Sunday, October 28, 2012

Taking a Stand ... with Time in the Gray Space

With election day only days away, the unresolved issues with which I continue to wrestle have very little to do with for whom I shall cast my vote for President.  On that point I am firmly resolved.  I don’t think my candidate is perfect, but I think he seeks the best for our country. I’m quite sure my friends on the other side of the aisle have similar feelings about the candidate they support.

My struggle is in wondering where we draw the line, impose or don’t impose, take a stand or avoid the subject entirely.  Like many, I have grown increasingly frustrated with some of the highly negative talk generated by both sides on Facebook and other social media. There have been moments I have jumped up with the crowd to yell, “this is not the place!”  I know folks who manage to gracefully change the subject when political talk is introduced. But I have also read posts from friends trying to explain, in as rational a way as they can, their very heartfelt feelings about why a particular candidate should be supported.

As a teacher, I am discouraged from discussing my political beliefs with my students. And I am beginning to wonder if this is wise or healthy. Part of the rationale, I think, is the circle of influence we have with our students and the fact that we might exercise undue persuasive tactics that might result in our students being confused or manipulated. I don’t condone manipulation and intimidation in the classroom on Facebook or with my friends. Ministers are also discouraged from using the power of the pulpit to sway the political views of their parishoners. I fear, however, that in the effort to protect, we once again throw out the baby with the bath water.  Whatever happened to honest, intellectual discourse? Must we now boycott the topic entirely and leave the mouthpiece of information in the hands of groups paying for political ads?

I, for one, have always appreciated hearing thoughtful opinions from those in my circle of influence.  They influence me for a reason.  That doesn’t mean that I agree with them on every point, but they make me think in the gray spaces. They help me to look at different sides of issues, or issues about which I haven’t thought at all. The final episode of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing series concludes with Jimmy Smits having won the Presidential election, and talking his opponent, Alan Alda, into accepting the position of Secretary of State. Alda comments something to the effect, “But we don’t agree on hardly anything!”  To which Smits replies, “I’m surrounded by people who agree with me - I need you to help me see the whole picture.” (loosely remembered and quoted - but this is the gist).  And the episode ends with them having an animated, but healthy and engaging conversation - but not necessarily an agreeable one. 

I am voting for Obama. I place a high priority on my civil rights as a gay American, and I would like to see them acknowledged as rights, so that we can move on to the important economic and educational issues that so desperately need our attention. But my rights to be legally joined to my spouse, visit her in the hospital, make medical decisions for her, inheritance issues, the right of gay couples to adopt and raise families together, etc. are very important to me, and I would like to see the government acknowledge them as "rights" and not a behavior to be condoned or regulated. I don’t think the Republican platform will support me in this. But I have also really wanted to hear from some of my friends who are considered “small business” owners about which platform they genuinely feel will support them.  I suspect I would hear advocates for both sides, but I want to hear from them, not political candidates far removed from this reality. I want to be able to discuss this - without fear of becoming a political pariah - so that I can become more informed about the whole picture, and so friends and acquaintances who do not walk in my shoes can become more informed about my reality. Until we are willing to take a stand, how can any of this discussion take place? As long as we avoid all political talk, how will we ever understand the needs faced by our neighbor? 

I think we need to rethink taking a stand with each other, and spending a little more time in the gray spaces - together. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Introverts in the Church, Part 1

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
"Pooh," he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet."
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand.
"I just wanted to be sure of you."
My friend Greta posted this Winnie the Pooh photo and caption as her Facebook status this morning, and I brazenly stole it and shared it as mine. I had  taken a brief coffee respite from reading Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, and this little excerpt from one of my favorite childhood series of books was like a timely visit from a dear and trusted friend. I had this little epiphany that these characters were always so near and dear to me precisely because so many of them were introverts. Tigger and Roo were extroverted exceptions, and Eeyore - well, Eeyore was just cranky. But then again, he may have had to spend too much time around Tigger and Roo . . .

So . . . before going back to my book (Tiddlee-pom, tiddlee-pom), I reflected just a bit longer about why I found Piglet's words so moving. It seemed to me that Piglet expressed in just a few words what my introverted self has been trying to discern about my relationship with God in a number of wordy blogs. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

I suppose it would be nice if I would just let Piglet have the last word on this one, but as I am reading in McHugh's book, introverts often have a need to write things down while they find "further clarity and coherence." The subtitle of the book is "Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture," and while I am only half-way through the book, not only have I learned and affirmed much about myself, but I feel certain that if you are an extrovert living with an introvert you would find many, many mysteries revealed about the introvert in your life. And introverts, there are helps aplenty about surviving life with your extroverted other with your sanity and your relationship intact. What follows are a few excerpts to encourage you to read this excellent book.

I began this blog again recently precisely because I felt a desperate need to process my thoughts about life, teaching, relationship and especially my relationship to the organized church. It was affirming to me to read McHugh state: "Introverts benefit from regularly setting apart longer periods to gather up the fragments of their lives and thoughts, and to present them to God through prayer or journaling. To rest and reflect are countercultural activities in our world, and they enable us to step out of the hurried, relentless activity of our culture and to observe the larger direction of and patterns in our lives."

Even as I read Introverts in the Church, my life continues to play out more like an Introvert-OUT-of-the-Church-Trying-to-Figure-Out-the-Church. This morning as I read I began to understand myself as I relate to the church, shed a bit of guilt for myself and withdrew a bit of blame from the church.  If I didn't understand this about myself, how can I expect the largely extroverted church at large to recognize it? McHugh says, "The journey of introverts into a community, however, is better conceptualized as a spiral. They take steps into a community, but then spiral out of it in order to regain energy, to reflect on their experiences and to determine if they are comfortable in that community. They move between entry, retreat and reentry, gradually moving deeper into the community on each loop. . . . Sometimes introverts need to step outside of a community for a period of time, even after years of faithful participation. . . . These outward movements are often not an indication of spiritual atrophy or waning enthusiasm, but they are simply part of normal introverted patterns. . . . They can lose themselves in community and need to retreat to solitude in order to be restored into shape and to find the power to give themselves fully to others when they reengage."

I need more reflection on this, and am eager to get back to the book, so with that, I will give McHugh the last word.  For now.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jolly? Fat People . . .

I'm not an unhappy fat person.  Just an uncomfortable one.  I'd like to be able to bend over without my stomach getting in the way, cross my legs comfortably, not have to work up a sweat to buckle my seat belt on the airplane - you know, simple pleasures.

Like many overweight people, I have struggled with the scale most of my life, tried and been successful with almost every diet known to humankind, and then cosmically gained every pound back - plus a few bonus "ounces."  I've walked, run, cycled, gone to therapy, worked out, "trained," toned up, firmed up, and flabbed right back out.  I would simply like to find a normal, healthy eating plan that I can stick with for life, incorporate some regular physical activity, and let my body find the weight it wants to be, and start enjoying the aforementioned simple pleasures. Is this asking too much?

I've sworn off "diets," because I spend too much time looking forward to "the end" of said program. Danger Will Robinson.  So, I decided that perhaps it was time to try a completely different approach.  All week long I have girded myself up to attend a local meeting of Overaters Anonymous.  Saturday, LMH, 10:00 a.m.  I went to bed last night saying - "I will not wake up and find an excuse not to go."  I woke up this morning, with my will to go still intact.  And a strong craving for a Munchers cream cheese donut.  Then it started to pour down rain, lots of thunder and lightening, Frau is out of town, perfect kind of day to curl up in the recliner with the dog and a good book or computer and not leave the house.  I almost caved - but no, I held firm.  And figured I could get what might become "the last donut" on the way to the meeting.

Proud of myself for heading out in a downpour, and anticipating being motivated to radically change my eating lifestyle after the meeting, I stopped and got not one, but two donuts, made an extra trip around the hospital to finish them, parked, checked my face and shirt for tell tale sugar crumbs, went inside and unashamedly asked the nice volunteer at the help desk where the Overaters Anonymous meeting met.  Didn't even whisper or call it OA.

Guess who wasn't on the schedule to meet today?

Now I'm a disappointed, uncomfortable fat person - just weighting around . . .