Wednesday, 30 April 2008

One hand loves, one hand hates

Last week, I went to a meeting of Jews, Muslims, Christians and others at the local Islamic Center. The attire ranged from hijabs and robes to tank tops and jeans. The youngest was, I think my daughter, age 10. The eldest was probably well into her 80's, maybe 90's. This group of about 100 or so people represented countries around the globe.

The one thing we shared? A desire to learn, to come together, to understand our neighbors and ourselves. To dispel the fear that comes from misinformation, stereotypes and media-fed hysteria.

For three hours, we sat there and talked. At the direction of the leader, each table was mixed to represent a good cross section of the religions and ethnicities present. Also at her direction, we discussed our backgrounds, our spiritual journey, our beliefs. We mulled over similarities and differences -- and found the similarities to be a MUCH longer list. We ate sweet pastries, and talked some more. At the end of the evening, each table sent a representative to the front to summarize what we had found.

It was a wonderful inspiring experience. And just the beginning. Our next meeting will be at a synagogue, where the learning and dialog will continue.

The very next day, I opened my e-mail to find a forward from my uncle. A former federal agent, now retired. It was a top to bottom diatribe of hatred against Muslims. A no-holds barred rage that "they" would dare to be in "our" country. He had not written it, but he had forwarded it. This particular uncle has forwarded hateful e-mails to me before and I have privately asked, each time, that I be left off his list. But he has not stopped.

Among my very religiously mixed family, this uncle happens to be Christian. Practicing. So I responded to him (and everyone on his sent-to list) with a message suggesting love and understanding as the only truly brave answer to such an e-mail. I then proposed that instead of forwarding messages of hatred, which of course only increases hatred and violence, perhaps he would consider forwarding a quote from the Christian Bible....


"Ye have heard that it hath been said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.' "But I say unto you, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and them which despitefully use you, persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.' For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do no even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

That, I wrote, would be a true act of bravery in the face of hateful messages.

The response from my family was ANGER! My answer was labeled "uncalled for" and "inappropriate" They were enraged at me. I was told to "Read a little about the Koran....and don't live in a shell."

I am saddened. Stunned. The contrast between the meeting and the message is too great.

I cannot remain silent in the face of hatred and distorted half-truths. But must I lose my family to stand up for what I know to be right? Does anyone have a suggestion?

Monday, 28 April 2008

International Day for Sharing Life Stories - May 16, 2008

We all "know" our neighbors...we know their names, probably their kids' names, their occupation, and maybe even their taste in food if we've shared a dinner or two. But do we know their stories?

And how about the checkout clerk at the grocery store? The veterinarian who treats our pets, or the person we pass every day as we both leave for work from the same community? Do we know their stories? And how might our view of them change if we did?

I received an e-mail today that has me thinking...and hoping that there is a way to learn about people's stories. May 16th has been declared the International Day for Sharing Life Stories 2008

It's about building bridges and making connections. Seeing the people we "see" everyday as whole people instead of their roles. Healing wounds, clearing up misundertandings and learning new ideas.

Won't you join me? I know on blogs we do sometimes share our stories, but what about all those people who don't blog? Or whose blog we have never seen? I would love to hear their stories! Let me know if you participate, and what happens when you do. That is another story I am anxious to hear!

Monday, 21 April 2008

So where does a non-Christian minister belong?

I am a Jew.

I am seriously drawn to Islam.

And I am an ordained non-denominational minister.

Who wants to be a minister. In practice.

No, let me correct that, not "who wants". Who feels incredibly drawn towards being a minister. I identify completely with the books I read about people who have felt and acted upon that kind of calling. I am fascinated in conversation with clerics of all faiths. I am drawn, irresistibly to the preaching, visiting the sick, performing life cycle events. Serving G-d in a very specific way.

But I have no interest in Christianity. Just G-d. The ONE.

So where do I go with this?

A spiritual conundrum...

Friday, 11 April 2008

Dorothy Parker style love poem

Hurry, hurry, I have no time for you

Tell me your concerns, my love
But do it fast, get through.
The time is quickly passing
And I’ve better things to do.

Just list the facts and nothing more
Your pain, your hopes, your fear.
Your overwhelming feelings too
But make it quick, my dear.

I called you now, should be enough
Never mind the stress
Just spit it out, then let me go
No touching, no caress

You’ll cry alone? Not my concern.
I’ve called – that’s what’s the key
Now just hang up, this call is done
The rest is up to me.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Quote for the day....

We’ve been trained to think in [boxes] where we should be trained to think in open spaces.

Many people dream in open spaces, but they are only dreams. Unfortunately it’s very rare for someone to act in open spaces. It’s even rarer (un-ubiquitious) for someone to perpetually live in open spaces. What an amazing world it would be if we did.


Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Golden Rule - Not!

Do unto others as you would have the do unto you....

That which is hateful to you, do not do to others...

Two versions of the same rule. We've been taught since infancy that the Golden Rule is the way to go. But what if it's wrong? What if, instead of a great way to treat others, what we've been doing all along is feeding our own selfish needs???

I can hear it now...

What??? The Golden Rule BAD? Selfish? Are you crazy?????

I don't think so. I read something yesterday that made me totally shift my thinking on this....hear me out.

What if we said:

I will stop treating people the way that I want to be treated, and will instead treat them the way that they want to be treated.

It's based in part on the work of management guru Peter Drucker, but the idea has root in ideas put forth by Emil Durkheim and others.

Simply put, the Golden Rule is selfish. It assumes that the greatest good I can do for you is to treat you according to my own needs, desires, wants and construct.

If I like it, you will too. End of thoughts.

But what if I DON'T like it? What if YOUR needs and wants are not only different than mine, but contrary to mine? How is it a virtue to continue to treat you in a way you find annoying, meaningless or perhaps even offensive?

If I like ice cream, and you are lactose intolerant and diabetic, is it a virtue to give you ice cream for dessert. After all, I am giving you what I would like to be given -- Golden Rule in action. Yet, clearly it would be selfish -- possibly even dangerous.

The same can be said for methods of communication, types of instruction, and other personal means of interaction.

If instead I treat you as YOU wish to be treated, I am putting aside my preferences, and treating you in the way you prefer. Empathy in action!

And for those who would say "What if I find your needs offensive or outside of my values? Does this mean I need to be a doormat?" The answer is simple, and it's not to violate everything you believe in!

First, try to compromise and collaborate. Respect the differences. See if there is a better third way for both of you. (As in Stephen Covey's Win-Win scenerio)

If a compromise is not possible, (and that would be the logical first step!) and the needs of the other are really too awful and disturbing to respect, the relationship might need to be respectfully terminated or at least curtailed.

This does not mean that every one who sees the world differently needs to be excluded from our lives. There is much value in learning from others, and adapting our own perhaps rigid stances to include respect for other styles and needs. It's a means for growth and expansion, especially if it's mutual. In most cases, a person could learn to treat a loved one or a valued colleague according to THAT person's needs without compromising dearly held values.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Susquehanna Memories

It's been two years this month since I moved from South Central PA back to my home state of Florida. Two years ago, on April 17th, I filled the tank on my overstuffed Forenza, and my two girls and I headed south, out of Elizabethtown. We drove along the Susquehanna River one last time, and bade farewell to what had been home for nearly a decade.

A few months ago, I came across a song called Susquehanna, by a UK artist named Maddie Southorn, and I was entranced. Although her song was about a ride from Washington D.C. and through Baltimore, both frequent haunts of mine during my PA days, she captured the feeling of winter and the river...and bittersweet love... completely.
It brought back memories...good and sad more clearly than anything I had heard.

As I listened, I was once again driving along Front Street in Harrisburg. It's winter, and the river and sky are a nearly identical pewter grey. The trees are bare, and the road is edged with piles of brownish -black snow and ice pushed there by the early morning plows.

I was often alone on those drives, heading back from some real or made-up errand into the city and away from my isolated rural farmhouse. A few brave souls ran along the river's edge. Bundled up figures walking dogs hurried along, clearly anxious to finish the task at hand and return to cozy apartments.

Those days were bittersweet, because money was short, and my return home was all too often greeted by a heater empty of oil, and yet new doors seemed to be opening with a budding career and a love that held every promise of lasting forever. My children were growing and learning, but my eldest daughter was battling the often crippling pain of Juvenile Arthritis. It was a time of transition.

That river, with its icy waters and steely color reflected my sadness. Memories of the same river in soft, green spring, or hot shimmery summer gave me something to hold on to. And like the line in the song, I often longed for some one or something to "carry me away."

Oh, Susquehanna,
Susquehanna River.

Carry me
Carry me away...
from here

Long before I heard that song, the river heard me.

It was the element of Pennsylvania to which I said good-bye.

Now that my life is so different, and I live beneath palm trees, I miss that river...the same one I said good-bye to....I miss some of the dreams I had then. I miss my youngest daughter's baby years, spent together walking and playing in the parks along the river. I miss my synagogue, right there on Front Street, where the wind off the river so often chased us from car to doors in record time, and then into the cozy brightness of the sanctuary. I miss the art festivals and concerts. I miss dear friends, and those special people I just started to know when I left.

But it was time to go.

I'll be visiting Pennsylvania this summer. And while I'm there, I'll pay a visit to my river. It probably won't be grey and cold that day. But I'll remember that feeling...and the river that finally, thankfully, carried me away.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The joy of toilet paper

Have you ever been in a public restroom stall and you reach for the toilet paper, only to find that:

  • The dispenser is about 12 inches from the ground, so you have to lean way forward and bend your arm and wrist in a completely unnatural way to try and grasp the paper?

  • The paper is in the dispenser or on the roll so tightly that you can only pull off tiny slivers about the size of a quarter -- so you try, vainly, to gather enough quarter sized pieces to use

  • The paper in in one of those round, multi-pegged holders, and the one facing down is empty but you can't get the handle thingy to turn so you can get a fresh roll within reach

  • The new roll has NO beginning, so you have to start digging at it with your finger nails to try and get it started but instead it just ends up looking like the cat was using it for a scratching post and you're left with a handful of scraps

How can one common and essential product be packaged in so many ways to make it darned near impossible to use? And why would they do this? The number of toilet paper dispensers I've seen ripped off of public restroom walls tells me that any cost savings anticipated is MORE than offset by the cost of replacing those annoying holders.

Why would anyone want to make such a basic necessity so tough to use? Are there people sitting around in an office somewhere trying to come up with new ways to wind toilet paper tighter, or lower the dispenser so far that we would have to lie on the filthy floor to reach inside?

Tell people REALLY want customers walking around in their stores, and employees walking a round in their offices ...well, ummm...unwiped????

Your thoughts please!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Live life -- don't read about it!

I just read Beth Shea's Put Down the Self Help Books blog post, and I am so going to blog about this!!!

I know sweet and wonderful men and women who have an awful addiction. In their search for the answers to all the questions in life, they become addicted to self-help books, groups and techniques. I'm not talking about reading a couple of books to get through a rough patch, or find some ideas for what to do next. I am talking about years and dozens, maybe hundreds of books.

He might be a great guy. She might be an amazing woman. Gentle. Kind. Intelligent. Funny. Caring. And clearly often in very real pain, as they look back on a less-than-ideal-childhood, and failed relationships as an adult.

So they read. Everything. Or rather, everything self-help. Fiction, science, philosophy, art, all fall aside to make room for the "Why am I this way books." They go to workshops and seminars, always in search of "THE ANSWER" to explain away their very real pain, and find a magic tool for blissful freedom.

The problem is, there is no such magic tool. The other problem is, they really seem to think there is.

It's easy to get sucked into that vortex of victimization. "It's not my fault. I deserved better." And to some extent it's quite true. No one deserves a cruddy childhood or a lonely life. Even so, LOTS of us get them. Is that a reason spend the latter half of one's life engrossed in trying to pinpoint the pain the first half?

Some would probably call it denial. I would call it realizing that no matter how many books I read, or seminars I attend, my childhood is not going to change. It's too late. It's over. Done. past. It is not happening any more. I grew up.

So I can choose to wallow in the past where I was not treated as well as I deserved (yup, I am one of the many!) or I can say "Whew! Sure glad that's over!" and move on.

The former might feel good for awhile. Clear myself of blame. Make my mistakes someone else's fault (and I guess their mistakes someone else's too, and so on back through time.) It's easier than getting up and doing. It might feel safe.

But the getting up and doing is so much more fun and exciting! Scarier. Harder. But infinitely more satisfying. And creative.

I do wish they were not in pain, because I'm sure most of them are very special, wonderful people.

But most of all, from my heart, I wish I could grab their hands and lead them outside and say "Look up! Look around! See the blue sky and the palm trees and maybe even someone who loves you! This is NOT your childhood. Throw away that map, and tear up the address labels, because honey, you don't live there any more."