Friday, January 21, 2011

Choosing Happiness

I know I've mentioned this in past blogs but I wanted to expand on it a little more. I tell people quite often that I choose to be happy and I've realized that it's a little confusing to people. Sort of like the fact that I don't do guilt. I also wanted to blog on this to get it out of my head. It's one of those odd things, sort of like when you buy a new car and then you suddenly notice all of the cars just like it on the road. It's not that they weren't there before it's just that you had relegated them to background noise. When I first thought about writing this blog I pushed it to the side, I was taking a week off from writing to rest my wrists, but then all of sudden this subject kept popping up everywhere I turned. So now I am writing, for clarity and to get it out of my head!

So the start of this particular blog bouncing in my head was last week. Something happened (details aren't important) that really really really made me angry. Everyone who knew me knew the second they saw it that I would be mad. And I was. I was mad enough that I wrote letters to the people that could change things, I was mad enough that I spent the better part of a day talking with others who felt the same way trying to figure out what we could do to change things. I was mad enough that I spent the day with a perma-scowl on my face. And then I was done. I had one small flair up of angry over it the next evening when some new information came out but that didn't last long. And the other people around me who were angry were a little confused on how I got over it so quickly. So I told them, I choose to be happy, this does not make me happy so I am done dealing with it now.

Holding a grudge, staying angry about things, dwelling on things that do nothing but piss me off is a waste of time for me. That is not to say I don't get mad. You have all read blog posts about things that make me really mad. In fact there is another one coming soon about a subject that makes me angry. It's not to say I have never spent time dwelling on something that made me mad or sad, I have. But what I mean is that I know I can make different choices and I do. Sometimes it's easier than other times. Sometimes I have to consciously make the choice over and over until it sticks. But I prefer to be happy. And the people that have to deal with me on an ongoing basis prefer that I am happy as well.

So what that means for me is that once I have done what I can (written letters, given feedback, talked it out, made the choice to ignore it) I am done and ready to move on to the next part of my life. It seems really simple to me. But apparently it's not. I see people every day doing things that seem like the only reason to do them is to make yourself angry. Yesterday, for instance, I had a friend who is very left leaning in their politics post a Sarah Palin video with the comment..."Watch this, it will make you so mad!" and then two posts later a right leaning friend posted a Bill Maher clip with the comment, "How dare he!" Okay, so here is my basic question why are you searching those out and watching them? Sarah Palin makes you angry? Don't watch her. Bill Maher is a jerk. Don't pay attention to him. Why actively seek out things that make you angry?

I asked a friend a couple of weeks ago why they would post something they said was awful and the response I got was that they felt it was important for people to see. Why? If it's one person's opinion and that one person isn't very influential and you posting it is just going to make you mad and make other people who feel the way you feel mad, but it's not going to change anything, why do it? If you are conservative why click on the Huffington Post? If you are liberal why read the Weekly Standard? I see clips from Fox News in the context that amuses me, The Jon Stewart Show, and that works for me. I don't watch Fox and Friends because it would make me mad. See the difference?

Again, I am not saying I don't get mad when something deserves to make me mad. But I don't seek things out just to make myself mad. I don't read blogs by angry people. I don't watch TV shows with political rhetoric I don't agree with. I skip books and articles that the only reason for reading them would be to work up some sort of righteousness indignation. If I need to know the facts on an issue so I can be well spoken on the subject, I will read a few pieces that are not my belief, to try and see the other side, but I won't read anything that starts out with hateful rhetoric and no facts. And once I am mad, I don't stay that way very long.

Last week while talking to someone about being mad and holding a grudge they used an expression that I really liked. It takes both hands to hold a grudge. Which means if you are holding a grudge you cannot hold anything else. It's a waste of time and energy. So choose to put it down, choose to get over what ever is making you mad. Once you have done all that you can to change a situation, then get over it. There are people in the world I will never like, situations that I will never agree with, circumstances I would love to change. But I can't. But what I can do is control how I react. How I respond. What I do about it.

So when I say, I choose to be happy, it doesn't mean that I choose to be oblivious to the things out there that aren't right. To the people that aren't okay. To the situations that are out of control. What it means is that I choose to do what I can then I choose to move on. No dwelling. No wallowing. No seeking out things for no other reason than to make myself angry. And if I fail, if I find myself doing something that I realize is just making me mad, then I choose again. I choose to be happy. It's a choice that works for me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Politics and angry people

I wasn't going to blog about the tragedy in Tucson or at least not until we had more facts about the situation but then I was involved in three different conversations about it yesterday from three wildly different points of view so I sort of felt compelled to. And truthfully this will only be about that particular event as it relates to the point I want to make.

You know my politics I was registered Independent until someone decided to co-opt the name for a political party, now I am officially Unaffiliated. You also know from my Strengths blog that one of my top strengths is Empathy. Those two end up tying together and I didn't even realize it until yesterday when I really stopped to think about why and what I believe. And why I get so frustrated with people when I am talking to them about politics.

You know I have linked this article before about how it is not only not likely but virtually impossible for the two sides to see eye to eye on any issue. But it never stops me from trying to make a point. The crazy thing for me is that I can usually see where someone is coming from, I might not agree with them at all, but I can understand and grasp why they feel what they feel. And it frustrates the heck out of me that they cannot see the other side as well. This is where the empathy light came on for me yesterday. See the deal with Strengths (talking Strength Finders Strengths here specifically) is that they are just who you are. You operate from that base continually and could never explain how you do what you do and you (this is the key part here) don't understand how others cannot.

So here is where the Tucson issue comes in to play. On Saturday the story started unfolding while I was away from the house. I watched my Facebook feed start lighting up with the story. Pieces were trickling out of Arizona, lots of false information, lots of panic. And then the blame game started. This was obviously the fault of the Tea Party! This was obviously the fault of Obama and his government takeover of everything policies! This was obviously...what ever your particular political bent was that's where you went. And then the rebuttals started, it wasn't Palin's fault, those were surveyors marks not targets for goodness sake, and when she said reload she wasn't talking about a gun...and again when discussing Second Amendment remedies didn't mean people should shoot someone. It's the left and the lamestream media's fault for blowing this all out of proportion! It's the fault of Faux News and Glenn Beck and the like for stoking the fires of fear! The left always wants to blame the right! Did you see this video clip that was just as bad as the one the opposite side just showed? And on and on and on...

You know who was really responsible for all of this? It was Jared Loughner. He did it. He bought the gun, he bought the bullets, he went to a crowd of people and he opened fire. He killed people. He wounded many others. And I am perfectly comfortable calling him crazy, though there was an opinion piece released right away about how it's wrong to say he was crazy because we don't know that he is. Guess what? I do know, want to know how? He bought a gun, bought the bullets went in to a crowd of people and started shooting! That's how I know he was crazy. No, not all crazy people are violent, but all super violent people are crazy.

And now that we are a few days out from the shooting we are starting to see more of the blame game and the it's not my fault game starting. What I would rather see is some time for self reflection. And network reflection. And political reflection. Do I believe that Jared Loughner was some sort of killing machine designed by the Tea Party movement? No, I don't. But my opinion is that he was already unstable and latched on to the hate factor that is brewing in this country and took it to an extreme. I actually believe that it would not have mattered if it were Giffords or Jesse Kelly at that rally he would have gone and he would have started shooting. Obviously I have no way to prove this, but what I have read about him, he was anti-government. Not just anti-Democratic party.

So where do we go from here? How do we dial down the arguments and turn it back into a conversation? How do we stop with the derisive, divisive, defensive talk and start in on open dialog? Because you would have thought a Judge being killed, a child being gunned down and a member of Congress in critical condition would have been a big wake up call. You would have thought. But you would have been wrong. Instead it seemed like another opportunity to scream at each other about how horrible the other guy is. But we have to stop that. We really do.

One of the conversations yesterday was on a Facebook status for a friend who does not live in the United States. He is overseas and the people posting were all overseas. I read all of the comments with growing sadness and frustration. The picture we are painting to the world is that we are all crazy. We pack our guns, we pack our rhetoric. We scream at each other and we get nothing done. It's a cartoon. But sadly, it's not that far off. We need to stop identifying our differences and start looking for common ground. And we need to stop letting the fringe define us.

When Christopher was little he would throw temper fits and then he would whine when he didn't get his way. The same as any other child. The difference is he got over it pretty quickly. You know why? Because it didn't work. I would tell him, I cannot understand you when you whine at me. And then I would ignore him until he stopped. He would follow me around for a little bit and I would completely ignore him. No response. Not a negative one or a positive one, just nothing until he used a normal voice and would talk to me reasonably again. If this worked on a two year old don't you think we could get it to work on adults?

But here is the deal, we all have to do it. We have to stop posting video clips that make our side look good and their side look bad. We have to stop watching Glenn Beck and his chalk boards and puppet shows and fear mongering. We have to stop letting Keith Olbermann and the Daily Kos define the left. We have to let people know that the Tea Party is not just a group of nut jobs who like to dress up funny and carry misspelled signs but actually started as a group of citizens who were tired of seeing money go in to the system without any discernible benefit coming out and the bulk of the movement is still that group.

And those of you reading this right now who are looking for clips to show me how I am wrong, how the left is at fault or the right is to blame, or the Tea Party is evil or it's not the fault of the crazy man...stop it. I am not arguing with you. I am asking you to stop and think and help to redefine the discussion. Before you post that link to the video showing how horrible the opposing side is, stop and think. What good will this do? And then think again. If you know KNOW that the clips showing how awful your side is were edited and taken out of context then can you not see that this one probably was as well? If you see someone using language that is designed specifically to incite an emotional angry reaction (death panels instead of end of life counseling for instance) ask yourself why you use it? What good does it do? What is the point? Are you trying to have a discussion or start an argument? Stop voting based on sound bites. Stop allowing the anger to overtake the message. Just because you don't agree with something doesn't make it evil, it just makes it something you don't agree with.

And if you are in a discussion with someone whose views you disagree with and you are interrupted by someone who is spouting rhetoric and posting clips to incite a fight treat them like you would any child having a temper fit and ignore them. The grownups need to talk now. We need to figure this out. I might not agree with what you have to say but I need to hear it and try to understand it and you need to do the same. That is the only way true non-partisan co-operation works. And I believe that is the only way to help turn our country back around.

And if you are ever in a position like the Sarah Palins, Glenn Becks, Keith Olbermanns of the world where you have a devoted fan base that listens to every word you say. Please please take the time to weigh those words before you say them. It's much easier to be clever and cutting than it is to be kind and considerate. It's much easier to pick a sound bite or two and make it a catch phrase than it is to actually research an issue and find out how to either agree or disagree rationally. Please remember that part of your fan base might just be on the more fanatical side. Is it your fault if a crazy person acts in a crazy manner? No it isn't. But wouldn't it be much better if you never even had to ask yourself that question?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Appropriate?

This is a mishmash blog. It started out in my head thinking about books, then went to thinking about parenting, then went to differences in what each person thinks is appropriate and what isn't. So bear with me as we work our way through the tangles together....

I am reading a teen book series right now. It was one that came recommended from three different sites where I have purchased books in the past. It took me a long time to actually buy the first book though. You want to know why? It wasn't that the books were marketed to teens, I have read some very fine books that were geared towards that age group. It was something even worse. The cover. I know...don't judge a book by its cover and all that but these covers are awful! They look like teen harlequin novels. Long flowing locks and dramatic lighting...I just couldn't imagine taking the book up to the counter and checking out without being deathly embarrassed.

The tipping point came when I was looking at them and talking to Brent about how they had been recommended but the cover made me wary and this soft voice from behind me said, "I really like them." I turned around and there was a young teenage girl, wearing glasses, hair in a messy top knot, jeans, hoodie, holding a stack of books she was trying to decide on and I thought...okay, you I will take a recommendation from. I told her, "Alright, I am trusting you," then I picked up the first book. Her smile would have made the whole thing worthwhile even if the book would have sucked.

The books don't suck. They are good enough that I have been back to the bookstore for the next two in the series and it's sort of killing me a little that there are two more out there that I can't read RIGHT NOW and I would guess before the week is out I will have trudged back to the bookstore to pick them up. I want to know what happens with these characters, I am interested in their lives. These are read it in one day books. This is the mark of a good story for me. Now, are they classic literature? No. They are teen romance/action/supernatural stories. But they are well done. Sort of a cross between Harry Potter and Buffy. You might hear teenage Vampires and think Twilight, but the only thing they have in common with that series is the author took some liberties with the Vampire mythology. Took what we all KNOW about Vampires and turned some things around.

These books also have some basic changes in what the teenagers are like and that is what got me thinking about parenting. As the mother of a boy I have obviously never worried about presenting C with strong female role models. It's just not something that I have to worry about. He has me, what more does he need. :-) But I wonder what I would have done if I had been the mother of a daughter instead. The characters in this book series drink underage, they have sex, they break rules. For those not familiar with the Twilight series (where have you been in the Pop Culture world?) they do not. The entire Vampire mythology is tweaked to represent abstinence in that world. Not an entirely bad message for kids right? But I still believe I would be more comfortable with any child of mine reading The Vampire Academy books and taking role model cues from Rose and Lissa than I would any daughter of mine taking cues from Bella.

I read the entire Twilight series, but only because a friend of mine lent me the entire group at one shot. She also is a Pop Culture Book junkie. If the world is talking about a series, you sort of feel like you should read it. Who knows it might just be great right? Look at Harry Potter after all. Excellent series, story telling improved with each book. So this could have been one of those as well. So anyway, I read the first Twilight book and thought...really? Did I really need to read paragraph after paragraph about how perfect Edward was? How gorgeous and perfect and awesome and did I mention perfect he was? Then the series got worse for me. The point where the entire thing went from silly to "Why do you let your daughters read this??" for me was when Edward leaves Bella and she lays down in the forest and doesn't move. Her boyfriend left her and she lays down to die!

The entire series this main character defines herself by the boy she is interested in at the time. She is willing to give up her life, literally, when he leaves her and then again to be with him. She only gets interesting in the last part of the last book where she learns how to fight. I told people after reading the books that my biggest problem with the series was Bella. I didn't like girls like her when I was younger, I don't like women like her now. If you define yourself by your man then who are you? What happens if he leaves? In Bella's case we know, you lay down and prepare to die.

So then we come to Rose and Lissa. Rose wants to be involved with a much too old for her man. The book addresses it, talks about it, explores it and deals with it in a pretty satisfactory way. When you do the math you realized that Lissa lost her virginity at 15 years old. Much too young really. But I am so much more comfortable with the two of them as role models than dear sweet Bella. Why? It's because Rose is a bad-ass. That's part of it. She is training to be a bodyguard. She is tough as nails. She is just as strong, smart, resourceful as any male character and really more than most. Lissa is a force to be reckoned with in a different way. She uses diplomacy, charm and her own magic to make the world around her work. Bottom line for me is that these two female characters that the books center around are making their own choices and the books talk about what that means. Yes, there is boyfriend drama, there is teen angst, but there is more to it than just the boys. Just the clothes. Just the perfectly awesome awesomeness of Edward. So I think I can safely say that if I had had a daughter I would let her read this series and have the conversations with her about drugs, alcohol and sex and those consequences and been much more comfortable than if she had fallen in love with the other and I had to have conversations about defining yourself by a boy.

As the mother of a boy I have had to deal with choice like this, but in different formats. As you all know C wants to design video games. He has wanted to do this since he was very very young. Part and parcel of this is that he plays a lot of video games. He has more systems than I can remember and games on each of them. And we were some of the few parents who actually paid attention to the rating systems on games. The ESRB ranks games based on age appropriateness like the MPAA rates movies. When C was younger he didn't get to play M rated games. He had friends as young as 7 who were playing games rated M. Just didn't happen in our house. As he got older we got a little more lenient. But what that meant is we checked out the game he wanted. Websites, game store employees, friends who had played, we wanted to know why it was rated what it was rated and if we were okay with C being exposed to the game.

Poor kid had to pass two barriers. The sex and violence barriers. Brent was okay with a higher level of violent content than I was and I was okay with a higher level of sexual content than Brent was. So a game had to be okay on violence with me and okay on sex with Brent. Needless to say there were a lot of games that C had to wait longer to play than some of his friends did. But I have never been Johnny's mom so I didn't ever care what Johnny got to do. That's not to say I couldn't be convinced I was wrong.

Bioshock was a game I was NEVER going to allow in my house. I didn't care if he was 18 or 21 he could play it at school, he could play it in his own place but I wouldn't buy it, wouldn't have it under my roof. And then enough people told me that the description of the game wasn't exactly right and that the advances in game play were something he needed to experience and know about if he was going to design games. So I changed my mind. Reluctantly and with much trepidation, but I figured that I had raised him with a pretty strong set of values and this game wasn't going to effect those at all even if it was as bad as I had feared. And he was 17 at the time. Really by that point who you are is pretty set and you just spend the rest of your life refining it.

So as a parent where do you make your decisions on what is and what isn't appropriate? And how do you keep from making the things you don't approve of forbidden fruit to your kids? How do you guide them and bring them up to believe what you believe is right? And that's the answer. You don't. C will have his own beliefs. The best I can do is what I have done. Explain to him why I make the choices I do. Why he couldn't play Blood, Death and Destruction at age 10. Why taking drugs is a bad choice. Why drinking underage is pretty big risk and what all he is putting on the line if he chooses to do it. And then I sit back and watch. Ready with advice if asked (or not asked, who are we kidding?), ready to help if he needs it, and praying that he brings home a Rose or a Lissa not a Bella when the time comes!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Defriending

I've written about Facebook a few times before. I wrote about the amusing relationship status here, I've written about going to meet friends I made online here and here. But today I am going to write about something that is truly a Facebook experience. Friend requests, friending and defriending.

The fact that you know what I mean when I say friending and defriending shows you are part of this brave new online world. Remember when you used to make friends with people instead of sending a request? Or have a fight, a falling out, a drifting apart instead of defriending? Now we get a little message from someone who wants to be our friend and we get to say yes or no.

The online game I play is easier with more people on your friend list so I get random requests for adds. I don't take them. A lot of my online friends will add anyone and then hide them. That means they are there, they help them with the game, but they don't ever see their status updates or pictures or anything like that. I just don't add someone unless I have "talked" to them through the game. And talked to them for awhile. And I will also "clean" my list every once in awhile. Drop off people that I don't talk to after all, that have stopped playing the game or that I cannot remember how they were added in the first place.

Real world friends are a little different. I am always amazed to get a request from someone I knew in high school. With my attendance record and my drifter tendencies I am always shocked that anyone remembers me. I tend to remember them, I have a good memory for faces and names and I can usually pick out at least one memory with that person, either in one of my classes or at some event or another. But I am still amazed when I get a request from someone who actually remembers who I was in school. Those I accept. And then I sit on my hands so I don't send them a message to see if they really remember me or if it's Brent's last name that they remember!

Spouses of people that are already on my list get an automatic add if they send a request. I figure if I saw them on a daily basis they would be a package deal so they get to be the same online. If someone I am friends with recommends a friend of theirs, sort of an online introduction I will add them. I have two friends on my list right now that I have never met in real life, I don't play the game with them, but they are friends of friends and so they got an add to the list.

So that's how you get on the list. But what happens when you need to get someone off the list? And why do you choose to do it? What is your line? I mentioned the house cleaning aspect of the game friends. I will clear off people that I haven't talked to outside of the game, that I am not sure how they were added after all or that you find out are just not your cup of tea. I have been defriended and have defriended people over online arguments as well. Twice by people who were mad at me because I didn't defriend someone they were fighting with and they thought it was some sort of betrayal. To which I responded, are you 12? So yeah, they dropped me off their lists. Once I was caught in the crossfire of someone fighting with a group of people and since I was in the group I was wiped with everyone else. Once I was defriended by someone after I told them to grow the fuck up. I will take that one. :-)

And I have hidden one person and dropped two off of my lists from people I talked to as well. The person I hid I didn't want to defriend. They seemed nice enough, but they had a lot of drama in their lives on a daily basis that I just didn't want to see so I clicked the handy little hide button and off they went. One person I defriended because she ended up being more than a little crazy. In that stalker sort of way. I'd never met her in real life, played the game with her and volunteered to help her out since she was a little confused on how to play. Then she started sending me messages about who I was talking to and when. If I didn't answer a PM from her she would send me another telling me she KNEW I was online...it was just a little too much so off she went.

The last person I dropped from my list was a different choice. And it was actually one I didn't make as soon as I should have. Sometimes you add someone that you have "met" online and then once they are on your friend list and you see their status updates and they see yours you get a much fuller picture of who they are. Like stalker woman who then was bounced from my list. Sometimes it takes time though to get a full picture. And then you start to doubt yourself. A comment here and there that doesn't agree with my political/social/religious views doesn't bother me at all. To use a cliche..."some of my best friends are Republican" but it is true. I don't have to agree with you on everything to like you. But what I do need from you is respect.

My friend list is much like my music list (I know I think I talked about a music blog two years ago, I will get to it!), it's varied and mixed and some songs work well together and some don't. But I like them all. My friends must behave the same way. I have liberal/conservative/Christian/Muslim/Atheist/I'll figure it out laters all posting together, I have all ages and people from a variety of countries as well. And as long as you are able to keep the discourse civil I keep you on my list. But if you step outside, you get a warning, a comment deleted, a PM telling you to please be respectful, and then you are gone. Don't treat someone with an opposing viewpoint as an idiot. Don't argue with what C calls the Amazon.com method of arguing. "Other people who have made this argument have also made the following arguments, would you like to argue these points even though they have not been made in this discussion?"

And as far as the religious argument goes, I will hold you to no greater standard than anyone else until you decide to take higher moral ground based on your religion. If you are standing at the pulpit preaching down at the masses you better lead a pretty pristine life or I am going to call you on it. If I see that the entire reason you are up at that pulpit is so you can look down the blouse of the woman in the front row you have lost your moral high ground. And yes, I have less tolerance for the religious hypocrites because I know their rule book pretty well and I know what they are supposed to be doing, so don't tell my other friends their life choices are wrong when you aren't even playing by your own rules.

So what do you do when someone on your list is breaking your rules of life? Do you ignore it? Do you drop them? Do you block them? It's an interesting place to be in. In the real world you wouldn't be friends with them. If you worked with them you would avoid the lunch room when they were there. What if you share a lot of friends in common so you are going to run in to them? Again, in the real world you might not like all of your friends friends so would you skip a party if there was a chance that person would show up?

Facebook has a handy feature called blocking. If you REALLY don't want to see someone ever again you block them. Then they cannot see you, if you post on the same status, comment on the same photo, they can't see you and you can't see them. It's handy but can be confusing if you've blocked or been blocked. Everyone else can see all of the posts and people have conversations that end up looking one-sided. So blocking is a tough one to use if you share a lot of friends. And it also makes me laugh to think of if you could use it in the real world. "I can't see you...I can't hear you...You don't exist to me!"

So I dropped one person and then blocked them when they reached the point that I couldn't even stand to see their name. I knew a post from them meant preaching/lecturing/hypocrisy or some combination of them all so I dropped and blocked. But the funny thing is I waited for a much longer time than I ever would have in the real world. I made a lot of excuses why it wasn't that big of a deal (it's just online, it's not really real, it's not that big of a deal, we have a lot of friends in common)and the whole time my husband and one of my close friends were telling me, "Drop him! He's an idiot/tool. He pisses you off. He's a jerk masquerading as a good guy. He's an intellectual fraud!" They were both hitting all of the things they knew I wouldn't stand for in my life, but for some reason I let this guy slide. Then he committed the two unforgivable acts in one day. First he argued over a post that he didn't even bother to read first, just saw the caption, made the assumption that he knew what it was about and went in with his Amazon.com style. The second was he was condescending to C.

Did you all just gasp out-loud? Yep, he thought that he could get away with being rude to my son. That finally snapped me out it and BOOM! Off the list, blocked out. Probably best that it was online since in the real world it might have equated to a slap in the face instead of a delete. And I felt much better. Eventually I lifted the block, the one-sided conversations were annoying. And we still share a large number of friends, but I just treat his posts and ramblings like they aren't there.

I learned a lesson with that experience and that's all you can really hope for out of a bad situation. I won't ever try to discount an online experience as less than real again. For one thing I have now had the opportunity to meet a lot of the folks I talk to online in the real world and they are just like they are online. So if someone is a jerk online you can bet they are a jerk in the real world too. Like my brilliant son says..."The people in the magic box are real" and the people I choose to interact with through the magic box are really awesome.

And then this blog brought this clip to mind so enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

When I was a child I thought as a child.

As most of you know I was raised in a very conservative Christian household. And as most of you know I chose to leave the church when I was 18 and didn't look back. I've talked a little here and there about my reasons for leaving. How the church's view on homosexuality figured large in that decision. How the stories in the Bible, though great moral tales, really didn't ring true to me as "this actually happened this way!" stories. Basically I didn't take the Gospel as gospel. And once I started questioning the religious leaders in my faith and the only answer they had for me was that I just needed more faith I was on my way out the door. But for the majority of my childhood I had the faith of a child. That blind belief that the adults in their life were telling them nothing but the truth. That our God was the true and only God. That our book, our rules, our beliefs were the only right ones. This story takes place during that time...

When I was a freshman I was part of the youth group of a different church than my family attended on Sunday mornings. We had been members of RCC off and on for years, but as we moved around town we would attend sister congregations, FCC, VCC and the like. There was at the time I was growing up 5 congregations in the Albuquerque area that were part of the same "Restoration Movement Non-Denominational Church". We all shared the same belief system, sermons were the same in each church, we all attended the same summer camps along with a group of churches throughout New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Restoration Movement in churches is pretty much the same as the Constitutional Party in politics. Basically, the only beliefs are the ones written in the Bible, the extra bells and whistles added by say, oh I don't know, the Catholics aren't believed. In fact the Catholic church is treated as a "not real" church led by the Pope instead of by Christ. Don't get me started on what my church thought about the LDS church. Non-denominational means we weren't Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Baptist we were just Christian. Really super judgmental Christian, but just Christian.

Different churches have different beliefs and it took me well in to my 20s to be able to understand that not all Christian churches were like the one I was raised in. That not all people who called themselves Christians lived a life professing Love while harboring what seemed to me like a lot of Hate. There are even churches out there that are able to see the biblical passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality could be interpreted in other ways. So when I speak of churches and the church please understand that I am speaking of the church I was in at the time and don't believe that everyone that attends church is horrible. My family still believes this way and they have received great comfort from the church in horrible times and their faith calms and strengthens them. It's just not my faith, my belief or my choice anymore.

Okay, back to freshman year. I attended a different youth group than what my main church was. This meant that on Wednesday and Sunday nights I went to a church across town from where we lived. I wanted to to be part of the performing group that RCC had that VCC did not. The youth minister/music minister and his wife handled the program for the teens. We sang, danced (show choir type dancing), did puppet shows and my freshman year put on a musical play. My sister's years through the program they just sang and did puppet work. But the real deal was every summer you got to go on tour and perform at churches across the country. You got to go away. For weeks at a shot. I was not missing this so even though my family moved to the south valley the end of my 8th grade year I stayed with the youth group at RCC.

This was not something that normally would have been allowed but my family was part of the fabric of RCC. My parents were part of the first congregation that set up RCC. And my family also had a special relationship with the youth minister. He was a big part of my sister's recovery from drug abuse. He counseled her and helped her kick the habit. He and his wife spent hours and hours working with her and helped her when no one thought that there was help. So he was a hero to our family and we were very close with him, his wife and their adopted son.

So one Saturday my Uncle (not really blood relation, his wife and he are my parent's best friends so they are family) called and said that we needed to come to RCC for services Sunday morning instead of VCC and to plan on having dinner with them before his younger son and I went to youth group that night. This was a church family and family family meeting. So we went to RCC and at the end of the service one of the elders of the church stood up and thanked everyone for attending but asked that anyone who wasn't a member of the church leave as there was some private church business that needed to be attended to. This was NEVER done. The end of a church service everyone would leave and shake hands with the minister as they were leaving and stand around and talk but to ask some people to leave while others stayed? My family got up to leave as we were members of VCC at the time but my Uncle told us to sit back down as this had to deal with us as well.

Then the elder stood in front of the church and read a resignation letter from our youth minister. He was resigning effective immediately because he had committed the sin of homosexuality. And the bottom fell out of the world. Now you all know me and you know my reaction to this now, but when you are 13 and you really and truly believe that being gay is a sin and your MINISTER is gay? What in the heck are you supposed to do with that? That day passed in a blur. My Uncle filled us in on the details at lunch. The YM's wife had been up at a women's retreat at camp and had come home early. When she and another member of our congregation got to their house they surprised him while he was entertaining a young man, and as my uncle put it, They weren't playing Parcheesi. Because it wasn't just his wife there but his wife and another member of our church there was no way for them to hush this up, though it seems as though this wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened.

The minister had been called, the elders convened and he was fired and forced out of the church. Now my church didn't do excommunications like the Catholics or the Mormons, but he was to never ever step foot in our church or any of our sister churches again, so it was pretty much the same thing. God might forgive him but the church wasn't going to. Seems as though he had a history of this back in college. Our minister went to school with him and knew about it, but believed him when he said that he had been "cured" and no longer had these unnatural urges. Our minister came very close to losing his job as well since he had failed to mention this to the elders when recommending the youth minister for the job. But the elders were faced with a very real dilemma on that one, if the YM says God has healed him do you not believe that or do you take it on faith that it is possible? So the minister got to keep his job.

My sister, my aunt and uncle's two boys and I headed over to the my oldest "cousin's" apartment where we proceeded to get wasted. The two boys and my sister passed around a joint or two while I had a rum and coke and got a contact high from the smoke as well. I believe this is the first time my sister used since she had gotten clean the previous year. Three things stick out from that afternoon. One is my sister telling me how proud she was of me and how amazed she was at my strength for saying no to the joint when it was passed to me, two is sitting in youth group that night and Caryn saying over and over again...what is that smell? Do you guys smell something? Knowing full well it was the pot and booze coming off of Todd and I. And three coming down off of the high in the middle of that meeting and bursting out into tears that I could not stop.

It was decided that the show would go on! We were only a few weeks out from touring at that point and we would still do it. A new youth minister was brought in (a seminary student between his junior and senior years who had no idea what he was walking into)and the process of healing was to begin.

Now this is where it got really complicated. This was the early 80s and the AIDS scare was at its height. And there were a large group of Christians who truly believed that it was God's judgment on the gay male community. Being gay was equal to being a child molester, in other words all gay men were interested in having sex with young boys. Being gay was just about the worst thing you could be. Because it was a conscience choice you were making. A choice to sin against God in the most unnatural of ways. And our YM had made this choice, all the while telling us how to be good Christians and lead exemplary lives. And for some of us it was even more complicated than that. My family still loved him very much. He had literally saved my sister's life. What do you do with those feelings? And with the conflict of forgiveness? And he who is without sin? And judge not?

And we were encouraged to either not speak of him anymore or to only speak poorly of him. When one of my friends and her boyfriend refused to play that part they were brought into the new YM office with him and the minister and told of some really horrible things that had happened. These were teenagers. They shouldn't have been put in that position. And they didn't believe the stories they were told so all it did was drive a wedge between them and the church and the new youth minister that took a lot of time to heal.

My mother took a very pragmatic approach that reconciled her faith and her feelings. You hear it a lot among the religious. Hate the sin, love the sinner. My family owed a lot to him and his wife and we would continue to love them, but we would hate the sin he committed. Hate that he was too weak to overcome his unnatural urges. And we would pray for him. My sister chose to not be married in the church for her first wedding so his wife and he could attend and play at the service, though he played the piano from behind a screen so no one would see him.

I wrote a lot of really bad poetry during that time and I found it years after I had healed and reconciled my feelings. The main theme was of loss. Loss of faith in someone and something for the first time. It was like a death. And so when I hear about a minister that is found to be performing an act that he preaches against I feel anger towards them. Anger because I know that behind that preacher is a congregation that is struggling with having their faith shattered. Now the church will tell you that is what happens when you put your faith in men instead of in God. Men are weak, God is strong, men are ever changing, God is a rock. But I will tell you that none of that matters when your heart is breaking and you feel as though everything you have been taught is a lie.

A few years later when I had turned the corner on my beliefs about homosexuality I forgave him. I realized that it was the church that was asking him to live a life that he could not reasonably be asked to live. Imagine for just a second if the tables were turned, if you as a heterosexual to gain acceptance among your peer group were asked to live a homosexual life? To take a same sex partner and live with them. To never ever touch or be touched by an opposite sex partner? Could you do it? Would you? Probably not. But that is what the church demands of it's gay parishioners.

And then came the second blow. It seems as though his sin wasn't homosexuality it was pedophilia. The young man he was caught with by his wife was a teenage boy. He had used the church as his hunting grounds for years abusing numerous teen boys in a variety of ways. I know the stories of three of these boys, now men who had to grow up and deal with so much more than just a loss of faith. Not only were they abused but then the church chose to protect itself instead of them. He should not have been kicked out of the church for having sexual urges for men, he should have been prosecuted and jailed for abusing boys. I confronted my mother about it (I learned the truth as an adult) and asked her if she knew the real truth not the story that was given out and she and my father both had known. But they did not separate out homosexuality from pedophilia. It was one and the same. Now years later still, she knows there is a difference, but the church taught that all gay men were predators and so they believed it to be true.

There are still churches out there teaching this. There are still people who insist on believing that lie, even though studies show there is a higher incidence of pedophilia among straight males than gay males, but they are sure being a gay man means wanting to sleep with young boys. So when stories break in the news about abusive Priests being moved from parish to parish to protect the church instead of the children it makes me angry. It makes me angry because they are hurting children and hurting their congregations. Destroying lives and tearing faith from the faithful. And though I choose not to believe, I know what it means to believe and what it feels like have that taken from you.

So the next time you are tempted to be a little joyful at some hypocrite taking a fall remember there are people who believed in him or her that are now hurting, questioning, doubting. And know that those that have lived it are reliving it each time something like that happens. So have a little compassion, maybe not for the person taking the fall but for those that can't catch them anymore.

It's all just the opening....

In writing yesterday's blog in my head, as is my way, I started another blog at the same time. Similar theme, different time in my life, different outcome. So I thought I would share it as well.

I am having a hard time starting this one, there is a specific story I want to tell, but it ties in with a cultural phenomenon that I have noticed that I don't particularly enjoy, though I understand the drive behind it. So forgive me for the rambling opening.

Do you remember Ted Haggard? He was the minister with Focus on the Family who had a very active and vociferous anti-gay campaign with the church backing him....up until the gay male prostitute he was seeing in Denver on his time off ratted him out to the media. How about Larry Craig who voted against gay rights over and over again and then was arrested for a lewd act (his infamous wide stance) in an airport bathroom? When their double lives hit the news there was a lot of eye rolling and it figures and feelings of schadenfreude while reading the stories of their downfall.

For me the response is always a little different. I am angry. I am angry with people who know who and what they are and have such a high level of self loathing that they want to deny other people who are like them their rights. I am angry with people like Reverend Ted especially because he spent his life (and is at it again, now that he's "Cured") teaching people that God doesn't like gay people to act like gay people. While KNOWING that he was born that way, knowing that he could not deny who he was but expecting others to live a life he couldn't. So tell me Ted, did God make the mistake when he made you gay or did man make the mistake when they wrote in your book that God said you couldn't be gay? Because you are telling me through your actions that a mistake was made on one of these levels, so choose. If I believed in your version of God I know which one I would choose. Oh wait...I did.

But this story is to back up to why it makes me angry. Why I have such a strong reaction to these particular stories. Especially the Evangelical Preacher is Busted Have Gay Sex scandals. Behind each of those preachers is a congregation. A congregation that believes, wait scratch that, BELIEVES in what is being preached to them. They believe the Bible is a divine written book. They believe that God speaks to them and sets out rules and ways they have to live their lives. They believe that those that choose the path to lead are aspirational figures. It's the way the system works. And when they screw up. When they break one of the most basic of rules it shatters the faith of those around them. And to take someone else's faith from them, even for a little bit, is a horrible thing to do.

Shocked to hear that from me? Well it's true. Many times people get confused over my stance on religion. I am not a fan of organized religion. I do not believe in an omnipotent God who then needs you to pray a certain way in a certain place to be able to hear you. That makes no sense to me. I do not believe in a perfect being who made us in their own image who then made some of us heterosexual and some homosexual but then came back in later and said the homosexual ones were a mistake. Either God is omnipotent, perfect, all knowing, all being, or God isn't.

I do not have the vision of a man in white robes with the long beard dictating our moves, but I do believe that there is a spark, an energy, a connection that pulls us all together, that brings us all up, that is who we are at the most basic level. That to me is God. But I made that choice. I came to that conclusion over many years, much study of other religions and a lot of self examination. I would no more deny my family their belief (in the robed and bearded guy) then I would deny my friends their belief in the God or Gods that they worship and also in the belief of many of my friends that there is no God or Gods at all. We all make our choices, my choices are just that mine. But this is a story about what happens when you are firmly in one belief system and that shatters around you.

And now I have done so much rambling that the rest of the blog will have to wait for another posting. Don't you just hate it when I do that?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Blog, Same Message

I had a friend ask me the other day why I hadn't written a celebration blog about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so I figured it was time to write. And time to write about why I am not celebrating...yet.

Part of why I am not celebrating yet is just due to timing. C and I watched Milk the day that DADT was repealed by the President. All the time I was watching I was struck by just how far we haven't come yet. How many things are still the same. How many still need changed. C thought the opposite.  That we had made great strides. That in today's day and age you couldn't get someone like Anita Byrant leading a campaign of intolerance based solely on her religious beliefs. Then I reminded him of Prop 8 in California and how the Mormon Church had come in and waged a strong political campaign couched in "American Values" to keep basic rights out of the hands of people that disagreed with their religious beliefs. 

He and I had a great discussion after watching the movie on rights and beliefs and what happens when those things conflict. He and his friends give me hope that we will continue down the path of equal rights for everyone, not just equal rights for those that think the same way we think.

The other is that nothing has changed yet...really. Robert Gates had to warn our troops that they couldn't come out yet. The UCMJ has not been changed so it is still not okay to be openly gay.  Signing the repeal was just the first step in what will prove to be a lengthy process. It's a good first step. It's an important first step. But I want them to make leaps now. Because even though our men and women who choose to serve our country and are homosexual will soon be able to do so openly they will still not be able to marry the person that they love. They will still not be able to get the military benefits for their partners that I was able to get when Brent was in the service. They will still face years of open and hidden hostility by people who have been raised to believe that being gay is a choice and a wrong choice.


One of my hopes for 2011 is that somewhere the light is going on in a lot of different minds that rights aren't a limited resource. That by allowing others to have their full share doesn't mean you have to give up yours. My right to be married isn't going to go away if that same right is given to my gay friends. My right to not be discriminated against because of the sexual organs of the person I love will not be lessened if that same right is afforded to others. Rights aren't like pie, I don't have to give up my piece to give you yours. We all deserve the same treatment, remember it's not about special rights, it's about equal rights.

So though I am very glad that this backwards law is in the process of going away, though I am thrilled that this will give young people who are gay hope for a better future, though I am optimistic that this will help start the ball rolling towards a more inclusive America, I am still not ready to celebrate.  But I hope to be able to soon. And trust me on that day I will write a huge celebratory blog!