Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Blessings and Curses of Being Honest

Several weeks ago I received an email from a subscriber who wrote, in part: “… Some of your thought processes are not very pretty and sometimes conflicting. Why do you share on such an intimate level? ...”
It’s a good question and those of you that are subscribing to this free weekly message deserve to know a little more about me. It may help you interpret or integrate these messages into your own life. Conversely, it may cause you to decide to run for your life!
I am a recovering alcoholic with over 25 years of sobriety. I used to be an active Presbyterian minister. Today, I remain very spiritual, but not very religious. Those who have read my book and/or listened to my Audio CD already know this.
Several years into AA’s program of recovery, where the acceptance I found transformed my life and accomplished what all the religious dogma and biblical studies never did, I relived a repressed memory from my days in high school. A girl became rather sweet on me and, during a band trip, shared how much she both respected and liked me. All the time she was telling me this, I remembered thinking to myself: “The me she believes she’s talking to isn’t the real me.” Exploring this memory, I discovered that that experience was a classic symptom of toxic shame – a phrase coined by John Bradshaw in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You. 1988.
It was a very, very sick feeling – believing that my “me” that you responded to wasn’t really me. And if it was not really me, then who was it? Who was I? I had no earthly idea, other than knowing I had this hollow empty feeling deep inside that I was living a lie and was a very incomplete person. Unlike you.
In AA meetings I heard many different people describe this same feeling as “…having a hole in your soul.” Very apt, I believe. How do I fill that hole? Honesty – real honesty. I found honesty in meetings, with my sponsor, working the steps, making amends.
In AA meetings for the first time in my life, I experienced the ability to be really me, nothing held back, and still feel supported and accepted. That totally transformed me. I will never be able to repay the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for that tremendous gift of Grace God gave me – speaking through the voices in those rooms.
In personal computing there is a term used in conjunction with printer technology called WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). That’s exactly what I want to be in my life. That’s the only way I can feed the real me and starve the feeling that I have a hole in my soul.
So I want to restate the concluding paragraphs from an anonymous author who published, through the Hazelden Foundation Press, a booklet entitled Shame: Understanding and Coping, 1981, pp. 61-62 [ISBN: 0-89486-131-X]. This author says, much better than I, what I’m trying to communicate.
“…I would like to share with you in [the] conclusion [of this pamphlet], and out of gratitude, something that I came across recently. Its author called it ‘an alcoholic’s meditation on honesty, pain, and shame’:
“Honesty involves exposure: the exposure of self-as-feared that leads to the discovery of self-as-is. Both of these selves are essentially vulnerable: to be is to be able to hurt and to be hurt. But something tells us that we should not hurt: that we should neither hurt others nor hurt within ourselves. Yet we do – both hurt and hurt, both cause and feel pain.
“When we cause pain, we experience guilt; when we feel pain, we suffer shame. The pain, the hurt, the guilt of the first is overt: it exists outside of us, ‘objectively.’ The pain, the hurt, the shame of the second is hidden: it gnaws within, it is ‘subjective.’ Neither can be healed without confronting the other. A bridge is needed – a connection between the hurt that we cause and the hurt that we are. 
“That bridge cannot be built alone. The honesty that is its foundation must be shared. A bridge cannot have only one end. Without sharing, there can be no bridge. But a bridge needs a span as well as foundations. The bridge’s span is vulnerability – the capacity to be wounded, the ability to know hurt. ‘I need’ because ‘I hurt.’ – if deepest need is honest. What I need is another’s hurt, another’s need. Such a need on my part would be ‘sick’ – if the other had not the same need of me, of my hurt and my need. Because we share hurt, we can share healing. Because we know need, we can heal each other.
“Our mutual healing will be not the healing of curing, but the healing of caring. To heal is to make whole. Curing makes whole from the outside: it is good healing but it cannot touch my deepest need, my deepest hurt – my shame, the dread of myself I harbor within. Caring makes me whole from within: it reconciles me to myself-as-I-am: not-God, beast-angel, human. Caring enables me to touch the joy of living that is the other side of my shame, of my not-God-ness, of my humanity.
“But I can care, can become whole, only if you care enough – need enough – to share your shame with me.”
I share with you as intimately as I dare because I have to. That’s who I am. That is the road to my salvation and to my humanity. Honesty. Exposing who I am. Risking the vulnerability that entails. I do this because the alternative – living a lie, projecting a “self” that is not truly me – is no longer an option if I want to be alive.
Thanks for listening, and – as always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#5 September, 2012
Copyright, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Part 2 - The Subtle Spiritual Sickness that Stems from a False Enlightenment

Continued from Part 1
Then I remembered the tale of two Islamic mosques here in Tennessee. One, in Murfreesboro, had been there for a long time. They had plans for moving and expanding the mosque into a larger Islamic Center – much of which would be open to all the public. Plans were approved and the project moved forward. In the aftermath of the 2010 elections, anti-Moslem tensions were escalated and the reactionary portion of the community wanted to shut it down. It has been delayed and repeatedly taken to court. Finally, it is moving forward again. The second occurred in Memphis. A mosque was moving to a suburban area in order to expand, a process similar to many evangelical congregations. When the land was purchased and the building permits approved, they held a ground-breaking ceremony. As the Islamic congregants gathered, they noticed a sign in the yard of an evangelical church across the street. The sign simply stated: “Welcome Neighbors.” Later, when construction delays were threatening the mosque’s ability to hold Ramadan services in the new building, the evangelical church opened its doors and offered their sanctuary to the Muslims for use. Now, the two congregations work together to provide food, health, and other services to the most vulnerable of Memphis.
I had another little flash: Maybe, if God really has wanted America to be a shining light to the world – then maybe it is the image of Memphis He wants us to project. He wants America to represent the values of acceptance, tolerance, inclusivity, openness, charity – these are the values God wants America to stand for. Not the image of America represented in Murfreesboro.
Then I had a third flash of insight. Rather than seeing this “vision” of the marriage between the ultra wealthy and the ultra social conservatives as an attempt to reduce their fearfulness, I was seeing their vision as an extremely “bad” interpretation of history as I understood history.  I was chastising their perception of reality because they didn’t agree with my perception of reality. After all, I’m right, aren’t I? Wrong!
What I couldn’t (or didn’t) see was their remembrance of reality was meaningful for them because it offered them assurance, peace, security, reduction of fear, and confirmation that their concept of rightness is, for them, true and correct. Are not these the very things I long for? Yes. Are not these the very qualities that provide valued meaning to my life? Yes. What, then is really different between them and me? Other than our different perceptions - nothing.
The power of my Egoic thinking never ceases to amaze me. My higher mind will receive a glimpse of a message from the Holy Spirit and – rather immediately – my Egoic mind will step up and say: “Oh! I see more clearly now. Thanks, Holy Spirit, I’ll take it from here.” And off I go into the eddy of my own thinking.
I just finished studying a text in A Course in Miracles with our local ACIM Group (TXT, 2, V, 1-10) – fearful Egoic thinking cannot heal because it cannot see the Christ in someone else. Whenever I can see the Christ in someone else, I can see the Christ in me. Whenever I fail to see the Christ in others, I fail to see Him in me. The choice to see the Christ in others occurs not as an act of willpower and restraint on my part (this, too is of my Egoic thinking), but as a function of the Holy Spirit who provides me with true vision rather than physiological sight.
What is so complicated about that? Not much, but it is enough for me to continue to need gentle reminders all the time.
Thanks for listening, and – as always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 September, 2012
Copyright, 2012

Part 1 - The Subtle Spiritual Sickness that Stems from a False Enlightenment

While watching the news this past week I heard portions of Romney’s now-famous quote that 47% of Americans are unable and unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. As he was talking (May, 2012 to a group of donors), his view of the world became pretty clear and I had a brief flash of insight that suddenly provided clarity and unity to the vision behind a lot of conservative rhetoric over the last 10-15 years. Suddenly I could see how the hopes of very wealthy fiscal conservatives and the visions of very conservative and evangelical biblical literalists had become joined. The vision explained to me the current agenda of these extreme social conservatives and their alliance with big corporate interests and the wealthy one-percent.
They want to return America to its “glory days,” believing we are God’s gift to the rest of humanity. They invoke this idealized remembrance of our past history. But when you look at their vision, it is quite incomplete. In short, they adore the Pilgrims who came here to establish a Christian nation. After a hundred years or so, they wanted to unfetter themselves from the constrictions of the English crown and establish a purer form of capitalism. These early Americans developed the Declaration of Independence, won the Revolutionary War, and developed the Constitution. At the heart of the current conservative movement is a belief that we need to get back to those ideals, those social and individual moral principles, and that form of purer capitalism.
What this remembrance forgets is the very flawed implementation of this unified vision of these (mostly) white, western Europeans. The Pilgrims didn’t come here to establish a Christian nation. They came here to escape the European marriage of government and religion and to practice their form of religious freedom – one that unified their local government with their concept of morality. If you disagreed, they killed or disowned you. There were as many different forms of religious ideals of godly government as there were colonies.
Their purer form of capitalism was pretty much identical to that of England, involving an unbridled greed that understood the need to establish a government that existed for the protection of the country against enemies and for fostering unregulated business interests. What were those interests? Wealth – in the form of money, land, and minerals or raw resources.
In turn, this led to a government-assisted wholesale genocide of our Native Americans, legalizing the institution of slavery (where, in our Constitution a black male is defined as being 3/5 of a human), the wholesale destruction of fur bearing animals, and the theft of the underground mineral rights of small landowners as well as the legal basis of banking, both based on the precedents of English Law.
But I thought England was repressive? Well, the English form of religious intolerance was repressive. The English form of capitalism that favored the landed gentry was repressive. However, our form of religious intolerance was okay; our form of government-assisted capitalism, which favored corporations and share holders, was also spun to become accepted as being “heavenly blessed.”
Somehow, over time and wishful thinking, this vision of America successfully blended Christianity, the Bible, religious morals, capitalism, corporate greed, the Stars and Stripes, patriotism, and Caucasian western European puritanical morals into one huge, inseparable ball of wax. This ball of wax seems to have fostered values of fear, exclusivity, intolerance, and mistrust. That’s not a very pretty picture of America nor of the god that truly wants it to become the shining light of the world.
Continued in Part 2

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Part 2 - The Spiritual Message I Find in the Libyan Murder of Our Ambassador

Continued from Part 1

The Islamophobic video Sam Bacile made and the words he used (as well as all of those, here in the United States and Israel who support Bacile’s political position that Islam is totally evil) fail to understand that these actions and words have consequences. Fanning the flames of intolerance leaves nail holes. The words hurt. The nail holes become pits where hate and resentment fester, eventually morphing into an overall infection. Hate, anger, intolerance, fear – these are not Christian values. They are not family values. Yet, they are exactly what we are teaching and promoting here at home and, by purposely angering other cultures, what we are encouraging in nations abroad.
We present ourselves to the international community as if we’re saying “It’s our way or the highway – and we have more money and a bigger army.” Consequently, I don’t understand why we wonder why other countries hate us so much.
Using vile and incendiary language hurts us.  It has consequences for us. For over four years this has been going on – on both side of the political spectrum – Republican and Democrat. Political adversaries are no longer those with another point of view. They are evil, unpatriotic, disingenuous, un-American cancers. I believe the conservative talk show hosts, media outlets, and spokespersons have been the more blatant of the two. But it’s there and is has frozen Washington. I don’t understand why we wonder why civil discourse in this country has all but disappeared,
And it’s not just in Washington. It used to be that you and I could disagree on policy or program. Now, it seems if I disagree with you, I am a bad, vile, evil, non-spiritual person. That doesn’t leave much room for civility.
We cannot find peace through war and conflict. War and conflict breed germs of the diseases like hatred, resentment, victimhood, intolerance, and powerlessness.
Justice, empowerment, and acceptance breed peace, and peace is not weakness.
When I was an active alcoholic, I was simply emotionally absent for my teenage children. This abandonment hurt them terribly. I made very impaired decisions that hurt them and left deep scars. I fully understand about hurts and consequences. I fully understand the power of words, the hurts they can cause, and the lingering nail holes that are left.
When will our nation learn that?
Thanks for listening, and – as always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 September, 2012
Copyright, 2012

Part 1 - The Spiritual Message I Find in the Libyan Murder of Our Ambassador

A Course in Miracles tells us we cannot achieve peace through conflict. AA taught me that I cannot achieve serenity through agitation, anger, inflammatory speech and holding on to resentments.
I’ve said before in these messages that thoughts are things and words really do matter. As one on his spiritual path, I know I am to be in this world without being of this world. It is difficult at times for me to draw the line between the two. Nonetheless, this is an “…in this world…” message.
Let me tell a brief story: There was this “naughty” boy who swore often and said awfully mean things about siblings and student friends. Trying to correct him, his father told him he had to drive a nail in the outside fence every time he said offensive things or used bad language. He did this for several months. To repent, his father told him for every day he went without using abusive language, he could take a hammer and remove one of the nails. After 4 months the boy had removed all the nails and was quite proud of himself. The father took him outside and, together, they observed the fence.
“See,” the father said. “Even thought you’ve removed all the nails – and I’m very proud of you for your change of behavior – the holes are still there. The results of your actions are still visible. The same is true for the words you use and say. You may apologize, but the hurt may linger long after you’ve removed the nail.”
We’ve just seen an adult example of this “nail hole” principle.
I’m not going to get into the Romney debacle using the Cairo Embassy press release – issued 6 hours before the targeted attack in Libya, and issued to ease perceived growing tensions in Egypt over the vitriolic anti-Mohammad video – as a political attack on Obama. Romney believed the Embassy issued its statement in response to the Libya attack. When confronted with the truth, he doubled down on his initial statement and continued his public political criticism, while the crisis was still unfolding and new corrective information was flowing..
I’m also not going to talk about the facts pointing to the Libya attack as a well-planned operation, not a spur-of-the-moment mob action in response to the U-Tube video. There were some “mob-ish” actions, but they were unrelated.
I do want to talk about how inflammatory words only add flame to the fire. They do not quell it.
A Course in Miracles tells us we cannot achieve peace through conflict. AA believes we cannot achieve serenity through agitation, anger and holding on to resentments. When we try, all we do is hurt ourselves. It’s like ingesting poison in order to hurt someone else.
But we continue to do it. If an Ambassador or a President tries any avenue, other than brute force and saber-rattling, the political opposition calls this approach weakness and stimulates the fear-based impression that we are now vulnerable.

Continued in Part 2