Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for 'speaking my truth'

Health, wellness, death and disease are on my mind. The new year launched, along with the usual “New Year – New You” promotions for diets, fitness programs, products and services being sold in the name of health and wellness.

As I watch January unfold, along with social media posts of friends  expressing delight with the 5.2 pounds they lost in one week working out with a new trainer or the increased energy they feel on the detox they started after the holidays, I have mixed feelings. I want my friends to be well. I want them to be in alignment with their bodies, to feel good and have optimal energy. And, I’ve seen and heard too many heartbreaking stories of people who’ve lived on the diet, fitness and wellness roller coasters, bouncing from one program to another, gaining and losing weight over and over again, looking for the answer to whatever health challenge they experience.

As I prayed about how to respond, about how to support and about how I hoped that this time it might really stick, I heard the voice of God’s love reminding me to take an eternal perspective on all these things. And, to remember that while health and wellness is important, in the long run, disease and death can’t be outrun.

I faced cancer at 30, had major shoulder surgery at 50 and am likely to have my left hip replaced this year as I hit 55. I’ve exercised regularly since junior high school, eaten lots of vegetables my entire life and don’t smoke, drink or take drugs. Disease happens anyway!

As I prayed, I got a download from the Spirit. As I went back to read it again, I felt inspired to share it here. For me, this is the Voice of Love reminding me that, as Julian of Norwich proclaimed, it is in the midst of suffering that we most need to experience that, held in God’s love, all will indeed be well.

All you have is today. You could die today. Don’t fear death. Death is not the enemy. Don’t fear disease. Disease is not the enemy. Each day’s sufferings are enough for the day. Don’t add to your burden by projecting into the future or clinging to the past. Today, this day, this moment, is all you have. Show up. Be present. Do your best. Let go of results.

Don’t fear your body. The great lie of health and wellness is that we can overcome and conquer the weakness of the body, bypass aging and never have to grow old or die. The truth is, time isn’t something to be managed, pain isn’t just weakness leaving the body and the value of external remedies and practices is limited. Health…wellness…isn’t the absence of disease but our capacity to live in harmony with ourselves and all living beings amidst the physical, mental emotional and relational disruptions that are part of life. There’s nothing to conquer, overcome, manage or fix! Our work is to be present with what is, listen to our aliveness and let decisions arise from the depths of our Inner Beings where Wisdom dwells.

As I wrap up my writing sabbatical, I recognize the self-critical part of me that tells me “You didn’t do enough.” Ever present and ready to condemn me, I’m grateful I can notice that voice of shame, take a breath and soften into the truth that it is enough, that I am enough. I’m grateful for the ways of grace that are only learned through practice: compassion, self-forgiveness and letting go of judgement. And for the way writing my story integrates grace into dark corners still hurting and in need of lovingkindness.

Just installed last week - Casey Family Tribute at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle

Just installed last week – Casey Family Tribute at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle

I didn’t expect to write a memoir about addiction, sin and grace. Yet that is the story I’ve lived, in ways I’ve resisted sharing with the world–especially as a therapist. But grace is leading me to share the story and entrust the results to God.

Today’s offering, along with a few photos of yesterday’s pilgrimage to the the family plot of paternal great grandparents in Seattle, more on sin, grace and the longing to love in an unloving world.

We choose “sin” as a way to cope with living in an unloving world, a world where we can’t always get the love we long for. We sin as a way to cope with stress and shame. We sin as a way to cope with the emotional vulnerabilities that come with being human. Biblical inventories of sins identify some of the more obvious and destructive ways that we—yearning for love—imperfectly navigate an imperfect world of humans. Especially in order to cope with the shame we feel for being imperfect, for not being enough to meet the demands of our circumstances.

Cousin Nancy Anne Herkenrath, SNJM on Family Heritage Pilgrimage

Cousin Nancy Anne Herkenrath, SNJM on Family Heritage Pilgrimage

Grace enables us to accept limitations, forgive failures and let go of the shame that so easily entangles us in loveless cycles of relationship with ourselves and others. Grace is the ever-present energy of God’s love that enables us to soften in the face of our own and others unloving ways. Grace allows us to stay open, receptive, and vulnerable rather than hardening our hearts. Grace frees us to confess our sins, take responsibility for our unloving ways and learn from our failures.

What’s so amazing about grace is that we can’t control it and it doesn’t control us. But grace is ever present wanting to engage us, seeking to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. My Great Uncle Solanus Casey, the first American born male venerated (the first of three steps for official canonization) in the Catholic Church, referred to God’s grace as being like the air that permeates us. He suggested that “If we were only to correspond with God’s graces continually being poured out, we’d go from being great sinners one day to being great saints the next.”

Great Uncle Solanus Casey

Great Uncle Solanus Casey

For me, this is the essence of setting my mind on the Spirit: corresponding with the grace of God that wants me to thrive, that wants me to be able to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbor as myself. Jesus said that all the law was summed up in these two commands. Do this, he said, and you will live!

Created by God, in the image of God, what is deepest in us is God’s love. Love is our eternal nature. At our core is a longing to love and be loved.

“Sin” is a word to describe both our human “state” of being limited in our capacity to live in love, as well as the specific ways we manifest falling short of living in love—like my history of addiction. But sin is not what is deepest and most “original” to human nature. As author John Philip Newell puts it, created in God’s image, God’s love is deepest. Sin obscures, but never erases that image. Our human wiring to love and be loved is deeper than sin. And avoiding the pain of love’s absence drives the impulse to sin.

This morning I’m especially grateful for the centrality of God’s love and grace I learned in my family. And for the prayers of my dear Great Uncle, mom, dad and all the other saints interceding for me and for you that we might correspond with the grace being poured out today as we seek to sin less and love more.

I’m on sabbatical this month – taking time away from my customary routines to focus on writing my spiritual memoir. This week I’m working on the topic of sin. Thinking, writing or reading about sin is challenging. So, while they don’t have anything to do with sin, I’m adding a few photos of the beautiful places I’ve been as I’ve traveled in the Pacific Northwest. Grateful for those who’ve hosted me and whose company I’ve enjoyed along the way.

Sunset in Gulf Islands

Sunset in Gulf Islands

The majority of the explanations, definitions and teachings about sin I’ve heard over my forty years of following Christ have been unhelpful.

Most recently, I listened to a sermon on Genesis in which the pastor taught that at its’ root sin is not believing that God is as good as he says he is. He said that every particular sin is an expression of unbelief. He suggested that we steal because we don’t believe God will take care of us. And that we lie because we don’t believe God will take care of us if the truth be known.

I suspect that this pastor hasn’t done much lying or stealing in his life. If he did, I think he’d might have a different perspective.

Perspective is everything. How we see things, how we view reality, how we understand biblical teaching, is informed by our life experiences. Ultimately, if there is an objective reality or “truth” about God, human nature, sin and all the other issues theologians and pastors attempt to conceptualize and put into words, no human being is capable of holding in consciousness, defining or communicating that objective “truth” objectively. All attempts to communicate eternal truth are subject to human subjectivity.

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

That’s what led me to write a memoir. I’m owning my subjectivity. You can argue doctrine and ideology all you want. But you can’t argue with my story. My story is my story. You may not like how I’ve come to understand reality or what I believe about sin. But you can’t deny the wisdom of my lived experience.

My theology professor at Fuller Seminary, Ray Anderson, used to say that a theological essay without a story is not a good theological essay. I’d say that a theological essay or sermon or teaching that doesn’t help me become a better lover, is not a good one. When all the theologizing is over, I want to know: does it help me be a better lover of God, my neighbor and myself? Jesus said that all the law was summed up in two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, he said, and you will live!

Jesus didn’t come to put a cage of ideology around us to keep us safe from unorthodox views of God and life. He came to set us free. He came to give us life and give it abundantly.

My journey to sin less and love better has led me to what will be considered by some an unorthodox and heretical view of human nature and sin. So be it. That’s why I’m writing a memoir and not a theological essay!

Amtrak Cascades - Vancouver to Seattle

Amtrak Cascades – Vancouver to Seattle

I never doubted God’s love or care for me. It’s people I couldn’t trust. I lied to my mom because I feared the emotionally rejecting way her attempts at discipline were most often administrated.

It wasn’t God’s care or love I didn’t trust. At its core, it wasn’t even my mom’s care or love I doubted. I knew she loved me. At an intuitive level, I sensed her care. But I didn’t trust her ability to respond to the limits of life, it’s problems, trials and challenges in life-giving ways. I didn’t believe in her capacity to emotionally care for me the way I needed to be cared for. That’s why I lied as a child. Not because of some eternal stain of “sin” that predetermined me to be a liar.

Created by God, in the image of God, what was deepest in me was God’s eternal love. Love is my eternal nature. At my core was and is a longing to love and be loved. I want to live in loving relationship, all the time.

Jesus’ mystical prayer for his disciples in John 17 reflects this ultimate longing for loving unity among all created existence that is the core of my human nature. He prays for a restoration of the original harmony reflected in the creation story–the humans are naked and without shame, in harmony with God, one another, themselves and the earth.  Jesus prays for restoration of our eternal oneness, praying, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21, 26, NASB)

Bainbridge Island Trees

Bainbridge Island Trees

But living in perfect harmony isn’t possible in limited temporal reality. In limited human life, we must develop capacities to cope with individuation, separation and limitations.

In real life, living in perfect harmony with all people, all the time, is impossible. And I think that coping and surviving in an unloving world has a lot to do with what my Christian tradition calls sin.

I chose not to press charges against the perpetrator when I was raped 30 years ago. I didn’t want to suffer re-victimization in order to prove he was guilty. I didn’t want to put myself on trial, proving my victimization, justifying my choices, verifying my credibility, demonstrating my reliability as a witness to my own experience of rape. I didn’t want to be placed on the witness stand where my integrity and character would become the topics of the trial.

I was at a bar with friends. I met a man. We kissed. He asked for a ride home. We left the bar together. And suddenly, according to some perverse understanding of relationships upon which the criminal justice system operates when it comes to rape, our friendly engagement and public displays of affection had apparently given him permission to insert his penis into my vagina!

Who is on trial?

Who is on trial?

At least, that’s what the investigator from the District Attorney’s office said would happen if the case went to trial. She empathized with me, validated my experience and seemed to covertly agree with my protests of injustice. But she also reinforced the fact that my history of drugs, alcohol and sexual engagements would be used by the criminal’s attorneys to prove his innocence.

Unlike the vast majority of rape victims, the morning following the Friday night incident I called the rape crisis hotline and went to a local hospital for treatment of my injuries (bruising on my legs and arms and tearing of my previously un-penetrated vagina). With the support of a rape crisis counselor who met me at the emergency room, I reported the crime to the police. They interviewed me, took photographs of my bruising and collected physical evidence. At the end of the emergency room ordeal, I accompanied the officers to the site of the crime as well as to the bar where we met.

The police gathered information, identified the criminal and arrested him later that day. He spent the weekend in jail and was released on bail the following Monday.

Unlike Emily Doe who courageously took the stand, suffered the humiliation of her own life and history being put on trial in order to bring about justice, I chose to drop the charges I’d filed. I wasn’t willing to have my life become the target of his defense. I wasn’t willing to be re-victimized by a criminal justice system that continues to make rape victims the guilty ones by allowing our alcohol and drug use or sexual histories to become part of the trail.

Emily’s letter to her attacker reveals much about why, out of  every 100 rapes, only 7 of these crimes lead to arrest and only 3 are referred to prosecutors:

“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who didn’t even take the time to ask me for my name, who had me naked a handful of minutes after seeing me. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up…”

To add to the injustice of it all, even after being found guilty of three felony charges related to sexual assault, the criminal was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail plus probation. And, assuming he’ll be on his best behavior, he’s likely to serve only 3 months.

I stand with Emily and others in protesting the sentence handed down by the judge who has a history of bias in favor of student athletes. The judge justified his leniency by expressing concern that the standard sexual assault sentence of  6 years in prison would have “a severe impact” on the criminal, a former Stanford University student.

Isn’t severity the message demanded by justice? Doesn’t the serious violation demand a harsh sentence? What is the message being sent to the criminal by letting him off easy? What is the message being sent to other perpetrators? Other potential victims?

“If you’re a young white male and have a potentially bright future ahead of you, material and social resources, we’ll let you off easy and trust that because you come from a place of affluence and privilege, you’ll get the rehabilitation you need and become an upstanding citizen.” 

I wonder if the judge would have given the same sentence had the offender been from the wrong side of the tracks, a struggling community college student working at a gas station or any one other than a former Olympic hopeful who also happens to be a caucasian male?

Brock Turner is an adult deserving of the maximum penalty and time for rehabilitation as a sexual offender, not a slap on the wrist and a few months of jail time to consider the errors of his ways. In the United States the average prison time for rape is 8-9 years in prison. Three to six months is not enough for the needed punishment and rehabilitation–which is ultimately the goal of our criminal justice system, isn’t it?

A recent blog post from the Breast Cancer Action (BCA is a nonprofit advocacy group for health justice for women at risk of or living with breast cancer) reminded me why I don’t buy pink.  All the hype about “Think Pink” during October’s breast cancer awareness push is as much to benefit companies using the slogan as it is to increase awareness. Some companies claim to care about breast breast cancer yet produce, manufacture or sell products with chemicals linked to the disease. And some department stores, clothing and accessory manufactures and other companies that sell pink products donate only a small percentage of the profits to the effort. That’s why I don’t buy pink anymore. Although I once did.

This Thanksgiving I’ll be 23 years out from that horrific holiday season I spent being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. The first few years I walked or ran in “Pink” fundraisers, only to find out later that the companies organizing  the events were pulling in huge profits. I wore pink ribbons or related products, only to discover that in some cases only a minor percentage of the profits went to anything breast cancer related.

I’m grateful for awareness that allowed me and other early diagnosis patients (AKA “Bosom Buddies”) to live full and long lives post-cancer, but I’m not buying any pink products. If I want to give money to raise awareness or research I’ll give it directly to the providers.

Katy’s story reveals the subtle way companies use breast cancer to promote the very products that contain chemicals linked to to cancer. They don’t do it maliciously…at least I hope not. But, as my wise spouse often points out, corporations don’t have a soul. They have no moral compass to guide their decisions. The bottom-line is…the bottom-line. Morals and ethics are a side-note at best and most often not even a part of the conversations about how to do business.

While companies that use the “Think Pink” slogan to sell pink hats, shoes, shirts and other products may give some or all of the profits to breast cancer research and advocacy, the companies do it for their own sake as much as for those of us impacted by the disease. Certainly the decision to give breast cancer patients products full of toxic chemicals linked to the disease wasn’t done with morality or justice as the bottom-line.

Celebrating Life Together with My Bosom Buddies

Celebrating Life Together with My Bosom Buddies

I’ll be celebrating life with my bosom buddies at our annual ThanksLiving party next month. And we’ll be serving as much organic, close to nature food and drink as available. After 23 years I am still careful to eat organic and use personal care products with as few human created chemicals as possible. I’m convinced that all the pesticides in the foods I ate during puberty played a role in activating cancer. That’s why I support Breast Cancer Action’s work in the world. They focus much of their effort toward awareness of the role environmental toxins play in the onset of breast cancer – something the tradition medical industry refuses to address.

As Katy’s story exemplifies, if companies really had her welfare in mind, they’d do something other than provide free products that contain chemicals that interrupt the effectiveness of the medication she’s taking to prevent reoccurrance. And, if they really had the interests of women at risk or living with breast cancer, they’d invest all the time, money and energy spent on developing pink promotional products toward direct services for those in need rather than pocket a portion for themselves.

To join me and Breast Cancer Action in telling the Personal Care Products Council and the American Cancer Society to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in personal care products please sign send a letter.

Thanks for joining me in this effort to stop the abuse of all the good being doing through breast cancer awareness! Let’s “Think Pink” but do so in a conscious and ethical way!

 

 

I ran into an acquaintance last week at the dentist. A fitness instructor at a gym I used to attend, we’d had significant conversations about our shared health and wellness passions.

Several years have passed since I’d seen her, but we immediately recognized each other in the waiting room. We exchanged greetings and caught up briefly on where I’d gone and where she was teaching now.

Throughout the “conversation” she kept looking down at her cell phone, scrolling and looking back up. Sadly, it didn’t seem all that strange to me. A few years ago I might have been offended. But I guess like the proverbial frog in the kettle, I’ve grown accustomed to it. 

After I finished my business with the receptionist, I turned back to the waiting area. She was just a few feet away, sitting by the door. I walked to the door and bid farewell: “Hey___ it was good to see you…”

But, caught up in the digital world, she had totally blocked me out. She didn’t hear me or see me. She’d barely acknowledged my existence during our conversation, what made me think she’d hear my farewell greeting?

I didn’t take it personally. But as I walked to my car a flood of emotions and thoughts rose within me about how digital devices are altering human engagements. And concern about future generation’s capacity for empathy, vulnerability and authenticity.

Among other discoveries, psychologist Sherry Turkle’s research indicates that over-reliance on digital connection is diminishing our capacity for face-to-face engagement. In her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The power of talk in a digital age, she advocates for carving out “sacred” device free zones and embracing “unitasking”.

Digital Free at Lean-In Women's Retreat

Digital Free at Lean-In Women’s Retreat

Being more interested in our phones than the people in our presence is not good for the future of humanity. If we can’t invest time to be present with the real flesh and blood neighbors standing in line, sitting in a waiting room or at the dinner table, then how will we ever love our enemies?

It made me grateful for the work I do. I help people develop empathy with themselves and others. I sit with individuals and groups without cell phones or laptops. We have real engagements that sometimes get complicated and messy. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes voices get loud. That’s how real conversations with real people work. And only real face-to-face conversations help us develop empathy.

May the change begin with me!

 

 

 

 

 

“Adventure” evokes memories of the three months I spent in Zambia during graduate school or my solo travels a few years later through Italy and the South of France. I remember driving through the Verdon Gorges (France’s version of the Grand Canyon), getting a flat tire and the relief I felt when a small town appeared after several minutes of slowly inching my way down the road while anxiously wondering:”Should I pull over and try to change it myself? What if I don’t know how to work the jack? What if there is no jack? What if there’s no tire? Is this a safe place to pull over? I wonder how far it is to the next town?” I think of my solo hike in the mountains of Provence, where I spent most of the time worrying about the dangers of hiking alone.

Those were bold, risky and exciting undertakings that I’ll never forget. But the adventures most on my mind these days are of the spiritual realm where the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.

Adventure comes when we step out of our comfort zones, begin the journey not knowing where we’ll end up, defy the rules, risk an uncertain outcome, go places that scare us.  This weekend I ventured to Minneapolis where 1000 spiritual risk-takers gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral for the inaugural Why Christian? conference.

St. Marks Cathedral by Lisa Swain

St. Marks Cathedral by Lisa Swain

Brought together by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber, we heard stories from eleven remarkable women about why, in spite of corruption, hypocrisy and televangelists, they continue to follow Jesus. Personal stories of upheaval, challenge, despair, perseverance–often with the odds highly stacked against them. From a transgender Baptist minister to a 29 year old African-American powerhouse who preaches in heels higher than my feet have ever seen, each one took us on an adventure, testifying to their hope in Christ.

Why Christian?

– Made in the image of God, we can’t lose our human dignity. Someone will always care even if we can’t see them or don’t know them. (Nichole Flores)

– “Your sins are forgiven” – no one ever says that in yoga class. (Nadia Bolz-Weber)

– My life was no longer about fulfilling others views of who I was, but believing God’s view of who I am. (Winnie Varghese)

And the one that resonated most deeply with me:

- I am a Christian because having a body was not always good news for me. (Kerlin Richter)

I left inspired, disturbed, renewed and more aware then ever of my need for the diversity of the body of Christ where I learn to love the Kim Davis’ and Donald Trump’s of the world. If I can’t love those in my own family of faith, how will I ever learn to love neighbors in other communities.

The Christian life isn’t supposed to be safe. C.S. Lewis conveys something of this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are first telling the children about Aslan. When they learn that Aslan is a lion, they are concerned because they don’t know if it’s safe to meet a lion. Mr. Beaver says, “Safe! Who said anything about safe. Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”

Christ doesn’t invite me to safety and certainty. He invites me to goodness, kindness, generosity–especially among those people and in places where I don’t feel safe. That’s where the growth takes place.

Pastor Emily Scott of St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn pushed me to consider the importance of being uncomfortable in my faith. She asked “How are we nurturing a discipline of discomfort in our churches?” And summarized her understanding of Why Christian? saying: “Being a Christian is living at the fulcrum of your fear.”

That’s the adventure I’m living this week. I want to live on the edges of chaos where physicists tell us creativity takes place. I don’t want to do life in the comfortable zone. I’m not sure where that will lead me, but that’s the point of adventure–not knowing and going anyway.

I’m grateful for a community of bloggers I’ll be sharing a writing adventure with over the coming months. I’m new to blogrolls but excited to see what comes as we journey together, share our stories and grow together. For more on adventure, start with Lindsey’s blog and then click on through.

 

 

 

A young adult friend spoke with me last week about her struggle to embody her sexuality. In her late 20’s and single, she’s part of the fall-out from the “purity culture” that advocates virginity and emotional purity before marriage. She’s also part of a movement to find a better way to support healthy sexual development in church communities.  After our conversation she referred me to a blog that gives voice to the inner dissonance I hear from many women and men raised in purity culture.

That interaction was on my mind when an op-ed response to the FDA’s recent approval of “pink Viagra” appeared on Sunday. In spite of significant controversy surrounding its’ safety and efficacy, flibanserin is the first drug approved to treat low desire disorders in pre-menopausal women. The author Emily Nagoski holds a doctorate in health behavior and describes herself as a “science-driven sex educator.” She calls the science behind the drug outdated and invalid. Distinguishing between spontaneous desire (which is not essential for sexual satisfaction or well-being) and responsive desire which emerges in anticipation of pleasure, she notes that “responsive desire isn’t worse than spontaneous desire, it’s just different.”

As a post-menopausal women with history of fairly robust spontaneous desire, I get the difference! Most often I operate on responsive desire these days. But just because my libido isn’t as strong as it used to be doesn’t mean I’m disordered or that I am any less in love with my husband than I used to be. It’s biology. It’s life circumstances. It’s 26 years of doing life together with freedom to have sex anytime we want. And, many other factors that come into play over the normal life cycle of those of us whose abundance of resources allow us to worry about having less sex or less dramatic orgasms than we used too!

Yet the pharmaceutical model doesn’t take those psycho-social-spiritual factors into consideration when looking for an answer to our multi-layered sexual, mental and emotional “problems.” Like the anxiety and depression that the drug industry would have us rush to diagnose and treat with medications, so-called problems of “low” desire may be manifestations of disordered lifestyles and distorted values about sexuality and intimacy. We live in a culture where we use excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar to compensate for sleep deprivation and then over-the-counter products and alcohol to help us wind back down. Much commercially produced food is nutritionally deficient. We over-work and over-spend. Is it any wonder we get to bed at night and lack spontaneous desire?

Moreover, the fact that hoards of middle-aged women helped make Fifty Shades of Grey a bestseller and box office hit is clear evidence to me that our cultural values about sexuality and intimacy have landed in the trash heap! If sadism and masochism are what it takes to get us turned on, we’ve certainly lost our way as to how to be sexually vibrant and loving human beings.

Ironically, the very teachings meant to “safeguard” the virginity of young people in purity culture can contribute to later problems with desire. As another young woman told me, “Sexual desire was just as bad as sexual activities. You were supposed to suppress it until you married. Then, it would somehow spontaneously emerge again.”

Rachel (who tells it like it is in her blog) is trying to ‘rid herself’ of purity culture thinking, but she hasn’t found anything concrete to replace it. Here’s how she describes her struggle:

Evangelical Christianity made it really easy to know what was right and wrong. It was easy to know when I was supposed to feel guilty (most of the time). I never really had to think about what I wanted in regards to sex because all that mattered was what the Bible said. And now I have to constantly question, “How do I feel about this? Will I regret this? Does it matter that I don’t know him that well, don’t like him that much, don’t think this will lead anywhere? If he does this, should I do that? Because I want to? Because he wants me to? Because it’s expected? Because I’m drunk? Should I do anything when I’m drunk? What is this saying about me? Does this say anything? Am I saying yes because I am horny or because I want to be nice? Will this change our relationship? Do I care? When is it okay to leave?”

And those questions are exhausting.

Yet those are the very kind of questions we ought to be helping our children consider from the first time they fondle their genitals in public or ask questions about sexuality that make parents uncomfortable. Not these exact questions, but similar ones that are appropriate for the challenges of their developmental stage.

Children and teens need to be empowered with discernment skills to access inner guidance. Not just about sexuality, but about all the moral challenges of life that if they choose to live with open hearts and minds, they will inevitably face. They need to sense, feel and think about their sexuality throughout the developmental cycle and make choices each day about what to do with sexual pleasure they’ll naturally feel if not repressed.  They need to be equipped to discern the difference between healthy self-exploration and release of sexual energy via masturbation and self-pleasuring that is compensatory or otherwise unhealthy. They need us to help them consider the potential consequences of getting emotionally or physically intimate before their psychologically or otherwise ready to commit. And so much more.

They need us to help them learn to think and discern God’s path for them in a complex world where black and white answers are insufficient for many of the challenges they’ll face.

Ironically, the best book I ever came across for working with teen sexuality went out of print because the Christian publishers didn’t want to acknowledge teens might be sexually active! Thankfully, you can still pick up a copy of Judy and Jack Balsick’s Raging Hormones: what to do when you suspect your teen might be sexually active on Amazon.

Thanks be to God for my young friend, Rachelwhotellsitlikeitis, and others like them. May God’s grace show them a better way to pass on to the next generations.

I posted a Mary Oliver inspired Sabbath painting on Instagram recently, along with the first line of her poem “Thirst” and my comment “Thanks be to God for grace that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” Quite a few friends “liked” it along with several “Amen” comments and a “Thanks. I needed that today.”

Mary Oliver Inspired

Mary Oliver Inspired

One social media friend responded “I wake with a thirst for the goodness I have!” followed by a party hat emoji. Something about that struck my heart. It evoked my curiosity about the distinction between the goodness we have just by being “good” human beings with positive attitudes and the goodness we do not have.

Ordinary human goodness has to do with reliability, competence, strength, behavior, thoroughness, morality, enjoyment, attractiveness, freshness, worthiness, desirability, promise and so on. We say things like:

“He’s a good person.”

“She’s good looking.”

“It was a good party.”

But what is the goodness we do not have and why does it matter?

It is the goodness of a world where we love our neighbors as ourselves, where every child has clean water, nutritious food, access to health care and education. It’s the goodness of an earth that isn’t being destroyed by toxins and depleted of resources because of greed. It’s the goodness of communities where women receive equal access to education and hold equal earning power to men. It’s the goodness of nations where all lives matter and no one is pulled over by law enforcement just because of the color of their skin.

It matters because many people wake up each morning unable to find any goodness within them or around them. Depression, anxiety, abuse, neglect, trauma, addiction, poverty, violence and the social injustice that underlies much human suffering are among the afflictions that leave some of us to wake thirsting for goodness we do not have. Like dear Mary Oliver,  who suffered a painful childhood, we too long for something more than merely human goodness.

Mary Oliver became a Pulitzer Prize winner and was declared by the NY Times “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” I don’t think it was her thirst for the goodness she already had that nourished her creative capacity.  As author and teacher Pat Schneider writes in How the Light Gets In: writing as a spiritual practice, by naming “the bottom of the night within myself…I can begin to understand the darkness of the world” (my paraphrase). I suspect Mary Oliver cultivated her remarkable capacity to hold the tension of the dark and the light by working with her shadow – the goodness she does not have. She is beloved not because she paints the world with a rosy hue, but because she lives in the in-between of the goodness that is and that which is not yet. And that’s the place most of us live – in that tension between owning all that is good, true, beautiful and worthy about us and acknowledging how far short we fall.

I went to mass this morning at my neighborhood Catholic church. I watched a long line of the ordinary “good” people process up for Eucharist, their humble acknowledgement of thirst for the goodness they do not have.  A simple but powerful receptivity to the grace that does for us and through us what we cannot do ourselves.

I am grateful for the goodness I have. But I’m even more grateful for the grace that enables me to acknowledge the goodness I have, forgive the goodness I lack and live with the tensions and sufferings of a world where we do not love as we ought!

“Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have.”

Thanks be to God.

 

The extra fat living on my belly these days reminds me that in my sphere of reality over consumption is a way of life. While a large percentage of people on planet earth struggle for access to enough, I have too much.

I want to give thanks for the abundance.

I want to be grateful that my refrigerator and pantry are full, that I can drive my car a few miles and purchase mass amounts of consumables or dine on gourmet food at a restaurant where the portions are so large I take some home for the dog.

But this Thanksgiving morning I’m aware that the abundance of my Thanksgiving table, along with the month of consumption ahead, has come to reflect the too muchness of life in the USA. We have so much available that unless we are highly conscious about our choices we will end up consuming too much and storing that excess in our bodies’ remarkably efficient energy storage systems.

I want to be grateful for my body’s amazing capacity to survive potential famine by storing energy as fat.

I want to be grateful that I am so aware of my body that I notice even subtle shifts in my body mass composition.

I want to be grateful that I can take a rigorous walk this morning, get a little sweat going and seek to come into alignment with my body.

I want to be grateful that I no longer regulate my energy intake and output based on external guidelines or fears of weight gain.

I want to be grateful that when I eat our Thanksgiving feast this evening I will savor the love of family and friends around the table as I take in the delicious meal set before us.

But my mind is on those who don’t have enough. On the hungry and the homeless. And, on how ironic it is that many of the homeless and needy I’ve met when volunteering in local soup kitchens are also carrying extra fat on their bellies!

Current research on nutrition and fat storage indicate that the number of calories we eat as well as the quality and types of food we consume contribute to how our bodies metabolize and store energy. Much of the food served to those showing up at soup kitchens are high glycemic carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, sugar) that increase the likelihood of weight gain in many of us.

I’m not sure what I can do about that today. But expanding my view of reality to consider those who don’t have a home to gather in, a table of their own around which to dine, or loved ones to share it with, gives me perspective that helps me love and enjoy living in my body, just as I am. Because ultimately my life is not measured by my level of fitness or my body mass composition, but by the degree to which I live in loving relationship with myself, my family and friends, my colleagues and acquaintances, my neighbors, as well as the “strangers” around the world who are my brothers and sisters here on planet earth.

For me it comes back to gratitude and living in the tension of celebrating the goodness of life that has come to me as I remember that while all is well in my world, much of the rest of the world suffers.

Today I will seek to savor rather than consume

Today I will seek to listen to my body not just for me, but as a reminder that over consumption of resources doesn’t just impact me and my health, but contributes in a small way to the unequal distribution of resources that leaves many homeless and hungry on this day of Thanksgiving.

It isn’t about guilt for having more than enough. Rather it’s about loving myself and my neighbor enough to pay attention to my consumption so that I don’t carry around more than I really need either in fat stores on my body or otherwise.

This holiday season I am going to work on compassionate consumption. Compassion recognizes suffering with kindness and non-judgement and comes alongside with intention to alleviate that suffering to the degree that I can.

Eating just enough is one way to do that today. And if I choose to eat more than enough, not judging myself for breaking my intention but kindly stopping when I recognize I’ve passed the point of satiation.

As we head into the holiday consumption madness begins tomorrow, may we consider what compassionate consumption might look like in our lives. What presents, decorations and other stuff do we really need? What is enough? What is too much? And how can we take our excess and use it to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others?

How can we choose to let go of our possibility of having it all so that all may have?