Sunday, September 30, 2007

Which Would You Rather?

You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Every last one of us in this country has imagined what it would be like to be rich or to be beautiful. We’ve all wanted wisdom beyond our years, perhaps even to leave some sort of reminder as to our existence. And who could blame us?
Who wouldn’t love to live in a 10,000 square foot home on the coast? A house cleaned by other people? Who wouldn’t want to walk out to their six car garage and decide which sports car they’d be taking down Pacific Coast Highway? What would it be like to walk into any store and pick out anything we wanted without even looking at the price tag? What if we could choose any place in the world to travel for a month-long holiday? What if we actually had the money to finance any endeavor we chose?
I know a few people who might sign on for that. I’m not gonna lie--I’d volunteer gladly.
Or maybe an even sweeter deal would be to have a face that could launch a thousand ships? Eternal youth and beauty and health. Men and women spend millions every year to achieve it. The ubiquitous and alluring magazine covers remind us just how very much we value physical beauty. As one who has had a few cosmetic procedures and has no problem with a nip or a tuck here or there as I age, I would have to admit that I could sign on for this one too.
Ah, but let’s consider wisdom. I heard Dr. Phil recently calling for an “outbreak of common sense” in this country. Let’s face it, common sense just doesn’t seem that common, does it? Anybody hear about the guy who attempted the armed robbery in a martial arts studio during a class? The students beat the shit out of him. The Sensei had to pull them off. Failure to plan is planning to fail, right? You know, I might actually vote for this one.
But then again, who could resist eternal notoriety? Pretty compelling if you ask me. Tammy Faye Messner said she’d probably be remembered for her eyelashes, although I think she’ll be more remembered for her sweet spirit than anything else. Janet Jackson will probably be remembered for whipping her boob out on live television at the Superbowl. Mother Theresa is remembered for her compassion and commitment to the world. I think it’s a worthy exercise to contemplate what we might be remembered for after we’re gone. It’s more worthy to actually work toward exercising those contemplations and making them a reality.
In the right hand column of this blog just below my picture, you will find a survey. Please click on one of the choices. (Material for a future blog post? Hmmm...) After you vote, check to see what other people think. It’ll be fun! You can share your thoughts as to WHY you chose what you chose by posting a comment.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

When Good People Do Nothing

I heard from my good friend Lulu the other day. Well, of course her name isn’t Lulu. I have to change the names of this story to protect the innocent. As for the guilty, I have to change their names too, mostly so I don’t get hatemail. Let me give you a little background info, and then I’ll get back to Lulu.
Several years ago, my husband and I left the small church we were attending because we felt the environment to be toxic and cult-like. We had been asked to invest extraordinary amounts of time and energy into the pastor’s efforts, and when we wanted to step back from so much responsibility because we needed a break, we were told that our fatigue was an indication that we were “out of right relationship” with God. Our efforts to “minister” to others outside of that building were not validated whatsoever. I was told by the pastor that I had not ever truly been “discipled” as far as he could tell and that I was struggling with unresolved bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart. He explained that his wife, who had the gift of “discernment”, confirmed that these sins were hidden in my heart. As long as we were marching to the beat of his drum, the fruits of the Holy Spirit were evident in our lives. Any interruption in our efforts was interpreted by the pastor to be a slipping away from the will of God.
That’s one perspective. Another might be this, and this is pretty blatant:
This pastor seemed pretty cool at first. We started going and got sucked into the Bermuda Triangle of church work. We found our way in, but couldn’t find our way out. But that wasn’t the only issue. It was the fact that most Sundays we walked out the doors after the service shaking our heads and wondering what in the heck the sermon had been about. It was having to watch this guy lord over his wife. It was having to watch his wife disappear into no one--no voice, no opinion, and no identity apart from her husband’s voice. It was having to endure his attempts to control activities that he had no gifting in and not being able to say anything. It was having to deal with the frustrations of his futile attempts to answer the hard questions with formulated, pat answers and not being able to tell him that his answers just weren’t good enough. It was losing one potential leader after another because in that environment, there was only room enough for ONE leader, and that was the pastor. Eventually, people left. And so did we.
I know that when we left, I had such clarity! It’s amazing what getting outside of a situation can do for a person’s perspective. I look back and see how very controlling and cult-like that environment was. And how toxic. You gotta wonder how people even get involved in those crazy places. But you know, it’s not like this guy announced from the pulpit straight away that he had serious control issues, was misguided and manipulative, that he used people and that he blamed them thanklessly when they “abandoned” him. He never once indicated out loud that he would end up hurting people. It hasn’t occurred to him to this day, I would venture to say. He has no idea. So, how could we have known when we first started going and getting involved that it would end the way it did? We couldn’t smell the poison until it got right up on us. And in all honesty, I HAVE seen this pastor operate within the power of his compassion. When this occurs, he is unstoppable. Most effective, in fact. Unfortunately, most of what I observed was that too much of the time, he operated within the power of his position of authority, and frankly, it’s just not his best work.
When we left, he made sure to warn other people about us and, really, about me in particular. “Just be very cautious when it comes to Daisy. She’s a very strong woman.” Strong women, apparently, are a danger to the church. Or maybe just his church.
Lulu is a strong woman. She and her husband Bud left the church too. I do not assume to know why they left or the details of their departure, and I probably wouldn’t write about it if I did. Suffice to say, they started going to church somewhere else. However, one of Lulu’s relatives, LaLa, still goes to this church and is VERY involved! VERY! Did I mention, VERY? LaLa is a wonderful Christian lady. She started a women’s Bible study and invited Lulu to attend, even though Lulu no longer goes to church there. When Control Freak Pastor got wind of this, he told LaLa to inform Lulu that she could not return to the Bible study because she was not in a place to receive anything from that church. There was nothing the church could offer her. Furthermore, there were new members attending the Bible study, and it would not be good to have Lulu there with them. Instead of telling the pastor to get bent, LaLa sent her BLOOD RELATIVE up the river. With all her best wishes and prayers, of course.
I hope this guy doesn’t decide to move to Guyana and pass out poison Kool-aid. OK, I’ll concede that this guy is not really that kooky. But what side of the fence is all this on? Every single solitary person I’ve told this to has let out a mortified gasp. I’ve even told a couple pastors who just want to take the guy out back and pop him one. This situation of unhealth is crystal clear to EVERYBODY who is not in it. Lala doesn’t see it. Many others remain who don’t see it either. And what can we do about that?
Should we say something? Should we make some phone calls? Should we go on an anti-this-particular-pastor campaign? We’ve watched other people do it who are just as misguided as the enemy they believe they want to conquer. I, for one, want NO PART of that! You know what ends up happening? Most people just leave. And I go back and forth on this. I was one of those people who just left. I was one who didn’t say anything--I just disappeared. Even when given an opportunity to say something, I declined, believing that my words would go unheeded. Wasted. This pastor had never heard me before when I tried to explain to him how I felt. Why should I continue trying to make him realize what he never would? I was already detached at that point, and whatever would eventually happen to that church didn’t matter to me anymore. But my silence kept the door open for more people to get hurt the way that I was hurt.
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And Dr. King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Had I been appallingly silent? Do we inadvertently participate in harming others by simply walking away? It is, after all, the path of least resistance.
Even now, I am in the middle of a different organization that is divided with bullies and victims and bullies who think they’re victims. Loss has occurred and will continue to occur, and good people have and are leaving. No one is saying why. Hurt continues. Should we all just watch? Believe me, nothing repulses me more than the thought of jumping into the middle of it. And, truthfully, I probably never will. Is that wrong of me? Lulu’s situation has me thinking about it.
It hurts my heart to know that nothing much has changed in all the years it’s been since we, ourselves, moved on from that church. So, when Lulu asked me to post something on my blog about, “...crappy pastors who think they can rule the world,” I thought I’d give it a shot.
The pastor of that church would be hurt if he read this. So would LaLa. So would friends who remain. No one likes to hear that others think they’re in a bad situation. Certain people would not like to hear that I’ve actually prayed that God would “deliver” them out of that toxicity and bring them to a place of clarity and health.
I don’t want to hurt anyone. But in this case, hurting this pastor or hurting LaLa simply involves exposing what occurred. The fact that others outside of that place will KNOW what happened will be, in itself, hurtful to them. It means that they will be looked upon by others with disdain and disappointment, others who CAN see the forest for the trees. In their isolation, it all seems normal. But when somebody slaps it up on the Internet for the world to see, it suddenly seems twisted and wrong. That’s because it is. Now what do the rest of us do about it?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'm Toooooo Busy!

I’m too busy for my car, too busy for my car, too busy by far. I’m too busy for my shirt, too busy for my shirt, so busy it hurts. I’m too busy for my hat, too busy for my hat, what do you think about that? I’m too busy for my cat, too busy for my cat, poor pussy cat. I’m too busy for this blog, too busy for this blog...
I believe that Right Said Fred (who inspired these botched lyrics) may be Theodore Geisel’s big brother on hallucinogenic chemicals.
I’m teaching music part time, waiting tables part time, wife-ing, mother-ing, friend-ing, writing, writing, writing, and working my ACN business. In fact, I was just promoted, I’m happy to report.
But I don’t have any underwear.
I need to have sex. I need to do laundry. I need to get back to that Nora Roberts book that’s probably overdue at the library. I can only hope the Universe knows that I’m NOT going to miss Survivor China which premiers on the 20th OR Heroes which premiers on the 24th! And American Idol in January is like religion. A girl has to have her priorities.
So today, because I need to live my life with razor-sharp precision in order to accomplish all that I’m unwilling to give up, I created a monthly spreadsheet with 31 days across the top and several “to do’s” down the side. I put dots in the boxes for the days that I have to accomplish specific tasks. When I complete each item, I put an “X” in the box. Now I can see my “month at a glance” and know exactly what I’m getting done and what I’m not. In addition to this, I’ve created 7 templates, one for each day of the week, listing each item I need to get done. I check those off daily as well. These tasks include everything from repeating my vision statement to phone calls that I need to make to personal growth to taking my vitamins. I’m pretty confident that I could stand toe to toe with the most anal retentive people in the world. (Should “anal retentive” have a hyphen?)
Anyway, do not fear! I have not forgotten the words of the great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh! (“Saint Winnie, as my pastor refers to him.) His wisdom is this: “Never underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
So I’m scheduling that in.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Only Hope

A storm blew through here last night, violent and raging for all of about ten minutes. It brought strong gusts of wind that pelted the house with dirt and refuse--anything that wasn’t tied down--but then blew the dirt and refuse away. It was quick, but it had our strict attention. This morning the air is still and calm and clean, a crisp 61 degrees. Not a cloud to be seen.
I can relate.
Thank you. Thank you for all the advice and the encouragement, the wisdom and the friendship. What a week. I’ve had much to ponder with all the blog posts and e-mails that were sent--the good, the bad, and the ugly. This morning I feel as still and as calm and as clean as I ever have.
Here are some things that I know. I know there is a song inside of me. I know that song is part of a beautiful symphony, orchestrated by a Musician so amazing and so talented, with such genius. He is forever writing my part, new and fresh every morning. He composes. I sing. Without Him, I am without purpose. Without me, He is silent. He breathes life into me, and I am His expression. To deny this would be an abandonment, a betrayal, of all that I know. I know this because I remember the dirge I used to sing. It was the only song I knew. Now I sing His music, and my life is in tune.
I also know that recent events, and all my events, have been orchestrated by my Conductor. The opportunity to teach which came in the eleventh hour is a beautiful, syncopated melody, uniquely mine, surprising with its new rhythm. My free and clear and permanent teaching license is the counterpoint melody. And the joy that I am experiencing is the harmony that my song has been lacking for a year.
I can’t deny it. I can’t shut my ears from it, or my heart. I won’t be dissuaded from singing my part. I won’t lead a life of quiet desperation, and I won’t take my song with me to the grave. And I won’t apologize to those who don’t like the lyrics or the tune. It’s my song. My Muse, my Teacher, my Father has given it to me to be sung, not just to be notes on a page in His Music Book.
I am a hope-giver. It’s not just what I do. It’s who I am. And all I have to really do is simply be who I am. Every day. I’ve been discouraged by having to sing a song so eternal with such a fragmented, broken sound system. I likened teaching to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, a doomed and sinking ship. So I jumped off that boat. Into what? A swirling sea of fragmented, broken systems. The whole earth is the Titanic, and everything in it. And in my frustration, I forgot something very, very, very important: I’m not from here. I’m just trying to get home and spread some hope along the way.
I remember teaching in the ghetto in Las Vegas. It seemed everyone knew my eighth graders were hoodlums except for me. (And I say that with all affection.) To me they were just my kids. Mi ninos. Mi corazon. Mi vida. I used to make them hold out their hands in a little cup whenever they would say something negative about their futures. I would come by and drop some “hope” into their hands. I’d say, “Here, you need some hope,” and I would literally cup my hands over theirs and drop the hope in. To an outsider, it might have looked like there was really nothing in our hands and we were just pretending. But I’m here to tell you, I was IN that classroom with those kids, and there was nothing pretend about it. After I gave them their little measure of hope, I would hold their cupped hands in mine and I’d say, “Now be careful with it. It’s very valuable. Don’t drop it.”
“I won’t,” they’d say.
“And don’t lose it.”
“I won’t.”
And of course, they did. They’d drop it. They’d lose it. They’d throw it back in my face. It felt weird to them. You’d think it would feel good, but it didn’t at first. Too foreign. Too different. Not comfortable at all. Sometimes the brave ones would hold on to it. At least for a little while. But no worries. My mercies were new every morning, and I had bountiful, plentiful, and abundant hope for them from a Source Who springs eternal. I just gave them what I had in my hands to give because that is what was given to me. Hope. It is the best of things.
Two years later, my last year at that school, one of those eighth graders came to visit me. As hard as it was to admit, I actually had to concede that this particular girl was, in fact, a hoodlum. (Again, I say that with all affection.) This girl could sass me like nobody’s business in two different languages. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t keep right up with her. Rough girl. She was five foot even, and believe me, you wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley. No one messed with her. Well, except for me, of course. I gave that girl hope more times than anyone else in all my classes combined. When I say she threw it back in my face, she did! It was ugly. She WAS the storm, violent and raging, blowing the dirt and all the refuse--anything that wasn’t nailed down--against my house. Thank God I was nailed down. Crucified, even. And now here she was--standing right in front of me. Calm and still and clean. She said she hadn’t been in trouble for over a year. Her grades were all above “C” level and she really wanted to graduate, so she broke up with her boyfriend because he had dropped out and was bringing her down. And when she left, she looked back and told me one more thing. As she stood by the door to leave, she put her hands out in a little cup and said, “Miss, I still have my hope.” She smiled. And she was gone.
I don’t always get to know where my kids end up. I can certainly relate to the guys in the Old Testament who had hope for a promise they’d never see in this fragmented, broken system. But they seemed to remember that they weren’t from here either.
I think I’ll look back on this past year and call it one of the most valuable I’ve ever had. I have so many more songs now in my repertoire.

Here’s one for my Maestro:

There’s a song that’s inside of my soul
It’s the one that I’ve tried to write over and over again
I’m awake in the infinite cold
But You sing to me over and over and over again
So I lay my head back down
And I lift my hands and pray to be only Yours
I pray to be only Yours
I know now You’re my Only Hope

Sing to me the song of the stars
Of Your galaxies dancing and laughing and laughing again
When it feels like my dreams are so far
Sing to me of the plans that You have for me over again
So I lay my head back down
And I lift my hands and pray to be only Yours
I pray to be only Yours
I know now You’re my Only Hope

I give You my destiny
I’m giving You all of me
I want Your symphony singing in all that I am
At the top of my lungs
I’m giving it all
So I lay my head back down
And I lift my hands and pray to be only Yours
I pray to be only Yours
I pray to be only Yours
I know now You’re my Only Hope

Mandy Moore - Only Hope