have any chance at becoming rich. When one percent of the world control most of the wealth, they aren't likely to let new people into their very exclusive club. Most folks don't seem to learn that lesson, and so they look the other way when all kinds of transgressions occur, hoping against hope that they will be the one to get in the club.

Perhaps the biggest lie of all is that wealth brings happiness. It does not. What brings happiness is choosing to be content with what we have. More stuff brings with it the perceived need to protect that stuff, and to acquire more in case what we have wears out or disappears. In the end, truth matters because when we lose sight of it we are easily manipulated and tend to act against our own self-interest, all the while believing that what we are doing benefits us. That may be the biggest lie of all.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Porn, Sex, and What Gets Ignored

In an effort to be more open and patient with nonsense, which I will freely admit I struggle with, I have been listening to an episode of The Liturgists podcast.  This podcast is a very popular one for millennials who are former Evangelicals, perhaps the most guilt ridden population around these days. Sorry, Roman Catholics, you have lost your dominance in the guilt game. The episode I have been slogging through is entitled "Porn," but includes so much more, including discussion about what it may or may not be appropriate to think about while masturbating, how to process having genitals and why we cover them, and a host of other related issues. I have lost track of the number of times I have said aloud, "oh for God's sake!" and "are they serious?"

Look, there are tons of studies that have been done that suggests that consuming pornography impacts the brain and our sexuality. For me, the problem with these studies is that it is hard to control for all of the things that impact our sexuality. Apparently, among post-millennials*, viewing violent porn leads them to believe that violent sex is normal. I don't know how you determine that to be the case, because there is nothing that would (a) lead me to enjoy depictions of violent sex, or (b) believe that it was normal. While I may not be representative of all males, I find it hard to believe that if you showed enough porn involving having sex with a German Shepherd it would be profitable to start a German Shepherd dating service. I do know a guy who found a dating service for men seeking women who don't speak English, but that's another story.

Here is what these discussions seem to miss: as a people, westerners are fucked up about sexuality. Here's a perfect example, and one that discussions like the on in the podcast avoid like the plague: estimates are that fifteen to twenty percent of American marriages are sexless. There are also twenty-three thousand Google searches each month for the term "sexless marriage," making it the most frequently searched sex-related term on Google. I would hazard a guess that people lie about how much, or more accurately how little, sex they are having. I would hazard a guess that a segment of this population turns to pornography as an aide to masturbation, but we don't see discussions or studies about that possibility. I don't think that we would want those people to phone the German Shepherd dating service, but maybe I am wrong.

Human sexuality is a complex subject, and - with apologies to John Wayne Bobbit - we can't address a complex subject by cutting it into little pieces and addressing those pieces individually. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that whatever we are confronted with most often will tend to be what we view as the majority practice or belief in a particular situation. There are more than a few sexual assault nurse examiners who see a perpetrator behind every Y chromosome, more than a few arson investigators who see a crime behind every can of gasoline, and more than a few pickpockets who only see people's pockets. Despite that, we have a penchant for trying to make complex problems one dimensional, and that almost always distorts the issue.

We can say that pornography is a problem and it may well be, at least for some people. We can say that there are good reasons why some people struggle to be able to be sexual with their partners, and there are. We can also say that fidelity is important, and it is. Can we also admit that all human beings are sexual beings, whether they are able to act on their sexuality within or without a relationship or not? Can we see that if we are in a relationship where we cannot participate sexually, where our partners want to be sexual, and where neither of us wants to have an affair, that there needs to be an outlet for the sexuality of the functional partner? Can we further see that it is anything but reasonable to become upset if we discover our partner is masturbating - under any circumstances, but perhaps especially under these circumstances?

Approximately one in three women experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Six out of seven college coeds have heard people joking about rape. This is one reason I find the statistics about sexless marriages to be rather unbelievable and likely under reported. The consequences of this violence are wide reaching - so why aren't we talking about them? Why do we seem obsessed about what is happening when Kyle cuffs his carrot but not about why his wife's sexuality has been disrupted? Many feminists focus on subjects like pornography and masturbation to the exclusion of the consequences of rape culture and developing an adequate treatment response to it. Why is that? Why do we feel perfectly fine talking about rape culture but balk at taking - and working - toward changing it?

In my more cynical moments, I believe the reason is that it's much easier to bitch about something than to do the hard work of changing that something. Protests and marches are dramatic, high energy, and offer the possibility of being seen on TV. Changing the culture is slow, difficult, and sometimes discouraging work. There is more romance in complaining than in working for change. Maybe that's the nature of romantic actions - they are flashy, easy, and offer their own (fleeting) reward. Change is difficult and takes time, but it is a much more meaningful, lasting work. Maybe it's time to re-examine what is truly meaningful. Maybe it's time to start telling the people who show up for every march but can't be found when the work comes around to put up or shut up. Maybe we need to be honest that more masturbation (of a sort) goes on in the name of social justice than while holding up a magazine with one hand.

*post-millenials are those who were between ages 6 and 21 in 2018, or who today would be between ages 8 and 23. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020


There have been a lot of changes around Blogger in the last year, and there were rumors of its demise, prompting me to post more on my other blog Craig Bergland. It turns out that much of the fuss was about the demise of Google+, which never caught on as a competitor to Facebook. That is really a shame, but not surprising since Google+ wasn't the most user friendly platform for interaction. Combine that with most people have a resistance to change, and failure was almost a forgone conclusion.

As odd as it may seem, I like this platform and now that it seems like it will stick around I intend to continue to blog here. I really believe that Interspirituality is the spirituality of the future, though perhaps not under that name. Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is that institutional religion in all its forms has had a rough few decades, and the general opinion is that its representatives cannot be trusted. Across traditions spiritual leaders have used and abused those under their care. That fact, coupled with humanity's growing understanding that we don't need an intermediary to access the Divine, has led to a shift in our perceived need for often pants-less teachers and preachers. If our children are not safe among those claiming to be God's representatives, either something is very wrong with God or something is very wrong with how the institution chooses its representatives. I am going to go out on a limb and guess the problem lies with the latter choice.

Pope Emeritus Benadryl XVI recently coauthored a book in which he disagreed with Pope Francis' position that in areas of critical priest shortages married priests should be allowed. Francis is essentially saying that the needs of the people are more important than the rules of the Church. Benadryl disagrees, and I have to wonder if that disagreement isn't at least in part an attempt to avoid the transparency that inevitably grows when new faces move into new spaces. A club filled with Queens and Pedophiles seldom welcomes the introduction of married men, because they and their wives may not be subject to the same kinds of coercion necessary to maintain a toxic code of silence. The winds of change are blowing in the Catholic Church, and they are far healthier than the kinds of blowing that have been going on in that allegedly celibate institution for hundreds of years. Anyone with any access to the Catholic Church knows that celibacy is a requirement most often observed by avoiding it, whether with other clergy, a housekeeper, or the local bishop. Change is long overdue, and may be a significant step on the long path toward healing.