Civility in the Neighborhood

Mr Rogers 1My mom and I went to see the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about Fred Rogers and his children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I believe the creators wanted to give us inspiration and call us forth to remember what we learned from Mr. Rogers about treating every person with love and respect. It had the opposite effect as we watched protestors at his funeral object to his acceptance of the actor who played Mr. McFeely and happened to be gay. WTF? And the world hasn’t become more civil since then.

Fred Rogers chose to create a his show in a neighborhood. I believe as a Presbyterian minister he understood that we relate to people and show our love to people at the neighborhood level. He wanted to teach children how to love their neighbor by example, albeit in a make believe world. He modeled civility.

The neighborhood is where I try to find my balance in today’s crazy troll-filled world. I have only lived in my new neighborhood for 8 months and I already know more than 10 neighbors fairly well. We look out for one another. And I look out for the individuals experience homelessness that are passing through. From here I work to expand my influence to make the world a better place.

Mr Rogers 3The book Beautiful Souls by Eyal Press tells four main stories of people who are exemplars of four different types of resistance to immoral authority. The third example explores the role of conscience in refusing to go along with something that is immoral. The chapter opens with the kind of passive resistance that Henry David Thoreau is celebrated for–refusing to pay taxes to a government that allows slavery and invades Mexico. And points out, as did Hannah Arendt, that his conscience didn’t urge him to actively seek change. His was a resistance in retreat.

Whereas the hero of Chapter 3, Avner Wishnitzer, is a refusenik in the Israeli Defense Forces who pays a price for his resistance and ultimately became a founding member of Combatants for Peace. His conscience was pricked by seeing up close the suffering inflicted on Palestinians whose only crime was living on land that Israeli settlers wanted to occupy. He could no longer participate in the armed forces forced evictions of Palestinians and other actions in the occupied territories.

This is the hope that Fred Rogers has for humanity. If we see our neighbor, get to know our neighbor, our conscience will be pricked and we will do what is right by our neighbor. Maybe we will even go above and beyond like the Good Samaritan.

This is why I find the Walgreens story of the pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for a drug that is sometimes used for aborting a fetus to honor his conscience. Yet in his zeal to not dirty his hands, he failed to be curious about his neighbor and evaluate what does loving his neighbor require in this instance. He might have found out that a husband was picking up the prescription for his wife who had miscarried her baby and was recovering at home. That her doctor prescribed the medicine so her body would expel all of the tissue that might become septic if not flushed. And even if then his conscience still nagged him, he could have asked another pharmacist to fill the order according to Walgreens’ policy.

Our neighborhood drugstore (in my case Rite Aid) offers the possibility of being able to discern what is love in this moment. But if you fail to see others as people with the same rights as you have, with the same God-endowed dignity as you, then you can slavishly follow a rule you’ve created to protect your conscience. Or you can exercise your moral imagination and see that there isn’t a black and white rule that should govern your behavior.

We can only hope that the generations that were reared watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood will be able to activate their imagination and see multiple perspectives and follow his example. Then whatever the Supreme Court or the President and his administration do, our neighborhoods will thrive until we can vote the people who hate into electoral oblivion.

Leadership Modeled by RBG

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an inspiration to many young girls and women of all ages. She has achieved icon status in a way that none of the other Supreme Court Justices. Her popularity has come late in her life and correlates with her role as “dissenter in chief.” She eloquently expresses the values of a great many people, based on national election results, one can say a majority.

Ginsberg with hubbyI was conscious of her role and opinions on the Supreme Court but largely unfamiliar with her history as a litigator for women’s rights. So much of the freedom I enjoy is thanks to her work as a lawyer. Watching the documentary, RBG, with my mother (who is almost the same age as Ginsberg) was enlightening. My mom (and other older women in the theater) loudly whispered her agreement with something Ginsberg said or to tell her own story. Afterward we discussed how well she married, as her husband Marty loved her for her brain not in spite of it, and supported her ambition in ways that expressed her love–getting her to stop working and eat, keeping her laughing. RBG also works harder than anyone we know at any age bracket.

In the book Notorious RBG by Erin Carnon and Shana Knizhnik lay out in the Appendix how you can be like RBG:notorious RBG

  • Work for what you believe in
  • But pick your battles
  • And don’t burn your bridges
  • Don’t be afraid to take charge
  • Think about what you want, then do the work
  • But then enjoy what makes you happy
  • Bring along your crew
  • Have a sense of humor

She is a worthy role model for all leaders.

Open Letter to Women Who Rule the World

Jennifer Palmieri

Looking for a last minute gift for that graduate in your life? Consider Jennifer Palmieri’s Dear Madam President. While the audience is ostensibly the next woman who will run for President of the United States, the advice is useful to all leaders. It will especially resonate with women

Each chapter begins with a maxim that is worth remembering, for example:

When the unimaginable happens, imagine what else may be possible.

Brace yourself. Nothing draws fire like a woman moving forward.

Show us what you’ve been through. It tells us what we can survive.

You can read this book in an evening or a summer afternoon in your hammock. I gave away my first copy and immediately ordered 2 more.

 

Examining Assumptions, Part II

I shared in the last blog post that I was examining two assumptions:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2. There is an afterlife.

IMG_4411The first assumption is re-enforced every time I get a prescription for antibiotics: you must take every pill even long after you are feeling better. It is the idea of counseling or therapy: you must work through every issue–there are no shortcuts. I have “done the work” in my life. No liquid diet fasts for me. Just exercise and lots-of-work diets.

Then Michael Pollan shared that in the clinical trials treating depressed cancer patients with psychedelic medicines experienced real measurable improvement 80% of the time. This is well beyond the 30% rates of anti-depressants and without the considerable side effects of drugs like Prozac. Only terminal cancer patients were allowed in the studies so it is impossible to know how long the benefits might have lasted or if later side effects might appear. Still, it is remarkable for its potential.

Rather than making me want to take a guided trip, I found it encouraging with regards to my reliance on acupuncture to resolve my chronic pain. I do not understand how acupuncture works but it is dealing with the underlying causes and it manages energy. To me though, it seems relatively easy compared to other therapies, especially ones that require me to relive childhood trauma. Reconsidering my assumption around the requirements of a lasting cure helped me put my faith in the possibility of good to great outcomes from acupuncture.

It also helped me look at the role prayer plays in my healing. I’ve been shy about asking for prayer. I’ve always said I believe the creator of the universe can miraculously heal people if S/He chooses and I pray for this kind of healing for others, and yet I’m reluctant to ask for it for myself. I consider myself one of the undeserving, or that I can only ask after I’ve tried to make every other remedy work. I’m ready to revise my assumptions regarding spiritual healing.

What about the afterlife? Michael Pollan and Ezra Klein both called themselves materialists and as such they believe our brains generate consciousness, thus our selves cease when our body dies. Pollan admitted that some scientists suggest consciousness exists outside of our selves and therefore, it might be possible that subject’s in the clinical trials really did experience mystical or spiritual epiphanies. As a person of faith I do not have much trouble reconciling this.

IMG_4409My qualms about the afterlife is the American Christian culture’s complete fixation with it to the exclusion of asking “how should we live today?” I have been reading Rob Bell‘s What is the Bible? as a kind of devotional. And his chapter on the Good Samaritan rocked my world in a number of ways. And one of those is that when the lawyer asks Jesus, how do we get eternal life? He wasn’t asking about the afterlife. We have somehow twisted “eternal life” from the abundant life God’s people should be experiencing every day while we live here now in relationship with the Divine, to a cushy deal after we die. So much of our faith experience is now simplified to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” and then going back to a judgey, non-loving attitude about our neighbor.

At the suggestion of my friend Rebekah I listened to the Liturgists podcast interview with Rob Bell, when Michael Gungor and the other podcast host who goes by Science Mike ask questions about this book. I’m listening to an intelligent and uplifting conversation when I realize that this men are part of a growing club of people tossed out of Club Evangelical for questioning assumptions about our faith. And yet the gospels are stories after story of Jesus asking and answering questions, sometimes with more questions. These three and others also tossed out are postmodernists, whereas, the older, grayer leaders of the E. movement, such as it is today, are traditionalists or modernists. Don’t question the relatively recent constructs of what it means to be born again and who God loves and doesn’t love or risk being ostracized.

I am realizing that I believe in a consciousness outside of myself and God, and I believe that my soul or conscious goes on in some way beyond death; however, it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. It pales in importance to the prime directive which is to be a vessel for God’s love in the world–to be living the abundant, spirit-filled life that God offers me. I’m so far from that right now and I’d rather get after that and let the after death question take care of itself.

 

Examining Assumptions, Part I

We all make assumptions. Humans are assumptions makers par excellence. Imagine if we got up each morning without any assumptions in place. How disconcerting and exhausting it would be to have to make sense of every day and the dog sleeping next to you without assumptions.

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Until a year ago, I didn’t know I had a half sister. I assumed I only had one sibling.

And yet… assumptions can calcify and constrict over time. It makes us uncomfortable to question long held assumptions and at the same time it can be hugely liberating.

We are living through an age when we most people are challenging long held assumptions. It is unnerving and invigorating. Imagine that you are a knight going into battle in a suit of armor. Your armor is your assumptions. The other side has no armor, no heavy draft horses to carry them even. Instead the horses are pulling a cannon. This new weapon blows a side in the castle you are defending. Time to rethink your assumptions. How liberating to cast off the armor that is heavy, makes you sweat like a pig and takes a team of men to get on you and hoist you on your horse. But you go from ranked #1 in jousting to irrelevant in one battle.

When assumptions no longer serve us well, when they become like a suit of armor in a the age of explosives, then we cling to these assumptions at our peril.

Postmodernism is a lot of things depending on whether you are talking about art or literature or moral values. There are a new set of assumptions that are associated with it. For example, that there are many perspectives and all of them deserve consideration. The only way to better understand reality is to consider these perspectives, but of course, we can never be certain about reality.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

Or are you excited because finally there is breathing room for a broader view, a more complicated view? One that includes you finally. Or are you threatened because you are being asked to include other perspectives that challenge your assumptions?

For me the process of challenging my assumptions is both uncomfortable and exciting. It is like Aslan’s breathe restoring life to statues that were “things I knew for sure.” They may still be useful but they may also be adjusted because of new evidence, new perspectives, new information. Or give way to a new ways of thinking that better serve me and my community.

This has been thrown into relief this week by 2 podcasts with the author Michael Pollan. The first was the Ezra Klein Show. I listened to this conversation twice because I wanted to make sure I caught it all. The other was Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed Pollan and included a bonus portion. Michael Pollan‘s new book, How to Change Your Mind. It looks at the history of psychedelic drugs and what new research is pointing to about consciousness. He also does his own explorations and reports his experiences.

It is inspiring me to question two long held assumptions, but not necessarily to embrace their opposites. These two assumptions may no longer serve:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2.  There is an afterlife.

I’ll share more about my thinking in Part II.

 

 

Honoring Commitments to Me, Myself and I

IMG_4148It has taken me a long time to shake off the socialization of my first 3 decades of life and begin to keep commitments to myself. Until my forties (and still it is a struggle), I put others first. Before I ate, I fed my family. Before I had time to read or relax, I made sure the laundry was whirring and the fridge was stocked. Now that I have fewer demands on my time from children, I can still find myself taking care of friends, or parents or co-workers’ needs before my own.

My bout of hives and subsequent journey to reclaim my health and vigor resulted in one aha! new experience: I am keeping lots of different commitments to myself.

I am resting more. I am doing less. I am seeking out professional help from a nutritionist and acupuncturist. I am shopping at the Sacramento Food Coop and cooking at home. I am making my lunch to take to work. These are all things that in the past I would have made different choices around and justified it by placing greater value on other people’s needs.

It also gave me permission to eat what I wanted and drink lots of diet coke to stay awake. Now I drink alkaline water by the quart. I am imbibing in kombucha instead of soda. It is a huge change. And I’ve kept it up for 6 weeks.

My resolve is reinforced by hives that recur anytime I try to reintroduce food like eggs, soy, or cheese. I am still eating on the elimination diet and it’s become relatively easy and has many side benefits, including weight loss (about 10 pounds so far).

My hives reoccur less often. My morning body pain a 5 or 6 instead of a 7 or 8. It is not a miracle cure. Last week when sciatica nearly crushed me, I added in acupuncture. My practitioner did her evaluation and just about everything is wrong with me. As a result, I will be going for treatments twice a week for at least 8 weeks, and then it will taper off gradually.

Natalie, my nutritionist, is amazingly supportive and continue to find new things for me to try. Her latest suggestion is to give my tummy a rest for 12 hours each night by not eating or drinking anything except water from the last minute I finish dinner until breakfast 12 hours later.

Brie, my massage therapist, is a huge supporter of my new choices. She is teaching me that short term pain will pay dividends in the long run. I can remember when massage was mainly relaxing and the main challenge to getting up from a chair was a cat in my lap. My goal is to return to that status while maintaining the healthier lifestyle.

Leadership takes a lot of energy and mine is taking an uptick thanks to all of the ways I am taking care of myself. I am soaking my feet in an herbal concoction as I write this.  Unlike other journeys I have taken, I don’t know how long this one will be or when I will have reached the end. Stay tuned.

Fitness and Leadership

IMG_4130
Excited to purchase rice grown locally by friends who care about birds and fish.

In both of the intensive leadership programs I’ve participated in–California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI Co-Active Leadership–there has been an emphasis on health and fitness. The central message was to be an effective leader you must manage your health so that you are not hampered by illness. I have always needed to lose a few pounds but otherwise have enjoyed good health, so I never understood how important health is to achieving my leadership potential.

Then menopause happened and my fibromyalgia came roaring back. I now have empathy for people dealing with any kind of chronic pain. I am not sure the energy tax I’ve been paying for my fibro-related pain, but I would guess my productivity and enthusiasm are down 15-20% compared to 2 years ago.

Then on February 10 this year I developed hives and I’ve been experiencing them in different parts of my body in the weeks since. The over the counter medication does not control them very well either. I am at my wit’s end, so I am starting an elimination diet.

I will chronicle my journey giving up almost everything I usually eat to find a way to release the healthier, stronger, focused leader in me.