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Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’m not yet ready to write about the loss of my old friend Lee, but I will soon. Learning that he died from complications of a hospital staph infection has brought back thoughts about the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in which we both grew up – or… er… started to grow up. As much as I’ve ranted about the Witnesses on this blog, those experiences have given me so many reference points in my own experience that I can’t bring myself to regret them. Maybe – if the idea of reincarnation has any truth to it – I might even have chosen it, to learn some deep difficult lessons. I’ve been revising this post for four days, and it has turned into one long honker of an essay, but I hope it’s worth the read. It might be easier for you to print it.

The first wash of memory was tied to experiences with specific people. Good, bad, ugly, sweet – they won’t mean anything to a reader unless they were narrated at greater depth than I can do here, or perhaps fictionalized (that’s not out of the question). There were some kind and wonderful people – real people, despite everything. They weren’t always the most obvious candidates. Sometimes it even seemed like there was an inverse relationship between “service” in their sense and the character of the person.

Service never, never means caring for the poor, donating to charity, volunteering, following a calling, or anything that would otherwise be considered an act of service. Service only means “spreading the good news of God’s kingdom,” “placing” magazines and books, turning people into bible or book “studies,” or building a Kingdom Hall (don’t call it a church) for the organization. Sometimes the “friends” will help each other out, sometimes not – but they do not accept any obligation in the public sphere to any human as human.

I remembered the words and music of the “Kingdom Songs.” Oh, don’t call them “hymns”! “Dear Shulamite maiden, so lovely and fair/ your spiritual virtues are many and rare” – and the song we sang at night “we sing this tuneful melody and sing the notes in harmony / for no one else but you could be so worthy of our praise.” “Firm and determined in this time of the end / prepared are God’s servants the good news to defend…” What was it about those songs? Little bits of them still come to me at the oddest times. I’m glad there is a new collection with which I’m unfamiliar.

OH, then the language! The strange contagious weapons of language! Everything “worldly” (non-JW) was of “Satan the devil.” Never just Satan, always “Satan the devil” as though there were a million other satans. All that power discourse of slavery and domination – the district and circuit “overseers.” “Ministerial servants” – literally “serving servants,” used just to avoid words from other communities, like deacon. All the ranks of pioneers and publishers (how odd is that)!

Not “grace” – never, ever “grace” but only “undeserved kindness.” This so diminishes the idea of God, not to mention taking all the meaning from the “good news.” They’ve missed the whole point, I think.

Not “the second coming,” but instead “the presence.” What does that even mean? Is Jesus hovering in the ozone layer?

And here is the “Kingdom,” stripped of any sense that it could be within. What’s left is only a cold “theocratic” rule on earth, God’s “system of things” to be ushered in after the destruction of governments and the wicked (almost everyone, except of course baptised Witnesses in good standing).

By definition, anyone who rejects the JWs rejects God. All other religions are part of “Babylon the Great.” Babylon the Great… the Harlot.. the great evil of world religions, or the U.N., or the Catholic church, or the soon to be here one-world government, or the soon to be here one-world single religion, or… Rome (as many scholars would say).

We were persecuted! Not really, but any criticism was taken as persecution to prove we must be right.

We were special! Kind of special, not as special as the remnant, the 144,000 (who were not of the 12 tribes of Israel, that’s only symbolic), who could “partake” of communion the “emblems” of the Last Supper memorial dinner and rule as kings (that’s literal) with Jesus (in a heavenly democracy? unlikely, maybe a court?) over the “cleansed” earth.

Still, we’re certainly WAY better than those “worldly” people (every insecure group needs a scapegoat, don’t they?).

We’re the Great Crowd! We’re Grrrrreat (cue in Tony the Tiger)! Compared to the world population the “great crowd” is rather small, but there’s a lot more than 144,000! Who wants to be in heaven anyway? We get to live forever on Paradise Earth! Um, well, not counting the still-another final judgment after the thousand-year… reich?

In the “new system of things,” also called “the new world order” (no, not kidding), “things” will be different! After we pick up those pesky bones, we’ll live in an agrarian society full of baskets of fruit, and wild animals walking around harming no-one, and blind ones who can see again, and everyone will have a vapid smile on their face.

There will be no crying, and no sex or children, and no technology – not even the Watchtower and Awake magazines! And by the way, which mansion are you going to pick? I’ve got my eye on that one – truly the worldy people there don’t deserve it.

Watch out for the demonic smurfs! Don’t buy things at yard sales – they could be possessed! Don’t eat Milky Way bars – they have BLOOD in them!

Pray not to need a blood transfusion, unless you want to prove your faithfulness, perhaps unto death. For those about to die, we salute you! But over the years, “new light,” and a little science, and a lot of court cases have revealed some blood “products” might be acceptable now. Which ones? Better not risk it. Just be proud of those brave JWs who resisted the world and its courts in God’s name to ensure lots and lots and lots of death.

Watchtower Building at the Brooklyn Bridge The Watchtower, the Society, the Truth, the Organization, the Governing Body, the “wise and faithful servant” or the “faithful and discreet slave,” Bethel, the publishing house – in other words, the (various) headquarters for the company – was presented as, and believed to be, God’s channel – the only one on the planet. I guess Jesus had an underground station. Best not to investigate since apostates might infect you.

The Society (this was internal shorthand, and I think it’s dated now) was a shadowy group. Questions about its history were discouraged, and most people never questioned it at all. We just accepted that an ever-changing group of men in New York had “new light” (delivered…how? some say by angel!) about the unchanging and eternal Truth. It could really cause a lot of suffering if you happened to believe the “right” thing at the “wrong” time, or the “wrong” thing at the “right” time. Ask them about it in Malawi. Or ask the people that thought the end would come in 1975.

We thought we were following God’s plan, but there was always a tickling cognitive dissonance about being a slave to the organization. Does God really care about service timesheets? Really? Can you “earn” God’s love by spreading the good news? What is the content of this good news, really? Is there anything “good” about it, in their interpretation? Is there any authentic spiritual development or truth involved in the simple obligation to preach to every last person so that they have a last chance to know, and to choose God’s organization, lest they be destroyed and miss out on this Paradise Earth scenario?

A very paradoxical representation of “Jehovah” (YHWH) was really the anchor of the belief system. There is a sense in which it’s correct to call Jehovah’s Witnesses “Jehovists” rather than “Christians.” When they were called “International Bible Students,” the bible might have been fetishized, but at least a mission of learning was inherent.

There is no theology of a trinity. Any JW can give you the entire lecture about how a trinity isn’t scriptural – it’s one of the top ten! Here’s my take on it:

Jesus was only a man, a very special man. Jesus was the ransom sacrifice mysteriously required of the only-begotten son of God. Jesus was the temporary holder of the holy spirit “active force of God’s will.” Jesus was also – and this is fun – Michael the Archangel. Archangel Michael/Jesus became a man, and then stopped being a man and became an angel again, and his “presence” is right back here NOW (since 1914? or has that date changed, too?). Michael is strangely at the same basic level as Lucifer and Gabriel and other archangels, so how is he God’s son? Why aren’t the other archangels considered to be sons? Hey, wait! When did angels get gender? Where then are the female angels?

Don’t think about it. The Society says that God had to be talking to someone at creation when he said “let us.” “Elohim” is only plural in a grammatical, not real, way. Right? How was God’s son Jesus “begotten” if he was already begotten before incarnating being born on earth? Reproducing gods are so pagan, and there is obviously no divine feminine. Right?

In practice, Jesus was just the “mediator” for prayers to get routed to the right God mailbox, a name invoked in a unconsciously-magical chant. I don’t remember anyone ever calling on Jesus, or expressing love for Jesus – only praying “in the name of your son Christ Jesus Amen.”

Jesus was a kind of space alien, the Lord’s overseer for this garden experiment “territory” called the earth. I always wondered about the overseers of other planets. After all, God actually lived in a specific star system, on a giant throne – the Society said so!

How easily we just absorbed the language and the ideas, no matter how strange! The mind-numbing repetition helped a lot – that’s why going to multiple, tediously long and boring weekly meetings was necessary. Not much fellowship there, just rote learning. And of course, everyone talked like that, so you couldn’t help but pick it up, like any other in-group rhetoric, dude. Re-framing the language was not allowed, and deviations from the accepted vocabulary would mark you.

Is it any wonder that I became fascinated with the effects of language?

Speaking of effects, that reminds me that I also remember watching children being dragged outside or into the basement of the Kingdom Hall for discipline. Spare the rod (literal), spoil the child. Without grace, you were always trying to measure up to an impossible standard of perfection, and frustrated adults would often raise the bar (figurative, except for a couple of extreme cases) for children, not understanding much about child development.

My very favorite memory is about how a way opened that allowed me to know who I could trust and respect in my congregation. This was a major event for me – the appearance of spiritual ok-ness that has continued to inform me even now. It was during an ending prayer on a Sunday. We would sometimes go out after the two-hour meeting for lunch; this was a big treat. My baby brother (he *was* just a baby, maybe two or three years old) shouted out “WHEN are we going to get some KUCKY F*CKY CHICKen?!?” Obviously, he was talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken – but the volume, the uncontrollable nature of it, the unintended profanity!

I put my hand up over my mouth and tried so hard not to make a sound. I peeked up and looked around the room – and I suddenly understood that the congregation was divided in kind. Some were furious, frowning, clenching their fists – which is what I expected. Others simply ignored it, which was at least mature. But there was a third group – and I took note and remembered for *ever* the ones who had a hand over their mouth, or who were shaking with repressed laughter or who had heads bowed, but were grinning. Three people were openly looking at my brother with smiles, and one even caught MY eye – during a prayer! – shaking his head and smiling. The scary ones, the ones I knew to be bad people and hypocrites, no matter what anyone said, were all of the first group. Ever since, I have deeply valued a sense of humor, and the perspective of kindness that it sometimes allows, as a touchstone for ethics.

Meanwhile, pedophiles and other abusers were often known, and usually protected. Statistically, there are more abusers and predators among Jehovah’s Witnesses than in any other religion that isn’t generally considered a cult. There are reasons for that. But why would they be protected? “To protect God’s name.” Their reputation as a religious group is more important than the well-being of their members, who are only bits of a largely-disposable free sales force (ask what happens to their workers when they get old).

There were so few responsible men, you see. It was pitifully easy for men to “rise in the organization.” They didn’t receive or need any real theological or pastoral training. The sermons lectures talks were pretty much outlined in communications from HQ. Anyone (male) could do it. Since college was *heavily* discouraged, power positions in the organization also functioned as a compensation for the lack of a meaningful career. It was amazing sometimes how they would get drunk on their “service” and “responsibilities,” especially where it entered into women’s lives. It was a dangerous but required game to “submit yourself” to the elders, just as it was a dangerous but required game for wives to “submit” to their husbands. In theory, a man should love his wife as himself, and an elder love the congregation. But this was a very high standard, especially for such (generally) non-insightful and legalistic men.

Women are not protected as much as male predators and abusers are. The daughters of Eve are of course inherently more inclined to evil, although they outnumber the men in the congregation. This made it even more difficult for women or children to go to the elders to report abuse of any kind. The “two-witness or call it slander” rule meant that going to the elders for help might mean that you would be disfellowshipped yourself for reporting it. Normally, reporting on each other was pretty much a matter of course – a built-in panopticon, the secret police of your friends and family. But “friends” were discouraged from going to any satanic worldly authorities, like therapists or police or women’s shelters. By the time I was raped, I already knew enough not to go to the elders for “guidance.”

The “theocratic strategy” (lying to “worldly” authorities) was and is an active principle – courts take note – and JWs have an impressive team of lawyers, who presumably were allowed to go to college. They will even intervene in divorce cases, especially when child custody is at stake.

That irony always bothered me very much: that every little rule could destroy your world, and yet gigantic issues couldn’t be dealt with or even questioned – especially from a female perspective. Dating was only allowed with an eye to marriage, and you didn’t want to risk being “unevenly yoked” with a worldly person. You’d lose all status in the congregation that way. The “gray areas” or “matters of conscience” were heavily surrounded with “guidance” from the Watchtower Society. I remember a time when they were obsessed with oral sex, and spouses were reporting on each other for “asking”! Homosexuality… well, don’t even go there. But somehow physical spiritual emotional and sexual abuse – even toward children – was treated differently.

My own experiences were minor, really. I was reprimanded for being in a high school play of Fiddler on the Roof because it had a dream sequence with a “depiction of the supernatural,” not to mention the general exhibitionism. This was the same year that JW Michael Jackson released the “Thriller” video. I started asking some questions and instead of answers, I got labelled “rebellious youth.”

Rumors flew – JWS are great gossipers! – and I got hauled up before the elders again. This time I was accused of sexual misconduct. Supposedly I had been all over the state sleeping with “brothers” in every possible congregation (on my bicycle?). The truth was, I was a virgin – but not for nearly long enough after that, since I stopped caring about it after what happened. Looking back, that was the most damaging part, that loss of self-dignity and self-value. I wasn’t allowed to confront my accusers, although I found out later that it relied completely on malicious gossip, with not one confession or witness involved – yet pedophiles and abusers required two witnesses to the act before there would be any investigation, much less any “disciplinary action.”

I asked myself why they thought it was acceptable and right for grown men to surround a young girl, intimidating her and accusing her of lies. I didn’t think their actions were even in alignment with their own rules. It felt – and I think it was somehow – personal. Events after that, mostly concerning how other people were treated, finally convinced me that the fruits of the spirit were only to be found as exceptions to the rule among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s not completely their fault. Their priorities are seriously disordered, and intentionally so. It gives special meaning to Leonard Cohen’s song “The Future“: When the prophets said “repent,” I too wonder what they really, truly meant. Surely not this.

The self-righteousness training backfired on them in my case. I could not in good conscience commit to being baptised (the symbol of my dedicated vow to serve Jehovah and his organization). Sure, I enjoyed explaining exactly why I didn’t salute the flag. I loved feeling that God was on my side. I loved being a possessor of “the Truth” and being “in the Truth.” I even believed that this evil satanic system of things could end at any moment. But…

I was also a bookworm, and I loved to dance and to sing. And – I so valued kindness. I so valued caring and love and understanding. Eventually, the very training that they gave me in having the courage and integrity to stand up for what I truly believe made it possible (with curiosity, knowledge, imagination, creativity and humor) for me to leave. I took the easy road, and left town to go to college on scholarship.

What a flashback it was in graduate school to face a faculty that had already decided to dismantle the program of Literature and Religion when my advisor had a stroke. They called a meeting to “get feedback” from the students. It was amazing how fast colleagues had abandoned ship. When I tried to argue for the merits of the program, the faces of the faculty members held the same expressions as those elders so long ago. For a while, it seemed like I was back in that same helpless, unfairly-judged space again. I thought I was getting “the intellectual life,” but these dynamics can appear anywhere, anywhere at all – even in my adopted community of academe, toward which I was so idealistic.

You have to deal with ignorance and injustice and resentment and hate and insecurity and all of the rest directly and at the time. That’s the way in which teaching and ethics and politics are all local. I would have handled things differently knowing what I know now. I understand their perspectives (in both cases) better now, and wouldn’t have set myself up by being defensive and letting my fears be so visible and easily-read.

It’s not always wise to stand up to a bully, but smarts often beats thugness. Among people who seem to lack empathy, stories and humor are the only methods that have any chance of getting through. Sometimes it’s not really worth the effort – or the effects – even to try, but one thing is certain: the argument “but it’s not fair” is not one that ever works. You can’t assume – ever – that anyone will understand why it’s not fair. Just skip that part. Try logic if you like, but logic does not engender empathy. Let logic be implicit.

Obvious sectors of the American political landscape remind me so much of what was so unkind (and so self-righteous, misinformed and manipulated) about the (enforced/reinforced) mentality that so affected my life and those of others. I am heartened when I see healers and thinkers and storytellers, but there are not nearly enough of them, not nearly. Their voices are shut down whenever possible. Sometimes our future looks very dark. I cannot read The Handmaid’s Tale again in this atmosphere; just remembering it makes me cry.

How could I ever have thought that “theocracy” was a good thing? The mentality is global now – almost every religion has an active fanatical wing. Christians, Muslims, Jews, even Buddhists? Say it isn’t so. What happened to the virtue of humility? What happened – in America the Beautiful – to the wise separation of church and state that has been one of the foundations for both to thrive? Power-mongers, corruption, mass manipulation. It’s sad… and shameful.

Lingering effects… I still don’t salute the flag. I know the history, and I just feel that it’s a creepy way to show love for your country. I do vote now, though, and I’m kind of relieved that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t.

I still have a kind of hyper-conscience about community memberships. I don’t feel comfortable participating in communities if I’m not in agreement with every little thing that a particular group believes. I’ve become aware that this is actually a holdover effect, but this has meant that I’m basically a non-joiner (my natural mode is critical). I’m getting better about allowing myself some leeway that since I’ve seen – and experienced – the value of accepting people and situations as they are, unless they are destructive. I am not so distrustful as I used to be, nor as insecure or defensive, and that helps enormously.

I’ve made peace with that me-girl who so desperately needed someone to tell her that it was going to be ok and that she was loved and that the cosmos only asked for her authenticity and her ethic of caring. Her God was a such a cruel, heartless God.

“Independent thinking” was against her religion, but everything inside told her that it would be wrong not to think and ask questions. She didn’t run toward, but away, from the Kingdom Hall to find spiritual dwelling places. Being a JW kept her – for a while – from heading toward the path that was always at the core of her being. Isolation, paranoia, the insecurity/superiority flip – all of these were stumbling blocks. And friends? Sisters and brothers? There *were* friends and sisters and brothers among the members of the Watchtower Society, but many more false friends and Pharisees. Not trying to sound like Job or anything – just sayin’.

That girl found somewhere to be, somewhere to find connection, always – in the woods, the song, the dance, the book. She was always going to be nurtured somehow; it was intuitive, and for that gift I am ever-more grateful. Because of that private set of communion-paths, I wasn’t damaged in some of the ways that I’ve seen among some of the other ex-JWs I’ve known. It took many more years to find authentic connection in relationship, but the starting place was observation, watching people as characters instead of threats, listening to a range of perspectives and voices – especially to the ones that weren’t just nightmarish variations on familiar themes.

Because of the new communication and information resources of the internet, I’ve also discovered that I was never alone in this. There were, and are, others. Some of these went on to higher education, some became singers or musicians or artists or writers or comedians (yes!), some became caregivers in real service to all kinds of people, some started a business or found a soul-mate or travelled the world. Some developed compassion and their own ethical sense (often a much better one). Some kept the evangelism, or even the fundamentalism, but became involved with another religious community that was more rewarding to them. Others became freethinkers and atheists, or goddess-women, pagans, wiccans. Some – sadly – have not yet found another way to be, or are so hurt and isolated and scapegoated and abandoned that their road will be a very difficult one. Some – realistically – never were very interesting people, and still aren’t. There is no one thing that describes former JWs, certainly not the attribute of being “demonic.” Sigh.

The path that brought me to value openness and attunement has been admittedly eclectic (even mystical), but it is imbued with a sensitivity to kindness and justice that I feel all the prophets tried to convey. I lean towards more compassion than I naturally possess – as though it were the sun. I dream with more freedom than I’ll ever have – just like the moon.

There are wisps of fondness for some members of that community still. There are people that I could love better now than I did then, and I am so sad about the loss of the people they might have become were it not for the stranglehold of the JWs. I will always cherish each one’s essential person in my heart, their ‘ness. Sometimes, I pray for them. Still I wonder (yes I wonder) if anyone is listening.

I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival. ~ Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

Lessons Learned: Personal Version

Lessons Learned: Personal Version

As the citizens of our country become more polarized, many of them do less thinking through of the issues that really confront us all. The materials they are often given to build their judgments are not only shoddy, but also Orwellian in their misdirection. There are figures out there that rival Reagan in their teflon characteristics. Just keep repeating the talking points. Don’t answer questions. No matter what is proven, just keep repeating. No rinse. Just repeat.

This situation is not only frustrating to watch, but after this last decade of watching it, I have made some judgments of my own.

As I said in a previous post, everyone has a right to express their opinion, but not all arguments are of equal validity or value. A proto-Nazi had the ability in pre-war Germany to express an opinion, no matter how hateful or unfair it might be – but that doesn’t mean such a person escapes the truth – and judgment – that millions of people were unfairly imprisoned, tortured and killed because of the successful spread of those unfounded beliefs during a time of economic high stress. I used to be stunned and bewildered that such a thing could ever have happened, and I didn’t really understand the importance of never forgetting. There have been other events in the world that are as horrifying, but this one resonates so strongly to me as I reflect in sadness upon some of the policies of modern-day Israel, and of the U.S. It seems as though another wave of hate is moving across the world and it’s not specific to one or two countries. Some countries are acting on the right for freedom and fairness as some of the usual value-bearers are forgetting them. Yes, “it” can happen here, and I deeply pray that’s not the future that is being chosen as correct by the American people themselves. Can I be neutral? Can you?

Another example: A creationist can express an opinion against natural selection, but it’s not borne out by scientific evidence and witness (and therefore one wonders if it could really be in alignment with God, supposing there is one in the way that people seem to imagine). And again: The Westboro Baptist group can express their beliefs – no matter how horrible – near the funerals of our soldiers, but that doesn’t mean they are authentic Christians (supposing that such a thing exists). Last: Groups with money to lose or gain can pay to influence targeted populations, often with astounding success (but you must have to be cold, cold, cold to be able to do it if you know that you’re misleading or outright lying). Do you grok me on this?

I have some conservative friends with whom I can enjoy a good debate, because they are often aware of and follow the ground rules. I say “conservative” because I would make a distinction between them and the no-longer fringe (in the sense of numbers) right wing. While I obviously think people who are that far to the right are very mistaken and also very often intentionally misled, the biggest frustration for me is that you can no more have a real discussion with them than you can with a newly-converted fanatic.

My positions tend to adapt to better information and to the influx of different points of view, but they are informed by assessments and re-assessments that have built up over time as I follow a number of themes across the political landscape. Therefore, they have become fairly well-stabilized.

I saw the language of liberation warped out into a false characterization of repressive political correctness that not only effectively deconstructed much of what had been gained in freedom, but became a self-fulfilling description as even academe seemed to be affected by and eventually act out the crazy cartoon version. I saw concerns about community breakdowns – teen pregnancies, the influx of meth, the migration of jobs – turn into attempts to re-take control of women, use drug laws to steal property, and overturn the assumption of innocence until proven guilty – which further morphed into the loss of habeas corpus, and the extradition of prisoners for torture. I saw a flawed country move into increasingly schizoid modes: prudes and shameless exhibitionism, closeted self-haters attacking gays, some progress toward an understanding of race as a legacy cultural construct even as the KKK and Hatriot groups increase their memberships – and their levels of violence – and Americans want to target the only ones among our number who could help turn the tide against radical forms of Islam in the world. I’ve watched as we’ve been manipulated into hating each other, and into somehow thinking that it’s American to think of other Americans as not “real” Americans – or even as “unAmerican.”

On and on – one step forward – and, how many steps back today?

My working definition of service as a teacher is to instruct, in every possible way, with enough method and discipline and content and destabilization of habit to encourage every student to learn what it really means to think critically, ethically and lovingly *for themselves.* My working definition of a good student is to pay attention to thoughts, people and events that can grant a better ability to do so.

Consider the perfect performative irony of this brilliant scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”:

BRIAN: No. No, please! Please! Please listen. I’ve got one or two things to say.
FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.
BRIAN: Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!
BRIAN: You’re all different!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!
DENNIS: I’m not.
ARTHUR: Shhhh.

Now… friends can be teachers one moment, students the next, and yet again peers. We are all teaching one another, either positively or negatively. It’s a long life, with a never-ending supply of lessons.

Unfortunately, as open as one tries to be as a teacher, a student, a peer, a friend, it sometimes happens that you reach the end of the helpful lessons with a person and instead you find yourself in danger of unravelling some of the good lessons instead.

When an overall stance lacks fairness toward such a diverse and interesting population as exists in the U.S.A., and the thinking has no critical method of interpretation, and the ethic is somewhat less than compassionate, and derision has replaced caring, the number of options for dialogue dwindles very quickly. What’s left? You can try to present that view of how things are, with an aim to change it or heal it. You can agree not to discuss the topics that reveal this situation in all its reality. You can offer other perspectives and “what-if” situations, or show how the issue may affect that person alone – for purely selfish reasons, if there’s nothing else. You can pretend it doesn’t matter, or argue that other aspects of the relationship might make up for it, or you may feel that it’s ethical and caring to forgive it. It’s only the last that was – finally – compelling. There are reasons to forgive some of it, with an understanding of how it has happened to be that way.

But I guess I have a lot more learning to do – because I just don’t have the spiritual discipline (even in understanding) to be able to practice that forgiveness in every interaction. I’d rather practice forgiveness on those who aren’t pretending to be my friend while getting pleasure from causing me distress.

Lessons learned.

Engagement Balance Decision

Engagement Balance Decision

No disguise can long conceal love where it is, nor feign it where it is not. ~ François de La Rochefoucauld

I’m passionate about certain topics. Some themes in politics and religion and life in general are not matters of disinterested observation but of deep commitment. In the last year, I’ve become very frustrated – angry even – about how malleable people can sometimes be, about how fearful, paranoid and even hateful the manipulated populations can become. Inchoate, thick with sadness, I feel claustrophobic – surrounded by ignorance and misunderstanding, perversions of thought, and the misinformation and disinformation campaigns that seem to function just fine for whoever pours enough money into the effort.

Our culture alienates us and turns us away from one another’s authenticity. It caricatures, scapegoats and demonizes its own. It allows bald-faced lies to parade as truth, and it appeals to the worst aspects of us – in the name of God or good. You can taste it sometimes. It’s acrid.

I’ve heard a lot of anger – often horribly misplaced – and far too much destructive and misinformed prattle. It erupts in unexpected places sometimes, and that’s very depressing. Not all arguments are equal in value. Knowledge is always partial and biased, but there are statements that are closer to the truths we can grasp than others will ever be. To me, it’s more about creating balance in fairness, in justice.

Some of the schemers have overplayed their hand. The values of this country at its best are being reflected back to us in new ways. Perhaps that mirroring can yet defamiliarize us and then catalyze recognition effects in that mythical “average American” that so flattens out our complexities into illusion and prejudice.

“Intellectual freedom is essential to human society. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships.” ~Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov

Engagement on topics that mean something to me is fruitless when there is no understanding of what counts as an argument. I don’t enjoy trying to create dialogue with unworthy adversaries. In this respect, I have become what many would call an elitist. It means something to me – so contribute something worthwhile! Why else would I care about what you say? Yes, it’s a free country. Think whatever you like in the sacred space of your mind. Say whatever you like, too. However, I’m under no obligation to take what you say seriously or to engage with you in dialogue unless there is some hope of real and serious communication. I’m willing to hear and judge for myself, just as you are. Here and there… discernment still flows. I no longer have the inclination to play in arenas where it is palpably absent.

If the only object of a discussion appears to be a simple lashing out at perceived or imaginary adversaries, especially combined with a lack of information or any reasonable picture of context or reality, it’s not really a conversation – it’s just an emotional beating. I’m no masochist. Anyone can look up the rules of argument, the necessary grounds of dialogue, the guidelines of debate. Why should I engage when the dialogue doesn’t observe the conventions of simple civility?

Sometimes I get the sinking feeling that I’m being played as I get drawn into these discussions that are more about abuse than enlightenment. Such predatory games are extremely infuriating. Claims attempted on me because of some historical association or commonality of interest just aren’t enough to move me anymore.

The other day a former Jehovah’s Witness asked me why I had defriended him on Facebook. He thought it was “very sad” that it appeared to be because of a discussion on his wall. My response:

I’ve found that the ex-JW connection isn’t always enough. There are many people who remain confused, broken, and with deep imprints of thought patterns and habits. Some of these I can embrace, even support and help. Others infuriate me because I can see the blocks and the slave mentality that survives, or I can see an unthinking flipside of meaningless rebellion. I tend to spend my time on the ones that have an ability for self-reflection, transformation, kindness and flexibility. I have little patience anymore for uninformed propaganda parroting, or false piety, or manipulations.

Outside of that consideration, I’ve developed a rule of thumb about FB friends in general. If I see more than a few posts that push my buttons and make me angry, it’s just better for my mental health to defriend. I give it my best shot a couple of times, but it’s not my responsibility to teach or guide or inform and when it becomes more of a negative than a positive experience, I just walk away. It’s too short of a life to embroil myself in impossible dialogues.

I am writing this explanation to you simply because you were kind enough to ask. Best wishes –

It is difficult for me to write such things. I feel that I should somehow be available to everyone and anyone – in concern, in caring. However, I’m also much more keenly aware of the relative merits and effects of my interactions as I’m spread so very thin. I re-read what I wrote. And again.

Why should, why would I engage in and even seek out such discussions? Why do I so often feel compelled to participate? I have a choice. I can choose the occasion, the level, the tenor, the style. Why haven’t I had the discipline and meta-flexibility to do that more often? I think it’s because I’ve not been caring enough for my own needs.

I need nourishment. I need sustenance. Time is running through my hands.

I’m drawn more and more to the projects and pursuits that I have delayed for far too long. How much of what I do is really worth my limited time? Deeper affinities and sympathies are necessary. They have become – Necessary.

If this means that I become less accessible, less visible – what of it? Service is, after all, a valuable gift to oneself as well as to others. The best hope with some is just to plant a seed and trust to the winds anyway. My own best insights have often been a result of such actions by others.

There are so many avenues to explore, so many meandering paths, so many divine moments and details. Should all of this be discarded or postponed – deferred – simply for the sake of a paltry and very secondary urge to persuade others to my own point of view? It has to be an honest exchange. Where there is no scene of the between, why bother?

I’ve drowned myself in this superfluous uselessness for too long. There are too many other things to do, to think, to find.

I have real friends. I have a real home. I have a real job. I have a real book to write. I have real dreamtime to enjoy. I have real communion.

AND – I got my smile… I got life, brother.

Ectopic Pregnancy Loss 9 Year Anniversary

Ectopic Pregnancy Loss 9 Year Anniversary

Nine years ago today, I kissed Death. Death let me go.

Ectopic Pregnancy Loss and Musings on Mythology

John and I were expecting our second child to be born on September 11, 2002. Since my first pregnancy had been normal, I was not scheduled to go to my first appointment until I was more than 8 weeks along. The Sunday before the appointment, something went very wrong.

On February 3rd, 2002, I lost the baby, and nearly lost my life. I started to feel lightheaded and crampy in the late morning. I took a bath, and fainted when I tried to get out of the bathtub. My husband found me doing a wet and naked army crawl toward the bedroom. After I had vomited and lost consciousness twice, my husband spoke to a triage nurse at my ob-gyn practice. Unfortunately, she did not recognize the classic symptoms or timing of an ectopic pregnancy. She thought at first that it was morning sickness, then that I was having a normal miscarriage. The ectopic pregnancy was in my right fallopian tube, which ruptured. I suffered massive internal bleeding, not unlike a burst appendix.

The pain was incredible. I could not lift my head or move from one position without losing consciousness. I thought that perhaps I had cracked all my ribs when I lost consciousness. I stayed home several hours too long, but finally we called for an ambulance.

It was extremely difficult to move me into the ambulance, and they spent almost 45 minutes sitting in the driveway for no apparent reason. However, once we got to the hospital, I got a quick ultrasound and was in the operating room within minutes. As I started to go under, I heard a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” in my mind.

I am told by my surgeon (A. Lovelady!!) that I got to the hospital just in the nick of time. After emergency surgery and a massive blood transfusion, my life was saved. If I had still been a Jehovah’s Witness, I would have refused the transfusion and would have died.

I don’t know whether the baby would have been a boy or a girl. Any of you who believe that this tiny fetus might have a continued existence on another plane somewhere, please continue to wing your good thoughts toward my lost one. My feelings about the matter are conflicted. I would like to believe in the images represented by many of the pregnancy loss sites – of a heaven where my baby is an angel welcomed and cherished by Jesus and God. But I don’t really believe this very comforting image. On one side, the expectation of the outcome of pregnancy is a living child – and I feel the loss of that child that will never be. On the other side, we don’t mourn the loss of the unfertilized egg every month, and I do not believe an 8-week-old fetus is yet a person. I am pro-choice, but if I had to decide whether or not to abort, I would deeply prefer not to do it. I simply don’t believe that it is a decision that should be regulated by healthcare systems or the government.

It turns out that despite all the rhetoric of the pro-life movement and all the references to God, there is no official spiritual status for an unborn. There is no ritual, no ceremony, not even a prayer. I called on other resources, and my friend Pat bent the rules a little to comfort me. Thanks, Pat, for the recommendation, respectfully borrowed from the traditional Nez Perce.

Snowbird Guardian Totem

A very tiny little snowbird represents our baby’s guardian spirit. Birds represent the spirit in several world mythologies (including Christianity). Snowbird is a common name for two species of birds, the junco (here the dark-eyed Oregon junco) and the plectrophenax. Snowbirds are strong enough to survive terrible winters. They are plentiful in number and in kind, bringing cheer to the most severe landscape.

This image comforts me, in the sense of Joseph Campbell’s’ definition of myth – a set of images and narratives that help us to feel a sense of meaning and place. We have no functional mythologies for the loss of a pregnancy.

“Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestations.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I do know that there was no way to save this pregnancy. Whether God was involved or not, this baby was simply not destined to become a living child. There is nothing anyone could have done to allow the baby to continue to grow and thrive. We are mourning the loss of the child who would-have-been, but are also grateful that our living child (born in 2000) still has a mother. I have never completely worked through the grief of losing this child-to-be. I am deeply touched by the love and care of friends and family, and I am deeply grateful for my own life. There have been moments of deep sadness. A month after the surgery, when I went for a post-op appointment, I had to fill in a form. When I wrote “2 pregnancies, 1 child” on the form, I felt the first real deep pangs of pain.

A year later, I lost another pregnancy – perhaps because my husband and I are Rh-incompatible. It’s possible that the loss of this baby prevented us from ever bringing another to term. There was so much blood – the shot of Rhogam might not have worked.

There is one saving feature of this whole experience in that by putting our story up on my site, I might have helped to save other lives. I received several emails from women who got to the hospital in time, thanks to a search that found my site before there were many other resources on this topic.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic (lit. “out of place”) pregnancy occurs when the embryo never makes it to the uterus and starts to develop in the fallopian tube. Sometimes the embryo can even develop on the ovary or in the abdomen; in this case, it’s known as an abdominal pregnancy.

If an ectopic pregnancy goes undetected, it strains the tube, which isn’t designed to expand. Then, 6-8 weeks after conception, the embryo will cause severe abdominal pain. Common symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are sharp abdominal cramps or pains on one side. Neck pains and shoulder pains are also common.

Ectopic pregnancies are very dangerous. If the tube ruptures (which mine did), there could be severe internal bleeding, which is a critical life-threatening situation. (For those of you with a medical background, I could barely breathe by the time I got to the hospital, and they irrigated me for 25 minutes once they had me open.)

Once the ectopic pregnancy is confirmed, emergency surgery and a skilled surgeon is required. This is delicate surgery. If the fallopian tube cannot be saved, it will be removed.

Some people consider those who have had to have surgery in this situation to have “decided to have an abortion” and feel free to judge them. I can only hope that this view is based more in ignorance than in disregard for a woman’s life.

Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death.

Eliminationist Dog Whistling and Free Speech

Eliminationist Dog Whistling and Free Speech

“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really, around the world because we affect change at the ballot box and not because of these outbursts of violence.” ~ U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, March 25, 2010

I’ve reached the end of mourning, the occasion marked as I was watching Sarah Palin say she’s a victim of “blood libel.” She’s had days to compose a response, and this is it? There are a lot of things she could have done here, but invoking this charge is amazing. Is she meaning to be the persecuted Jew here? Is it a cluster of associations that aim to function subliminally (something like “Giffords is Jewish, there’s something biblical about bloodguilt or blood libel or something like that, I’ve run across this somewhere, don’t wanna say “guilty,” maybe a Patriot said, “slander” is too eggheady, it’s a really big wrong thing I think, I can flip it back this way”) ? That’s reaching… but how could this have been said, and distributed? I don’t know what she intended, but I’m not buying ignorance.

Blood libel (also blood accusation) refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have–alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.

Note: The Wikipedia article goes further than the definition and gives a decent summary of the history of the blood libel charge, in case you missed History 101. This hateful and untrue charge has resulted countless persecutions and massacres for centuries.

Maybe she does know what it means. Or maybe she doesn’t know. As a weighted (even “loaded”) phrase you’d be hard-pressed to find better. Crusade, maybe (remember W?). Is it accidental, or is it deliberate? Is she using dog-whistle politics (or, at the higher level, the insights of audience reception theory)? Is she calling out in associative code, like she and others tend to do? What will be her response when people note the actual definition? Will it matter? Will she claim “persecution”?

Dog-whistle politics, also known as the use of code words, is a term for a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience. The term is invariably pejorative, and is used to refer both to messages with an intentional subtext, and those where the existence or intent of a secondary meaning is disputed. The term is an analogy to dog whistles, which are built in such a way that the high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but appears silent to human hearing.

Maybe it’s a wishful Freudian slip – or even a cognitive slip. What’s on her mind? My friend Perry commented on this: “Does she even know what “blood libel” is? Blood libel would be, for example in this case, to say that she’s sacrificing Democrats and bathing in their blood to maintain her evil power.”

In contrast to Freud and his followers, cognitive psychologists claim that linguistic slips can represent a sequencing conflict in grammar production. From this perspective, slips may be due to cognitive underspecification that can take a variety of forms – inattention, incomplete sense data or insufficient knowledge. Secondly, they may be due to the existence of some locally appropriate response pattern that is strongly primed by its prior usage, recent activation or emotional change or by the situation calling conditions.

Parapraxis. A reaction to government control by grammar? Nah, I’m just playing with the idea in Glen Beck style. Schizoid style. Connection by emotion, connection by predefined association. Repetition. Repeat.

If I were to give Palin the benefit of the doubt, I’d say she might have meant to say “bloodguilty” but didn’t want to say “guilty.” Cain comes to mind – the stones calling out at the shedding of innocent blood. Murderers are bloodguilty, and also “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). When I was a Jehovah’s Witness I was taught that leaders have a great spiritual responsibility, and if they lead others astray God will hold them responsible – bloodguilty. Perhaps that’s just their interpretation.

Proverbs 6:16-19
16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

It’s not ok to imply or to call for elimination of others, or to invoke a system of eliminationist ideology. If you do, expect to get called on it. Insulting language is simply uncivil, eliminationist discourse is hate speech and functions as incitement, invocation, call to what? Violence. Rabble-rousers can’t expect to be held immune from criticism, no matter how successful rage may be for their agendas. Yes, Ms. Palin, there *has* been a substantial increase in this kind of hatefulness and the incidents related to it, and you were right there egging it on and winking. No, Ms. Palin, we don’t want to go back to settling disputes with pistols. That’s the whole point.

Let there be no confusion: A criticism of eliminationist rhetoric (and imagery) is not some sort of infringement on the right to free speech. You are free to say whatever you want to say, but you are also subject to criticism for it. In this case, I hope that appeals to the better nature of Americans will cause shame, even guilt.

Eliminationism is the belief that one’s political opponents are “a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation”. The term was coined by American political scientist Daniel Goldhagen in his 1996 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners in which he posits that ordinary Germans not only knew about, but also supported, the Holocaust because of a unique and virulent “eliminationist antisemitism” in the German identity, which had developed in the preceding centuries. In his 2009 book Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (English and German Edition), Goldhagen argues that eliminationism is the root cause of every mass murder perpetrated in the 20th and 21st centuries, including:

* War rape in Darfur
* Suicide attacks by Islamic terrorists
* Rwandan Genocide
* Ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav Wars
* Cambodian Genocide
* Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
* Death marches from the Auschwitz concentration camp
* British concentration camps for the Mau Mau following their uprising in Kenya, and during the Boer Wars

American journalist David Neiwert (note: see The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right) argues that eliminationist rhetoric is becoming increasingly mainstream within the American right wing, fueled in large part by the extremist discourse found on conservative blogs and talk radio, which may provoke a resurgence of lone wolf terrorism.

The statements about it being the same on the left and the right are simply wrong, at least in this context. George Packer lays it out nicely in “Arguing Tucson” at The New Yorker:

But it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous. .. At a minimum, human decency should have led Sarah Palin to express regret for the dog whistle she directed against Gabrielle Giffords, among others. Instead, in Palinland and across the right, the attitude has been: Never apologize. But this has been the right’s attitude throughout the Obama era, with considerable political success, and I don’t expect this tragedy to bring a change.

An example of this confusion can be seen in the projection of many on the far the right, who draw false equivalencies – either as a projection, or as a strategic flipping. Here’s one:

Martin Knight at the RedState blog
Sunday, January 9th at 6:45PM EST Are Liberal Journalists And Bloggers Trying To Have Sarah Palin Assassinated? In A Word, Yes.
By Their Own Standard, Liberals Are Deliberately Trying To Get Sarah Palin Killed (the initial link says “assasinated” – hover to see).

I would certainly hope that this is not what Michael Daly, Markos Moulitsas, Paul Krugman, Jane Fonda, etc. are hoping for deep down. But given their own presumably sincere belief that “reckless” political speech leads to violence, and given the unseemly speed with which they have recklessly decided to heap responsibility on Sarah Palin with no facts to back them up and many to count against them, I am forced to conclude that they are, at best, neutral, and at worst, desirous of Sarah Palin being subjected to serious (even fatal) bodily harm.

There is no call for violence against Sarah Palin, and the argument is specious. He doesn’t link to any articles by any of these people to substantiate or put into context the singular blame (direct cause and effect) accusation, but I would agree that reckless political speech is being criticized, and that this is a good moment to call out on this. There is some strong feeling that the environment created by paranoid and eliminationist ideology and rhetoric is certainly condusive to violence. Even in this specific instance, I think it’s fair to say that the right-wing fanatics have been egged on in their harassment and threats to Gifford and others by radio shockjocks, pseudo-Christian leaders, Fox operatives, candidates for office, and even sitting Congresspeople. That they rely on disinformation and emotional fear-mongering rather than facts and ideas and real arguments is reprehensible. The propaganda, the whisper campaigns, the gun talk and the gun appearances, the reframing of our nation in terms of a new war of independence (or succession), the victimization claims from dominionist and reconstructive “Christians” -all of these demonize our representative, elected government and rationalize bad behavior.

Right Wing Working the Refs Through Victimization After Tucson Shooting
By: David Dayen Tuesday January 11

This actually fits into the conservative worldview. They embrace victimization as fully as they embrace tax cuts. No matter the words of the political opponent, a conservative will take them to mean an affront, telling their followers that liberals “look down on you, presume they’re better than you, and think you shouldn’t have the rights that they have.” It’s a classic technique and it has held throughout this incident. Everyone’s just being terribly unfair to them, even those making utterly generic statements about coming together in a time of tragedy.

We have real problems, and we need the participation of reality-based people to help solve them. Evidently, the priority is to condemn those who point out hatred and bigotry, rather than addressing the reality of intensified hatred and bigotry. No-one is using eliminationist rhetoric against Sarah Palin (or if they are, tell me and I’ll be happy to criticize them for it too!). The people who are criticizing her and others don’t set up shooting events in a political arena, like this one by Gifford’s opponent in the last election:

Jesse Kelly, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be bothered in the least by the Sarah Palin controversy earlier this year, when she released a list of targeted races in crosshairs, urging followers to “reload” and “aim” for Democrats. Critics said she was inciting violence. He seems to be embracing his fellow tea partier’s idea. Kelly’s campaign event website has a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon. It includes the headline: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” The event costs $50.

Right Wing Hopping Mad Over Culture of Violence They Have Wrought
By: David Dayen Tuesday January 11, 2011

Right now, the public isn’t ready to believe an argument that Jared Loughner was motivated by right-wing rhetoric. Fortunately, nobody has said that, because it’s the wrong claim to make. Nobody has claimed that crosshairs on a map or talk of “Second Amendment remedies” is specifically to blame (some on the right have blamed heavy metal music and a skull in his backyard, and that’s just as silly). The main claim is that the toxic stew of noxious rhetoric, particularly in Loughner’s home district and home state of Arizona, creates an environment that amps up a lunatic fringe. Loughner couldn’t help but trip over that, and indeed his writings do have a cockeyed resonance to some of the really far-right groups like Posse Comitatus and the Patriot movement. That doesn’t make those practitioners of angry rhetoric culpable, but it sure doesn’t mean what they’re doing helped, either.

But even if you throw all of that away – and mind you, I think Loughner bears more resemblance to a Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris and Cho Seung-Hui than anyone else – I don’t think that the trend on the right is particularly deniable. Consider that, in the wake of the shooting, the feds arrested someone threatening Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Danny Davis received an email over the weekend saying he was next, and a leader of the Minutemen responded to the Tucson shooting by writing “Too bad Traitor Raul Grijalva wasn’t with her! He won’t be missed!” All three of these politicians are Democrats.

When Clarence Dupnik gained national attention by spotlighting the role of violent rhetoric (“We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry”… “pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office”), he didn’t actually mention any political party or movement in his statement. The fact that conservatives moved swiftly to marginalize and demonize him and his words, that was a tell. They didn’t like what Dupnik said because they’re afraid people would get the idea that he’s right. And right-wing talk radio hosts, for whom bile and anger is the coin of the realm, they felt the need to rebut Dupnik right away:

What does it say about the paranoid, dangerously volatile environment built and stoked by the right, that gun sales went up immediately and substantially in Arizona? Oh, and it wasn’t only guns in general.

“Arizona gun dealers say that among the biggest sellers in the past few days is the Glock 19 made by privately held Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria, the model used in the shootings.”

And what say you to the Joe Wilson guns inscribed with “You Lie“?

“People tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American people by people who make a living off doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” ~ Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik

Some in Congress are proposing some baby steps, such as limiting the number of rounds in a single magazine for assault rifles – for this, vilification ensues. The NRA is activated. Sigh.

Turn Back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways. Look at the history of the last year.
Go back, with fresh, open eyes.
It’s long past time to stop this.

Listen to our court jesters. Lately, it seems they have a better handle on things than the general population.

Be blessed and blessed be.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – The Fox News Channel today attempted to bust what it called a “mainstream media myth” by reporting that there was no link between matches, gasoline and fire.

Jon Stewart’s take:

I do think it is important for us to watch our rhetoric. I do think it is a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies. If for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak. You know, it would really be nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in anyway resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook
Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

For a number of reasons, I haven’t posted anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while. There have been some horrible events in the news, and all sorts of doctrinal and organizational changes, but I find myself more interested these days in some of the larger questions. I’ve been trying to write something about that, but nothing I wrote was satisfactory to me. It turns out that I needed a real question for my thoughts on this to spill out. In trying to help ease someone else’s suffering, the words ring true again. Thank you for being the messenger for this lesson! I preserve the questioner’s privacy, but you know who you are. Big hugs.

I seem to be struggling with my relationship with God. I find myself so confused about what to believe. I used to be absolutely convinced that the Bible was Truth. Is this normal for a person in my situation. Any input that you might have would be appreciated.

It is totally normal for you to feel as you do. I do have some thoughts on this in terms of biblical scholarship and the history of the religions of the book(s), but that’s not what will help you most right now because you need first to find your bearings, your balance, and the (for lack of a better phrase) direction of your attunement to God.

Start with what you solidly know and experience for yourself. Be observant and pay attention and even “hold fast to what is fine.” That place where your mind and spirit and soul all connect in gratitude and admiration is where you start. Think of the qualities of the spirit – where do you see caring and forgiveness and love and thoughtfulness and creativity and all those things that you can just feel are *good* things? Let yourself be drawn into that world. Learn from and enjoy the presence of that “energy” in any moment where it happens. Even just noticing it changes you.

Then – and I resisted this one for a long time – think about service. Not big, cosmic service – just little bits of service. Be a little kinder, think of someone else’s feelings, do something nice for someone else, be a listening ear to a friend. Anything that puts your own needs to the side – even for a moment – changes you.

Think of things that you *truly* admire about people you know or have known or have read about or seen. Everyone is complicated, a mix of darkness and light, so you have to think of specific things, how someone made a good decision, how someone manifested an incredible skill, how someone calmed a situation. Those are things that speak to your inner self, to your inner directionality, and they are worth hearing.

For a while, move away from the questions of belief in this or that. That question will always be there for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to address it and be tormented by it right now. Come back to it when you are in a place of spiritual groundedness.

Your body can help you too, and in ways that you might not expect. Sit quietly and relax, listen to yourself breathe. When you are upset, take a few breaths and consciously let it go. Imagine blowing the seeds of an old dandelion into the wind. Self-torment seems to be part of the deal – but you can choose not to do it. Look again at these things when it isn’t self-punishment. Torturing yourself does nothing for you right now except prevent you from insight and focus your energy on everything that would overwhelm you. Love doesn’t want that, and you need to focus on that central thing. Open your heart and listen. Listen.

Try different body positions. Bow your head, raise your arms up to the sky, imagine your feet taking root in the ground, pretend to be blessed by the stars. Your body-imagination is always trying to help you. If you feel comfortable, reach out to the God *above* the God that is caricatured by the witnesses and ask for guidance in love.

Be authentic, be truthful, see beauty, learn when to trust and admire. Start there. In time, the beliefs will sort themselves out. The list of “I believe in this” and “I don’t believe in that” is really not the primary aspect of spiritual understanding. Assume, for a little while, that all the cosmos needs of you is that you pay attention and appreciate whatever you really, truly can. Go a little on that footpath, and see if you get reoriented.

I feel very strongly that each person’s spiritual path is their own, and cannot be regulated or mandated. This is about your own spirit and soul and heart and mind, and nobody else’s. And in that spirit, take what you find useful for you here – and disregard the rest. These are things I’ve learned for myself and from the experiences of others, so they may be very very helpful for you right now. Or not. You are the only you.

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