I just accomplished something that I wasn't entirely sure I would accomplish, and that I'm certain it's one of the best things I've ever done in my life! Gosh, that sounds so dramatic, doesn't it?! But that is how I'm feeling right now and to not say it aloud (or write it in a blog!) and share it seems rather selfish.
What I accomplished was a 6-month, 200-hour, certification course in applied positive psychology. Simply put, I gained deeper self-awareness and strengthened my leadership skills through a research-based study of human flourishing and resilience. It is something I wish every person could experience. What made it difficult, and why I did have some doubts as to whether I would complete the course, was the fact that I'm still learning to deal with the day-to-day health issues that Fibromyalgia (and now osteoarthritis) presents. Travel into NYC once a month was much more challenging than I had expected and the intensity of the course content and onsite classes was often exhausting. But in the first few weeks of learning about mindset, and the brain's ability to go from a fixed to growth mindset, I was determined and more confident. The visual tool of a life path that offers a choice of judger path for those with a fixed mindset and learner path for those with a growth mindset was very powerful. It's not rocket science, it's neuroscience!
While I'm continuing to work on my doctorate degree and now have my certification as a positive psychology practitioner, I don't know where I'll be and exactly what I'll be doing a year or two or five from now. But I am hopeful and excited about the future. Yes, even with all the turmoil going on in the wider world. There is much to be grateful for and much work to do. I wish for all of my family and friends a deep sense of hope for the future. How is your mindset these days? Are you on the judger path or the learner path? Can you see the difficulties in your life as opportunities?
I encourage you to examine your emotions and feelings, take the necessary steps to change your mindset, know that you have everything you need to make the changes, be resilient, and enjoy a flourishing life. Whatever your age, your profession and economic status, your health situation, and your past, you can flourish. It's not "new age woo woo" or "just think positive thoughts". I'm talking about science and the amazingly powerful human brain.
P.S. A Flourishing Life is a book series I'm writing and I look forward to sharing it with you soon! Please let me know what you're doing or are planning to do with your one wonderful life.
The brilliant Maya Angelou said:
“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”
I've always liked the idea of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Unfortunately, it seems that sentiment has lately come to mean say whatever you want and let the chips fall where they may! One of my elementary school teachers use to admonish the class by saying "Don't be ugly. There's no ugliness in this classroom." At first I was confused. My parents taught me to be kind, but my nine-year-old brain and brief life experience had difficulty understanding how 'ugly' was about something beyond physical appearance. It didn't take my young classmates and me long to grasp the powerful admonishment our teacher offered. We learned that we were powerful as our words could unleash what is revolting, hideous, reprehensible, offensive, vile, vicious, repugnant, and spiteful. With our adorable beribboned pigtails, freshly washed faces, and exemplary penmanship, we could be ugly.
It's important to say what you mean and not have to backpedal time and time again with "that's not what I really meant". Say what you mean the first time. And, of course, you should mean what you say but that doesn't give you the green light to be a bully. This isn't about being politically correct. This is about being civilized, respectful, compassionate, and reasonable human beings. You can be strong without using words as weapons to harm people. You can articulate your disagreement, dissatisfaction, or even disdain without name-calling. I refuse to believe that in order to build oneself up you must cut others down. When I watch politicians (ok, basically one politician of late) revert to name-calling and ugliness I just want to ask them one question: Do you kiss your grandchildren with that mouth? Indeed, what are our children learning from the ugliness they are witnessing all around them?
I will admit that from time to time I've fallen into the trap of being ugly; cutting people with my words. But I agree with Maya Angelou that words are things, and I don't want that ugly to get into my rugs and into my clothes, and into me. I recognize that I have a choice. We all have a choice when we open our mouths to speak and when we sit at the keyboard to write. Consider your options and choose not to be ugly, no matter how ugly things are around you. There's no room for any more ugliness in this world. We can choose to be civilized, respectful, compassionate, and reasonable human beings. And we can choose to teach our children accordingly just as my beloved teacher did.
Say what you mean and mean what you say but please don't act like a #%*k! Don't act like a jerk - what did you think I meant by #%*k?!
Yes, I am a non-theist. I am a Humanist, and an atheist one at that! But I also consider myself to be a person of faith; deep and abiding faith. I know that may sound funny, like an oxymoron, or even make you roll your eyes, and yet I am what I am - a faithful Humanist. There are plenty of definitions and interpretations of definitions of the word 'faith'. For the purposes of my life, experience, and understanding, faith is a really simple word with a simple but powerful meaning. For me, faith is trust.
The deep and abiding trust that I have, and that guides my daily life, is in the goodness of humanity. It is not in a supernatural power, however that might be known or named. I believe that I am good without a god and I have faith in humanity. This doesn't mean that I think everyone should be like me or that anyone whose faith differs from my own is "wrong". My faith in the goodness of humanity extends far beyond myself and beyond those who look or think exactly like me.
My faith abides even in times of chaos and the troubling darkness that seems to cover the world. Even then, while I don't turn to a supernatural power, I have faith. I trust that the potential for unbound compassion and respect will be realized over and over again. And I remain faithful even when it isn't easy (which can be more often than I'd like to admit). Is my faith tested from time to time? Of course it is. But then I meet someone or see something that reminds me of that potential, and that goodness is possible.
I'm always amazed at how the goodness of humanity shows up as a reminder of my faith when I need it most. When there is sadness, evil, violence, and hopelessness filling the news cycle and pressing down on my heart, I search out the people and the stories of my faith. A picture of a police officer playing with children in an urban neighborhood gives me hope. A video of refugee families being welcomed and cared for by strangers brings me tears of joy. Watching children laugh on the playground while their parents of differing ethnicities engage in dialogue with smiles brings a smile to my own face. Meeting with a couple whose wedding I will officiate in the coming months and feeing their palpable love for one another while hearing about their dreams to open an animal rescue farm inspires me. While there are many hurting people in the world and evil is real, the goodness that humanity possesses and is capable of sharing is bountiful. I have faith in, trust, my own capacity for goodness. It is the goodness of humanity that can create positive change and peace. Indeed, I believe it is the only thing that ever has. This is why I'm a faithful Humanist!
Adapted from a message delivered in Ridgewood NJ in the summer of 2013
I joined the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America a few years ago. Before that, while the debate over gun control was gaining fervor, I had been concerned but just hanging out in the margins of engagement. The debate seemed to shift to front and center for me at the end of 2012, with the killing of 20 young school children in a town where I had lived: Sandy Hook, CT. It was a school my daughter had attended for a short time and a building where I had attended talent shows, led a Girl Scout Brownie troop, and volunteered in classrooms. It was just two months later that an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, was shot dead in Florida, and a year and a half later that the man who shot Martin was acquitted. That July 2013 travesty, was a spark that propelled into the debate many people who had for years been hanging out in the margins. We were now in it together.
It was three years ago that I took to Twitter to promote Moms Demand Action and cry out for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. I spoke about AR15 rifles and that unleashed a level of fear and anger I was not familiar with. A high school classmate (we're talking over 30 years ago!) got friends and family to troll my Facebook page and make pro-gun posts. Another pro-gun classmate claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. Several threatening texts came my way and I quickly blocked the senders. Then another man decided to 'school' me on assault weapons and my silly call for a ban. He tried to persuade me by saying "AR15s are the best selling rifles, come in wide range of calibers,are highly accurate, no recoil, perfect for a lady. My wife has 2." I responded and he didn't like it. He claimed (and flamed), "An AR15 is NOT an assault rifle, it should never have been banned, and if banning it is what you want to do than you are trampling on my 2nd amend. right. I should have known. You are 1 of those idiot liberal communists that is trying to destroy America!". That's where I get my title as an idiot liberal communist.
But this isn't about one verdict, one state, an AR15, or even debating the 'true' meaning and intention behind our constitution's 2nd amendment, and quite frankly it's not about taking away anyone's right to own a gun. At least in part, it's about confessions. I'll start.
I confess to having grown up in a house without guns but with grandparents and aunts & uncles and cousins who had and have guns in their homes. I have family members who hunt and have gun cases in their den and boxes of bullets on the bedroom dresser. I confess that after a terrible car accident at age 19, I was home alone, in a hospital bed and unable to get around without assistance. One afternoon the doorbell rang and within seconds I heard cracking noises as a crowbar was being used to try to pry the door open. I shouted and whoever was trying to break in left. Just a day later, my dear Uncle drove two and a half hours to bring me the cutest little gun I’d ever seen. I was taught how to shoot it and it sat by my bed every day for the following week. I confess that my husband registered as a gun owner in CT years ago when the police strongly suggested that he do so because he was working (and collecting money) in an area where daytime gun crimes were rampant.I confess my truth, my fear and my anger.
I can understand the kinds of fears that might make a person want to own a gun. I also understand that for every time a household gun was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. And I understand that in an average year in the U.S., more than 100,000 people, including 20,000 children or teens, are shot each year in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by the police. More than 31,000 of those shot in a year die, including more than 3000 children and teens. Yes, 8 children and teens, and 72 adults in this country are killed every single day by firearms. We are living with a broken system. When one of my clergy colleagues spoke to her congregation about this subject she said, the moral issue in owning a gun has to do with having deadly force at your disposal. It means that a fight between a person with a gun and one without a gun, is like a showdown between an elephant and an ant. And we have to ask the question, is that moral?".
In trying to make sense about the gun debate it’s important to put aside liberal platitudes and pat answers. It’s important to try and understand what is at the root. The root from which all of the diverse opinions branch forth – the reasonable, the extreme, the ridiculous. I have come to the conclusion that the root is best explained in this bit of poetry from author Ruth J. Gendler, in The Book of Qualities:Fear has a large shadow, but he himself is quite small. He has a vivid imagination. He composes horror music in the middle of the night. His past is a mystery. He warned us not to talk to each other about him, adding that there is nowhere any of us could go where he wouldn't hear us. We were quiet. When we began to talk to each other, he changed. His manners started to seem pompous, and his snarling voice sounded rehearsed.
Two dragons guard Fear's mansion. One is a Chinese ceramic. The other is real. If you make it past the dragons and speak to him close up, it is amazing to see how fragile he is. He will try to tell you stories. Be aware. He is a master of disguises and illusions. Fear almost convinced me that he was a puppet maker and I was a marionette.
Speak out boldly, look him in the eye, startle him. Don’t give up.
The root is fear. One of the reasons the world has become more frightening than ever before for a large number of us is our 24/7 news cycle. Our fears are manipulated by changes in the threat level, advertising, the news, and politicians. Political elections are often a battle between playing on our fears and inspiring us to hope for something better.
Fear of the other; fear written into our laws; fear that fuels racism; fear that fuels hatred that fuels violence. Recognizing the root of the debate and confessing our own relationship with fear is a step in moving forward.
We need to create spaces where we can come to confess and face our fears together. Remember, Fear warned us not to talk to each other about him, adding that there is nowhere any of us could go where he wouldn’t hear us. It’s been said that every human thought, and every human action, is based in either love or fear. There is no other human motivation. As a Humanist, I have faith/trust in the basic goodness of human nature that comes from love. But whenever violence strikes a community, my trust in the goodness of life is shaken and I feel shocked, angry, fearful and vulnerable. I know I'm not alone and I know from my years of professional ministry that we human beings . need help from each other to remember and affirm the trust we do have.
Author Marianne Williamson has asserted that "Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here." Every time I conduct a baby naming or blessing ceremony I am
reminded of the wider community's responsibility to care for all of the children. And that task includes, but goes beyond keeping them safe. Our most important task is to teach them to live. We do this best through our own personal living, through the choices we make as we encounter difficulties. We teach them by the way we speak to one another, and perhaps most importantly, by the way we face our fears.
Let us confess our fears, recognize that the very real risk of living in this world is overwhelming for many people, and let us proclaim together that love is a powerful force. Indeed it is the only force that can help us get past the dragons that guard Fear’s mansion. So speak boldly. Look Fear in the eye. Don’t give up. And remember that you are not alone. There is an idiot liberal Communist journeying beside you!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.