Belonging..

The most consistently moving and poignant website- to me- is postsecrets.

In it, people anonymously are able to share their deepest secrets. Often, it is that One Secret that has has defined her or his life, that a person is able to share for the very first time. These secrets are shared on a postcard of the secret-sharer’s own design, and sent to an address in Maryland. Looking at the way these secrets are presented visually is sometimes even more difficult than reading the words of the secrets themselves.

forgive

A new collection is posted each Sunday. One of them this week is among the saddest I have ever read there because it represents, I’m afraid, the tip of an enormous iceberg of isolation and loneliness, being experienced by many, many people.

part

Years ago, at a prison ministry weekend event, at a point when the residents of the institution were relaxed enough to feel comfortable sharing real feelings, I heard a man named Monty say this (I am reconstructing this from notes I took quickly as he spoke, because I knew I was hearing something profound):

“All my life, I thought everyone was having a good time, except for me. When I was in the army, we’d go to bars and everyone was laughing. I’d laugh, too, even though I didn’t feel like laughing. I’d make jokes about women that I didn’t believe, because I thought they were what the guys wanted to hear. People liked me, but it was the pretend-me. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t until I’d been in here for several years, and finally made some real friends, that I found out that everybody in that bar felt that way. People feel that way everywhere. I was envying everybody, and everybody was envying me, and we were all laughing and none of us had a goddam friend in the world. Hell, that’s why we were in the army in the first place!”

In prison, irony of ironies, Monty had found a real group of friends. Their shared circumstances, and Monty’s own abilities to be vulnerable and honest, were the foundations of his new relationships. (Which would, because of the crime which landed Monty there, need to last a lifetime.)

Loneliness is a plague of the most widespread and severe sort. It is a plague born, in large part, by the viral cultural environment in which almost all of us live. We learn early on that it is our own bootstraps we must be pulling on, that the point of everything is winning, and that fun- good times- is the reason for living.

Our models in life are the two dimensional beings we see on television or at the movies who seem to have to have mastered those three ‘truths.” They’re happy like I wannabe, but can’t be. They’re on top, like I wannabe, but won’t ever be. They’ve got lots of friends, and I just want one.

The assumptions that most people begin to make, from the time they sit in front of a TV and are able to comprehend, are that there must be something wrong with them if they cannot be like everybody else. Insidiously, a solution to that personal assessment follows almost immediately: a person can buy their way out of their apartness. Thirty thousand scripted commercials into life, and the five year old knows exactly what kind of cereal, toys, soda pop, and clothing will make them happy, “like those kids.” (the two dimensional ones) Over the next 15 years, or so, they will learn that the thrill of purchased “victory” is either unattainable (poverty) or short-lived (there is always a new and better thing, looming). But by that time, the dies of American consumerism have been set, and the 20 year old begins his or her life as a continuing cog in the American Gross National Product.

The only real fulfilling relationships in life are with life. My personal circles of inclusion are almost crazily without boundaries, so what I say may be skewed for you, but I think all living things have the capacity to ground us as individuals in that which is fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying. All living things offer us the opportunity to belong, “to be a part of something.”

And belonging really is the point. (“Let us make humankind in our image.”) It takes vulnerability to be able to say, out loud, even in secret, “I need to belong” because false bravado and superficial happiness are sub-strains of the infections of American individualism and consumerism.

Here are some living things to which persons can belong. I’m mentioning only a few, as keys to unlock what everyone already knows, but which is often buried under an avalanche of advertising and other cultural bullsh*t:

Belong to the forest, the ocean, a field of wildflowers. They are as alive as you, they will listen to you, and they will sing to you in return. Don’t go to them with any expectations. Listen. Stand still. And listen some more. (I learned from a local rancher- bless him- that if you sit very still for about 25 minutes, the animals- birds, rabbits, deer- will start coming near again. They were watching you; now you can watch them trusting you. It feels good.)

Belong to a living God. God’s not stuck in a book like many of God’s followers. God is still creating. Plant some trees, some tomatoes; learn how, if you don’t know how today. Help God do what God does! There are fellowships of people all over the place who are talking about God, often without even using God’s name. Garden clubs, rose societies, shoot- even cemetery auxiliaries maintain what is often the beautiful place in town. Clean the yard of the old lady across the street who can’t. Call the local Senior Center and find who needs a ride. Re-present God to someone who needs it!

Belong to animals. There are thousands of dogs and cats within a hundred miles of anyone that need adopted, taken care of, or whose cages at their shelters need cleaned. A dog’s love is unique (my personal prejudice) and I’ll shout for the rest of my life that a person can learn as much about God’s love from a dog as anywhere else. But I’ve got two cats I’m fond of, too, and I’ve heard that some people do, against all odds, prefer them over dogs. IMPORTANT: There is NO NEED to buy a name brand pet! In fact, please DON’T! Pick the goofy hound/shepherd cross that licks you through the cage at the pound..you belonged to him before he was born. And you know that.

Belong to people. Big Brother/Big Sister. Mentoring. Downtown Soup Kitchens. Habitat for Humanity. Et al., et al., et al. You will develop relationships in those endeavors, over time. You will belong. It may take a few weeks, even months, and those relationships may lead elsewhere besides the places you thought or falsely hoped they would at one time in your life, but you will be doing vital, necessary, important work. You can even be doing revolutionary work as a volunteer, by demonstrating to others that it is possible to jump off and stay off the treadmills others have designed for us to spend our lives on.

Y’knowwhatI’msayin?

I know you do. Or will. Monty figured it out. I figured it out. If we did, then there is loads of hope for you.

 

 

 

 

Worst Commercial Ever?

This has nothing to do with anything. But I offer it here in the belief that if you have something to laugh at on Monday morning, then laughs might come easier throughout the week..

How could anyone stay away?? It’s just like a mini-mall, after all, after all..It’s just like, a mini-mall, c’mon down, come down y’all..

Pat Robertson and the Religion of Fear

pat_robertson.jpg

From the June 12 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club:

ROBERTSON: “The question would be, ladies and gentlemen, if a million Christians want to go to Saudi Arabia and say, “We want to pray,” you can’t pray in Saudi Arabia. You can’t have religious literature in Saudi Arabia. You can’t get together in Bible study groups in Saudi Arabia. As far as having special places for foot-washing and all that, no way. You will abide by Sharia law because they’re in control.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law. In the Quran, it says it very clearly. There are two spheres. One is the Dar al-Harb, which is the realm of war. The other is Dar al-Islam, which is that part that’s under submission to Islam. There is no middle ground. You’re either at war or you’re under submission. Now, that’s the way they think.”

Pat Robertson is either an Islamic scholar or he is a liar. After claiming last year to be able to leg press 2000 lb. (breaking the previous record of 600 lb. set the previous year by a 21 year old football player in Florida), I think we may safely conclude that the latter word best describes him. More proof? Here’s Bishop Paul Hinder of the Catholic Church, speaking last week to Al Jazeera: speaking about the Christian communities in Saudi Arabia, he said: “It’s not an open church. Privately the Christians may gather in their houses in a very discreet manner. Of course it’s not easy to be a bishop here [in the Gulf],” he said. “But at least regarding the church life it is full of vitality.”

Churches meeting in homes, under threat of persecution..hmmm. That reminds me of those very first groups of new Christians who, in Acts 2, are described this way: “Day by day..they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Robertson says people in Saudi Arabia can’t pray because they don’t have churches to pray in. That’s like saying kids don’t pray at school because the principal isn’t allowed to get on the loudspeaker and lead them in a (written) prayer. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Jesus wash the feet of his disciples in a rented upstairs room? He didn’t need a church or synagogue to fill a basin and wrap a towel around himself, and his movement did pretty well for quite a few years, I would say.

Religion is precisely the problem, whether it adorns the pulpits of Muslim imams or the soapboxes of people like Robertson. Religion says that doctrine is more important than people. It elevates human depravities to sacred standing, as it picks and chooses supportive verses and half-verses from its sacred writings to give credibility (read: power) to whatever religious dogmatist has the fastest printing press, the loudest speakers, or the greatest broadcast coverage.

The birthrate of Muslims will cause massive change in the coming decades. It is much higher in every nation where Muslims live than is the birthrate among “natives” of those countries. And the Christian religion has done little to win the hearts and minds of any of those Muslim babies or their parents! (In the Gaza strip of Israel, recently taken over by the Hammas- militant Muslims- there are almost 1, 600, 000 Palestinian Christians, half of which are children. They are going to be forced to become Muslim, which probably won’t be difficult for them since the Christian religion of the United States and Europe has virtually abandoned them for many years, because religion says it is more religious to support Israel in their oppression of Palestinians, no matter what their flavor.)

The early followers of Jesus were persecuted, imprisoned, and even slain. Yet it was from their example of outrageous, self-giving love that a flourishing Church grew. They were followers of Jesus, not Christian religionists. They looked to Jesus for answers to their predicament and heard things like, “Love your enemy” and “Turn the other cheek.” Christian religionists, with monetary and egoistic interests in the preservation of their precious institutions, answer with “increase the military budget” and “send your children to war” and “call in your tax deductible donation to our ministry today.”

It’s a Great Story: Paul Potts Wins !

I’ve followed this story like a schoolgirl follows whatever boy band of the moment happens to be hot stuff. I am addicted to watching, enjoying, and sometimes even getting the opportunity of participating in the transformatiom of individuals from what they are to what they are becoming. Even better than his winning the “Britain’s Got Talent” competition, however, is the growing confidence in himself that Potts talks of. That’s what transformation- bottom line- is about: an appreciation for oneself.

Yes, the program is hokey. Yes, the drama is milked by the producers for all of the sponsor’s money they can get. No, the competition doesn’t mean much in the great scheme of world politics and economies.

But it does mean that at least one more person gets to experience self-acceptance, and to know that others appreciate him. And those are just wonderful things to behold..

Here’s the announcement of the Win, and a rerun of Potts’ final performance:

The Sopranos.. arrivederci..

 

It’s all over tonight. The accolades have been heaped on this HBO production for years now; there is nothing more that can be said about the superb writing, production, direction, and acting of this series. ‘The Sopranos’ is the reason why I and several million others began subscribing to HBO in the first place, years ago.

 

The series never delivered what the viewer expected or had learned to want, from other hit television series. There were never any neatly-tied endings. The characters were lovable and despicable, sympathetic and repulsive, all the time, and often at the same time. Try to get someone to explain what it is about Tony that they find appealing, and the answer will be full of “uhs,” “buts,” and other qualifying prepositions, accompanied by grimacing facial expressions. It’s hard to say, impossible to say maybe, why we have (at least) some empathy for someone who kills with his bare hands, cheats with promiscuous abandon on his wife, and feeds like a pig at the trough of public works projects.

 

But we do. At least, I do.

 

Maybe it’s because I am complex, too, albeit in far less dramatic ways. Maybe it’s because it enables me to get a glimpse of your complexities, too, and the loose ends and sometimes less-than-satisfying beginnings and endings through which we all move in the chapters of our lives. Maybe it’s because this is one of the very few television series that held a real mirror up to its fans, and said, “Look! You are magnificent! And you are also a mess!” It’s a drama, yes, but on the order of a morality play in which we must confront the Light and the Darkness of the characters and, thus, of ourselves.

 

I know what I hope will happen on tonight’s final episode, but I also know it probably won’t. This is not ‘Bonanza’ or ‘The Walton’s.’ Happy, satisfying, easily-expected denouements of characters and situations are not what has made this series a great one. ‘The Sopranos’ ability to force us to deal with and think about our own ethics, and our own values, are what has made it the landmark in television history it has been.

 

Don’t call me tonight between 8 and 9 p.m., by the way.

 

Please.

 

 

Would Jesus Go to an Amusement Park?

The Holy Land Experience – Official Website

I have no idea if Jesus would go to an amusement park. But I’m guessing he definitely wouldn’t go to this one, especially since it would cost him $25 to get in, and we all know Jesus doesn’t carry a wallet. The Holy Land Experience was “taken over” yesterday by Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network. After losing money each year since its opening in 2001, the HLE needed a financial savior, and they found one in TBN, whose revenues last year topped $200 million. You do know Paul and Jan Crouch, don’t you?

I think that amusement is a very good thing. And parks are good things, too. And my kids had lots of fun at the Six Flags amusement park when they were younger. But there is something very strange and, for me, off-putting about a Jesus amusement park, whether it’s this one in Orlando, the new Creation Museum in Kentucky (see May 31 post), or the proposed Bible Park USA in Tennessee.

What those places all have in common is the selling of a very American version of Jesus- and that is what they’re doing; there were ads all day today on TBN for their newest Holy Land acquisition. The owners of these parks are selling a Jesus that looks like us, talks like us, believes in American values, goes to church on Sunday, and eats apple pie. Since one has to agree to a “Statement of Behavior” before entering the HLE, though, I doubt that anyone will get away with turning over the money changers tables in the gift shop, which is probably what the Palestinian Jesus would have done. The preachers in charge of the place might even have to call in the Roman centurions Orlando police if such a disruptive thing were to happen.

The good people of Blackman, Tennessee are standing up for Jesus and against the exploitation of his name by developers who want to build the 100 acre Bible Park USA (yeeee-haw!) in their backyard. You can see the site here-it is proposed to sit directly behind the outdoor chapel of the Methodist Church:

Bryan Brooks, pastor of the Methodists, along with other Methodists and Baptists of Blackman, are trying to stop the digging up of their backyards for this “Bible” extravaganza. They don’t need a 6 foot tall, animatronic, Caucasian Jesus who speaks English to tell them which way the Spirit is blowing. They already seem to have a pretty good handle on it.*

*thanks to Actually, I thought I was helping… for some of the above comments

Revisiting Mr. Rogers

mental_floss magazine – Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix

A friend sent me this article about Mr. Rogers this morning. I could spend the next hour or two paraphrasing and adding my own thoughts (which I will limit to one, after the picture), but the article is more than sufficient. If you haven’t thought about Mr. Rogers in awhile, read the article and you will spend the rest of the day recalling this gentle man.

Fred Rogers

My one thought: It may sometimes feel like a chore, following Jesus. I know some faith traditions teach that one must struggle, sacrifice, and persevere to follow his footsteps. If that’s how it feels to you sometimes, then- for today, please- relax. Follow Fred Rogers instead. Make a new friend, be curious, make music. It really is that simple. And that wonderful.

143..

**************

Now, for a brief, 180 degree turn into the vast land of Self-Absorption:

$1300 to tan a little girl “for her school picture.” And so that she can “look like Lindsey Lohan.”

Do not follow this mother!