Category Archives: Politics

Hope in a Weary World

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. And this year it’s not about the bustle of the Holidays and Christmas shopping, if anything those activities were a welcome distraction.

After a year of  extreme politics and further division within the USA, rising deficit and threats against health insurance,  I for one am just tired.

As I look back to the events that have led to where we are, I remember the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.  I remember videos of terrorist attrocities in the Middle East.  I remember US cabinet members laughing and clapping when a Middle Eastern leader was killed, and most of all I remember angry people arguing politics, myself among them.

It occurred to me that we are a Nation and a World that is constantly dealing with both primary and secondary traumatic stress.  And we are dealing with these stresses not only as individuals, but as communities, as nations, and as a world community of human beings.

There is a phrase from old Western movies that applies to how communities deal with traumatic stress: “circling the wagons.”  We form groups of like minded people with the intent of protecting ourselves and our families.

Both ancient and modern history are filled with examples of communities experiencing extreme stress and trauma, pulling together, rallying around a common identity, be it ethnic or religious or nationalistic, becoming powerful, and in turn becoming the source of stress and trauma towards neighboring communities.  Eventually, someone stronger always comes along and the cycle begins again.  Trauma, circle the wagons, gain power, cause trauma, and then experience oppression and trauma all over again.

At Christmas time, the world celebrates the birth of a man called Jesus.  I say the world because at this point in human history, with few exceptions, everyone is pretty much aware of everything, including the origins of the Christian religion and culture.  I say the man Jesus because the humanity of Jesus is something we all have in common.  Jewish people may view Jesus as a historical Rabbi, Buddhists and Hindus may view Jesus as an Enlightened Being, Muslims may view Jesus as a revered Prophet, and Christians view Jesus as both Human and Divine.

Enlightened, Prophet, Human, Divine, Personal Savior, or anointed Christ, however we view Jesus, the words and teachings attributed to this person are what is left for us in the 21st century to read, share, interpret, and draw inspiration from.

2000 years ago, Jesus’ words and teachings inspired a group of people, human beings, to become  followers.  These human followers of Jesus the Christ also experienced extreme trauma, at the hands of a government, specifically the Roman government who had power at the time.  And like human communities have done since the beginning of time, the followers of Jesus the Christ reacted by circling the wagons.   They focusing on mutual care of each other, they comforted families who lost loved ones to the Roman Government’s systematic oppression, they cared for each other, and they talked about ways to deal with the stress of living in the traumatic world they lived in.

They also turned to the teachings of Jesus the Christ whom they followed for guidance.  And in those teachings, they learned of the repeated history of violence, conquering, and being conquered.  And they saw the alternative message that Jesus taught: demonstrate our love of God through loving each other, loving neighbors, and even loving the oppressive enemies.

So, instead of gathering weapons and power, these followers of Jesus the Christ offered love and help to their Roman neighbors.  They bound wounds, offered medicine and a kind presence to people who were sick, they loved their neighbors, they loved their enemies, and they prayed and worshiped together, reminding each other that though the path they chose did not make sense in a world of “fight power with power,” this was the path that Jesus of Nazareth lived and taught.

The world is still a dark place, people are still circling wagons and gathering resources to hide or fight.  But Christmas is a reminder, a still small voice, a voice so small it is symbolized in  the presence of an infant child, calling us to a path of Grace.  A small voice reminding us that peace is possible, we don’t need to react with anger and violence, we can choose to be loving and caring instead, even with those we perceive as enemies.

It is my fervent wish this year that even in the midst of darkness and conflict, even with memories of trauma and fear either fresh or distant in our minds, experienced first hand or vicariously through social and broadcast media, we think of this infant, this prophet, this enlightened one, this Jesus who is called Christ, and remind ourselves that even as we circle our wagons, we can choose to share peace and kindness with others, even others we don’t know or feel suspicious about.

I’m going to follow this thought with a challenge.  For those who are able, if you find yourself sitting in a drive through window waiting for coffee or a meal, consider buying the coffee or meal for the car in line behind you.  It’s a way of sharing that does not judge, and does not expect a reward or even a thank you.  Catch the Spirit of Christmas, offer up a gift of kindness.  The family in the car behind you may be Jewish, Christian, may be Muslim, may be Buddhist or Hindu.  They may be black, they may be white, they may be Hispanic or Asian, they may be Gay or Straight.  They may be living in poverty or blessed with great wealth. They may be politically conservative or liberal; they may be a member of the law enforcement community or they may be struggling with legal issues.  No matter what their race, culture, or circumstance, they are human, and they are loved, even as we are loved.  Share the Love.

May All People experience a Merry Christmas, a Blessed Holiday, and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.

Post Election Compassion

In counseling we teach that we cannot change others, but we can improve our relations by changing ourselves. This is usually expressed in terms of building healthy boundaries, but I believe we can cultivate compassionate relationships by exercising compassion AND healthy boundaries. 20140704_181100_1

It gets complicated when we want others to be more “like us.” In counseling we call that triangulation – bringing in a third party rather than dealing directly with another person. That creates difficulties when conservative factions triangulate to what they consider “principles” (You should have more principles!) and liberal factions triangulate to what they consider “caring for others”  (You should have more empathy!)

Maybe when we triangulate we are expressing frustration with our own limitations as human beings. “I’m not good enough on my own – you should be good too, then maybe things will get better!” “I’m not helpful enough on my own – you should contribute more, then maybe things will get better!”

As a counselor, my advice to both parties would probably be to work on building and maintaining healthy boundaries. By over-identifying with “principle” a person can feel burdened by the sin of their own inherent humanity – unrighteousness. And by over-identifying with “caring for others”, a person can become burdened by the sin of own inherent humanity – vulnerability and need to care for self.

So the question remains – can we forgive and have compassion for each other? Can we recognize and have compassion for “those who suffer for righteousness sake”, even when they triangulate their frustrations toward others? Can we recognize and have compassion for “those who suffer on behalf of others”, even when they triangulate their frustrations toward others?

This is the root of compassion – appreciating the suffering that the other endures. And it is easy, very easy, to recognize suffering, because for the most part the sources of suffering are projected onto others. In the US, just watch Fox or MSNBC news for a few minutes, and every time someone says “should”, translate the phrase into “I wish I could”.  “Obama should build a wall to protect us” turns into “I wish I could build a wall.”  “Boehner should help undocumented workers” turns into “I wish I could help undocumented workers.”  Every time someone says “should” they express their own suffering, which presents an opportunity to increase compassion.

Of course, compassion and safe boundaries need to go hand in hand. This is part of what is unique about the compassion meditation process described in the book “Christian Tantric Meditation Guide.” In some   compassion meditation protocols questions about abuse are greeted with either silence or “just be more compassionate.” If we are going to practice compassion for our enemies, we need to do so from a safe distance.

What are the benefits of compassion?  When we develop self awareness and compassion – toward ourselves, our loved ones, our enemies, and universally, when someone looks us in the eye and says “you’re not good enough!” which we may interpret in each our own way – instead of being defensive and resentful, from a safe and respectful distance we can smile back and say “I’m human, and that’s OK. Have a blessed day!”