Why we need judgment (on judgment, part 3)

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Let’s return now to the idea of “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1

Most people interpret it to mean, “don’t cast discernment or opinion upon others.” I’m pretty sure that’s not what it means. One has only to read on in the passage a bit to see it’s much more about hypocrisy than it is about casting your thoughtful yes, judgment, on others. If you don’t believe me, Google the passage and read what theologians have to say about it.

Onward…

Here’s the thing: If someone judges you for something, realize first that their judgment likely comes from something deep in their heart. It says more about their values or fears or regrets than it does about you in the moment.

However, by the same token, if you receive judgment as something you do not want to hear, that may say more about you than the person that judged you.

Here’s my personal “for example.” My 12-month visit for my son with the pediatrician was fine. There were no problems, per se. And yet…she asked about his nursing and his sleeping. I was proud to report that I hit the year mark and was still nursing, and that my son sleeps decently well. ***NOTE: I WAS BEGGING FOR A COMPLIMENT.***

“But does he fall asleep on you while nursing?” she asked.

I paused. “Yes, sometimes…” I started sweating.

Then the sound came. “Tsk tsk tsk.”

And my reaction. OMG, did she just ‘tsk, tsk, tsk‘ me? How dare she judge me? (This all in my head of course.) In real life, I sputtered and tried to defend myself and why it worked out okay for us. In fact, most of the time he fell asleep on me, he did sleep well. So why not? “Stick to medicine!” I wanted to shout.

And yet…her reaction – the weighty judgment – stuck with me and unveiled my own insecurity about the matter. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had judged me on a number of items: my son’s diet, how many books I read to him, and how often I left the house. But the weight of those things didn’t stick. Why? Because I felt confident I was doing well in those areas. Not only well – very well. My son has a great, balanced diet with lots of nutritious, wholesome food and almost no added sugar. I read like crazy to him and we go to the libraries all the time. And I leave the house…well, enough. I do my best.

But the nursing to sleep judgment…caused me to reflect. In that reflection, I retitled “judgment” to “constructive criticism.” What if she were right? Should I push my son to take a bit more agency in falling asleep without a crutch? Six months ago, I would have said, “rubbish.” But now he’s a toddler. He’s 25 pounds. He’s got opinions. He can manipulate.

And then I listened to this, par hazard:

According to the podcast, first-wave feminists turned against physicians not because physicians were wrong (in this case about not having adequate safe pain treatment options for childbirth), but because they found the physicians condescending when they inquired about pain management. Ergo, feminists put themselves in harm’s way by introducing twilight sleep to the American public. Physicians ended up being bullied to follow their lead.

I found this fascinating. In this case, the judgment rendered by the experts was correct, and yet the ire their attitudes inspired caused women to go against best advice.

I think we do this to ourselves a lot. We hear that breastfeeding is best and we think of a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t do it. (It is painful, after all, don’t lie to me, consultant!) We hear that kids shouldn’t have screen time and we justify why “just a few videos” are okay.

In effect, I realized that my pediatrician COULD BE, MIGHT BE right about the nursing-to-sleep business. I had to allow for that possibility. The fact that it bothered me so much said more about my insecurity in having no other way to soothe him or get him to sleep. YIKES.

I implemented a new nap and sleep schedule the following week. No more nursing down.

The first few days were HARD. He cried at least 30 minutes to go down for a nap. But then he went down perfectly at night, and I found fortitude to keep going. (I was doing this alone, mind you. Hubs is away.) And the next day it was similar. But after day 3, it was only 5 or 6 minutes. And two weeks later, it’s downright easy. And he is still breastfeeding (after waking now) and my boobs haven’t exploded. My heart is also intact. And he sleeps more. He sleeps better. I’m more able to cope as a single parent.

Shit, the doctor may have been right.

One of the hallmarks of adulthood is being able to hear people’s judgment, their criticism, and reflect on it. Is it valid? Is it necessary? Was it given with good intentions? Is there support for it elsewhere? Do I really need to change?

Because that’s what it comes down to. If you hear a judgment, you immediately internalize it as a need to change something. As a person, that’s unnerving. But I’ve done it before. I’ve become more tactful in my professional life and more controlled in my personal life, as a response to requests (and judgments) from people who knew me well and thought that certain personality traits were getting me stuck. (Or single when I didn’t want to be.)

As a new mom, however, judgment – the idea that you need to change, THAT YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG – is freaking scary. It threatens your every fiber, it kills your self-confidence, it lowers your self-esteem. The ground may even move under your feet. But if you keep your balance, and reflect, you can decide if the judgment carries weight.

But so often in society, we rush to say that people shouldn’t judge. Well good luck finding a world where you can surround yourself with those people! We pin the blame on the judge in the hope of erasing the need for action on our part. It’s easier to blame someone for improper judgment than it is to self-actualize.

At some point I wondered: Do moms (and everyone in general) sometimes choose exactly the wrong option just to spite our judges?

That’s…that’s a problem.

Because we’re bigger than that. We’re better. We can grow. We can realize that judgment by others isn’t wrong, it’s necessary in order for them to keep their values.

Without judgment, we would all be okay with leaving babies in hot cars, or cheering someone’s decision not to vaccinate, or shooting heroin while pregnant. But we’re not all okay with all these things (even if we’re okay with one or two of them). Everyone judges. Judging reinforces social norms, keeps that crazy PTA mom in line from taking over every meeting, and allows us to have a legal system. But judging isn’t just for people with a robe and a bench. Or God. As humans, we judge.

You do, too.

Yes, you. So let’s stop saying that we need to erase judgment. Because even the good book, if you read it carefully, allows for judgment. What’s bad is to judge someone by a rule that you yourself don’t live by. What’s bad is to be a hypocrite. If you drank a glass of wine while pregnant, don’t give another woman the what-for if she indulges. If I tell a mother she needs to breastfeed but don’t do so myself for no particular reason, that’s hypocrisy. As it is, it may be just my advice that she can take or leave.

In effect, judgment is a necessary tool for society. It keeps us functioning as a somewhat cohesive whole. So next time you decry how awfully judgy people can be to mothers, think about the role this plays.

***Remember, too, that in these posts I’m talking about one-on-one judgments, not those that are in mass media or worming their way into policy. Always more to say about that.***

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Twiddling thoughts to get through my day

I could make a three-course meal out of the leftovers in my son’s hair.

If breastmilk is so fantastic for the microbiome of baby, would it help my own microbiome to drink my own breastmilk? (Note: I have actually done this…yet.)

I was bullied a lot as a child, so I planned for how to talk to my son about standing up to people. But his personality seems to be more of the assertive golden boy. Now I’m wondering – OMG – what if he turns out to be the bully?

I have always been cold-blooded. Until I had a child. Now I’m wondering if I entered menopause prematurely or if nursing just burns that many calories. And speaking of nursing, my son is also a furnace. I swear one day I’ll remember to bring an ice pack to keep between him and my belly.

Welcome to the New Me: Motherhood

I don’t want to write about motherhood. It’s almost cliche. But it’s where I am. It’s where I’ve been for the past almost year and a half, while ignoring my keyboard.

I watched my belly swell. My husband watched (often helplessly) as I struggled to contain my emotions. (Watching the baby kick is so cool! Nevermind, it hurts, and I can’t sleep!)

I felt my skin stretch to the point where removing medical adhesive from my belly took the skin off underneath it. (I almost passed out.)

My ankles became cankles and then they stayed that way for days after Baby made his appearance. Three days after I gave birth I stared at myself naked in the mirror and bawled. I felt as though life had handed me a miracle and in return I gave the world my body to throw in the dump.

And the past year…Baby has been my whole life. Moms’ groups, playgroups, poop, worry over the future. I’ve had so much to say but no time to say it.

My focus is permanently switched. I’m embracing motherhood – the myths, the facts, the beauty, the mess. Sorry in advance for another mom blog if you hoped for something different, and you’re welcome if any of it helps keep you sane or makes you laugh.

In Defense of Millennials

I’ve come across a number of posts like the one below, recently. I tell you what, nothing ticks me off like self-righteous nostalgia, taken out on the younger generations. (I love how the post ends with “we don’t like being old in the first place…” which is where the bulk of the anger seems to originate with any generation once they hit a certain age. Aging is a bitch, no doubt about it. It equalizes everyone in that once you get old, it’s rather fashionable to bitch about how young people are the worst.)

So here’s my response:

When you act in accordance with 95% of the population, you are not special. Meaning, when milk came only in glass jars delivered by the farmer who milked the cows himself, you do not get to consider yourself “green” for using glass jars instead of plastic jugs for your weekly milk. That’s what everyone did. That’s how everyone lived. The farming industrial complex hadn’t risen to power yet, and plastics were in their infancy in production lines. You aren’t “green” if you’re living the only way society knew how.

When paper bags were all that was used in grocery stores, it wasn’t “green” to use them. Today, if you consciously ask for paper or bring your own bags to the store to avoid 20 more crappy plastic bags filling your closet or garbage, you are acting thoughtfully and consciously. You can claim “green” status. The younger generation has founded entire grocery stores on the concept of zero packaging, where customers take full responsibility for bringing their own containers – and pay for the privilege. The majority of their shoppers are young people, not the older generation who loves to laud their own “green” virtues while spitting on the idea that they should have to continue to live as they used to.

Yet despite all the ways those over 65 now seem to know how to be “green”, many don’t live by them. How many Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers still use glass milk jars, or reuse plastic bottles, or turn their shower off while they shampoo their hair, or avoid using dryers for laundry, or avoid disposable diapers?

Most grandparents I’ve met love the hell out of throwing shit away instead of putting a dirty diaper in the wash. Most people over 65 that I know have more crap in their homes, including kitchen appliances, plastic decorations, multiple fake Christmas trees, and just plain shit than younger generations who are consciously trying to stay “lean” in an era where you are expected to Walmart the heck out of every corner of your home.

So the “green” people are those who live consciously, regardless of their generation. I actually agree with the grocery store clerk. Earlier generations didn’t think about being “green” or living eco-consciously. They just did what they did because that’s how people made do when industrial junk was not as readily available as it is today. But as soon as that industrial junk became available, most of those who like to wax poetic about “the good old days” (when rivers could be set on fire due to the chemicals dumped in them from industrial waste, or when fish kills due to effluence were as common as hushpuppies) happily joined the ranks of the industrial complex and surrounded themselves in stuff they didn’t need.

Millennials, on the other hand, have to think. They have to think hard about how to use less stuff, how to make do with less when every message in society tells you you’ll die without the latest gadget. They have to choose glass or reusable containers to take to lunch, and plan to be different than their peers. They have to eschew the notion of convenience in favor of a higher purpose. They have to work to reverse the tide set by the very generation that so often likes to bash them for their incompetence. (The same older generation that now happily lives off the fat of their lack of eco-friendliness.)

Green millennials often avoid television and cable altogether, seamlessly integrating their entertainment and work onto small devices which are more and more energy-efficient. Green millennials opt to purchase hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles and support the use of alternative energy sources, even if it may cost them extra and people around them drive Denalis. Who’s “green” in that scenario?

Sure, there are plenty of young people who don’t think twice about their impact on their environment. I’d say they are the children of those in older generations who also didn’t think twice and the grandchildren of those Baby Boomers who own more gadgets and whatzits than I can imagine. But blaming millennials for an inherited situation seems like whipping a dog for never being potty-trained. Getting pissy at them when they try to express their thoughts around the “green” movement doesn’t seem encouraging either.

People who feel that young generations might need some perspective should add a thoughtful comment or two after listening to the young person. For example, the offended woman could have said, “You’re right, I used to use paper bags every day as a child. Could I use paper today and I’ll bring my linen bags next time? Better yet, maybe you could offer paper bags to all customers first as they are more biodegradable.” Turn offense into a teaching moment of how the girl can help. Teach her about history without the snark.

Because honestly, the girl had a point. Perhaps it was not made elegantly, but it was a valid point. So don’t take it out on millennials for how the world is today. They hear every day what terrible kids they are, how lazy they are, how ungrateful, how blah blah blah. Well, if they are that way, blame their parents, not them. Blame the practices that have allowed industrialism to overtake everyday life unchecked.

Before accusing young people of being rude, remember that a blameless person in an older generation should bring her own bags to the grocery store. Better yet, support the local farmer’s market.

Grammar Pet Peeves: Defending Words from User-Abusers

Someone recently posted on her blog (and I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name) that while she believed in teaching grammar in school, she didn’t take kindly to grammarphiles getting worked up over specific pet peeves in daily life. I’m paraphrasing, of course.

I could not disagree more. I proudly wear my badge of grammar corrector and purist, even when I’m the one caught in a mistake (which is not uncommon – I’m often the perpetrator of horrific grammar mistakes held up as pet peeves by others, and I simply haven’t learned to incorporate them into my standards, yet). I believe in using a language to it’s fullest extent, complete with rules and standards, especially for writers.

Because who is supposed to know and uphold the rules, if not us? How can we purposefully break them if we don’t acknowledge their importance?

Ergo, I thought I’d share my biggest pet peeves here and ask others for theirs. Surely I can’t be the only one, and surely there must be a society that cares about people like us – the Illuminati for Linguistic Perfection, if you will – who correct and mould the grammar of those around us, even if that means they shun us in return (my husband still gives me the cold shoulder when I stop him mid-sentence, but his participles have improved). You can tell I don’t believe in holding my true self back 😉

So here you go. My biggest pet peeves, in no particular order:

  1. The loss of adverbs. This one goads my spleen painfully, even though I’m not sure where my spleen is or what it would feel like to have it goaded. Nevertheless, my insides feel a constant open wound that aches for days after the offense. A few years ago, a radio commercial announced that [whatever the problem] was “major annoying.” I went so far as to try and find out who produced the commercial. I felt a letter that encompassed the suggestions of “majorly annoying” or “it was a major annoyance” would have served the producers well so as to not alienate potential customers like me. It was some kind of communications product. I don’t remember what it was, but I didn’t buy it, for sure. Similarly, when I taught Spanish in a high school, the principal of the school claimed she had started out in education by teaching English. She then went on in the meeting to discuss how we had some security issues around the building with doors propped open, etc. She told the staff, “Folks, we take that stuff serious.” After almost choking on my own spittle, I never took her seriously again.
  2. Misuse of past participles. “I could have went”, “We might have saw”, “I have drank”, and “I would have ran” are some of the most common blunders I hear, and they’re like the a tuning fork gone bad to my ears. Do people really not feel it necessary to learn past participles and their function? In Romance languages, verb conjugation is taught ad nauseum. Heck, I’m quite sure I’m better at conjugating verbs in Spanish than in English, simply because I’ve been made to do it so much. But apparently in English, we consider verb conjugation “pesky” and don’t have time to bother with even the basics. I do see these mistakes in blogs and it really bothers me. Do I write a note? Unsubscribe? Pretend I didn’t read the offending passage? Again, I can’t take a writer seriously if I can’t trust language to him or her.
  3. Incorrect subject pronouns. If I hear one more, “Her and me went to the beach” or “Me and so-and-so did such-and-such”, my brain will probably implode.
  4. Giving a singular subject a plural possessive. “Everyone has their opinion.” Argh. That doesn’t make it right. I fully understand the argument that English is a masculine language and therefore biased, so instead of using “Everyone has his or her opinion” all the time, the plural “their” is used as a replacement. That could be a fine argument except that 1) I’m sure we could come up with something better – akin to German’s “neuter” gender for this problem and 2) most people that make the mistake are completely unaware of the gender argument for its use, or heck, that it’s even a mistake. They bother me the most. I can forgive people trying to be equal if I believe that’s the case.

Here is another list of grammar points that I have yet to master but am aware of before I hit “print”, “send”, or “query”:

  1. Correct use of the subjunctive, a la, “If I were you” or “If I were in your shoes” vs. “If I was you” (which I’m clearly not) or “If I was in your shoes” (which I may or may not have been).
  2. Lay vs. lie. I still use a chart, but I believe in getting it right.
  3. Dangling modifiers. My first drafts are chock full of them. An editor kindly pointed out how often I used them. Since then, I pay attention. And she was right – not using them does add clarity to sentences. Now, my first drafts are still full of them. My second drafts are better. Darn them all, but I’m determined to keep them from slipping through.
  4. Who vs. whom. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out a subject from an object, but for some reason, we English speakers have a devil of a time with it.

So while this post is a bit off-track from my normal rants, those who know me will still call it representative of me as an individual. You’re forewarned. Now, if you like, add your pet peeves in the comments so we can grumble together.

 

Anatomy of a Brain, Reborn

Re-posting from December 2015, because it just keeps coming up….also, consider this a book review – one of the few books I got excited enough about to share.

I have a new obsession.  Thank you, Robert Whitaker, for making me paranoid and sending me back into a new depressive cycle.  Just kidding.  I thank you, for being confident and brave enough to go against an accepted society standard (notice I didn’t say “go against science”) and encourage people to reconsider our societal paradigm of mental health treatment.

For those who don’t know your book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, it chronicles the history of mental health treatment and outcomes in the United States for over 60 years.  The evidence presented demonstrates that the pharmaceutical revolution used for psychiatry since the 1950s has consistently contributed to poor outcomes, or, in extreme cases, complete disability for those suffering from bouts of mental disorders.

The research presented showcases more traditional treatments including group therapy and therapeutic homes that demonstrate that even those with serious mental breakdowns or schizophrenic episodes have recovered throughout history. The most damning link (and most reminiscent of Freakanomics) chronicles the re-birth of psychiatry using the medical model in the 1980s.  This period is highlighted by and permeated with the funding and partnership with pharmaceutical companies who seek to exploit consumerism in the treatment of mental health.

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that capitalism and continuous growth are not healthy bedfellows for the human body or mind. Thank you for reminding me that someone else’s corruption should not end with my addiction and downward spiral.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but throughout the weeks I’ve read your book, I now wonder if the psychiatry profession and pharmaceutical companies aren’t in love with mass murder in this country.  In case you haven’t noticed, effects of these shootings include 1) criticizing the gun lobby like its the only agent with a stake in the game (although it certainly deserves it’s share of criticism) 2) hearing many well-intentioned people, including AP columnists, talk about the need to get people with mental health disorders “on medications.”  Somewhere in the mid-west, a chic hotel is booked full of pharma lobbyists drunkenly cackling with their sweet success.

Hell, even Paul Ryan, in response to the mass shootings in San Bernadino, has proposed legislation that would force compliance with medications and other physician-prescribed treatments.  Is he in bed with big pharma or just brainwashed like the rest of us?  The only thing that possibly terrifies me more than Drumpf handing out identification cards to Muslims is the thought that someone like – well, me – could be forced to comply with a regimen that has proven harmful to generations of people.

I’ve wondered plenty of times if I’m crazy, and have sought treatment in the past, but now I’m scared to do so again, for fear that I wouldn’t have any choice or right of refusal.  I’ve been prescribed drugs before for anxiety, but now that I’m starting to question this, I’m finding that I’m a bit of a maverick.  What might start as a desire to quell anxiety and self-actualize could end up with me drugged and a shrunken hollow shell of myself.  (Don’t blame me for the melodrama, it’s a sign – or is it a symptom? – of high anxiety.  And by the way, my questioning of my own use of pharmaceuticals should not be interpreted to mean that I judge anyone else for his or her decision with regard to the same.  But seriously, read the book first.)

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that I have a choice.

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for putting me and my most precious relationship back into the realm of “normal” and reminding me that I am / we are more than whatever DSM category the psychiatrists are inventing these days.

Since reading Anatomy of an Epidemic, my mantra has become, “Anxiety and depression are normal in human populations. I’ll exercise and eat right, and also place blame on the huge stressors in my life (spouse’s deployment). I will not beat myself up for feeling down.”  I put these phrases on repeat as I walk through my neighborhood.  I don’t dare tell anyone what I’m thinking. I’ve already heard three other ladies this week tell me they “take a little something” to help them, which is their prerogative, but doesn’t make me feel any better about my newfound decision to go against the grain.  As any personal with sad or anxious thoughts can tell you that it only makes matters worse to receive the paternalistic reaction that maybe you only think the way you do since your brain is a little off.

Thank you, Robert, for listening to me.  For believing me.

It’s About Time…

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a staunch advocate of reproductive rights. Yup, the kind that favor women’s choices, open access to such choices, and private conversations with medical professionals. I know that sometimes qualifies me as a revolutionary, but it makes great sense considering 1) I’m a woman and 2) I don’t like people telling me what to do (with my body, specifically, but in general is also true).

However, I’m quite used to a society that places women’s health, choices, and bodies at the bottom of the ladder. So it came as no surprise to see that Ohio just passed a “heartbeat bill”, which would make it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Mind you, at six weeks of pregnancy, a women has actually only been pregnant about four weeks, since you count the first two weeks after her last period and before she ovulates and can conceive. That means a woman might only have a clue she’s been pregnant since week four (and that’s if the woman’s menstrual cycle is regular and predictable), leaving her all of two weeks to decide what her future life should look like.

I’ve heard all the arguments: women should abstain from sex. Women should use proper contraception. Women shouldn’t sleep around. Blah, blah, blah. And you know what my response is? So should men, but you don’t hear anyone telling them to get their sexual shit together. When it comes to sex, men, it seems, don’t factor into the baby-making equation at the political level. Riddle me that. Why don’t we require men who make babies to undergo a father readiness test? Or perhaps prove that he’s got dough before getting it on? In a “fair” world, all sorts of male reproductive possibilities would be scrutinized and judged.

Most women, including lots of married women, get pregnant unintentionally, and most go on to have the baby.

However, abortion isn’t about women who are awful people deciding to commit murder. It’s about choice. A woman’s choice must come before an embryo’s rights. I believe this for multiple reasons, not the least of which include that whenever political groups try to restrict this critical choice, women die. It’s happening now in Texas, where the closure of several abortion centers has led to a maternal mortality rate of 33/100,000 women – up from 18/100,000 just a few years ago and on par with several countries we like to think we don’t compare to, like Oman or Latvia (what?!). Our national average of 21 maternal deaths /100,000 women is on par with – wait for it – Iran! Yaya!!

And I’m really tired of the argument that abortion is about eugenics. I’m aware that its advocates had a messy start in this country, with history mired in the eugenics movement. But today, in real time, women of color are the ones disproportionately affected by maternal mortality and lack of access to reproductive services. This means that women of color die from lack of options – killing not just them but their future children, too. So don’t tell me that the pro-life movement is trying to protect women of color.

Don’t get me wrong – I love babies. I love to see healthy babies who are wanted, loved, and cared for. Babies are wonderful possibilities and once born, their right to life is important and valid. However, while part of the mother, the mother’s rights must supersede those of her embryo or fetus. If we don’t put her first, we put both mother and baby last – we put them last in line for health services, last in line for assistance, last in line for support. In fact, the only place a pregnant woman who seeks to terminate her pregnancy currently comes first is castigation.

Women must come first because precisely because they carry future generations. If women are not economically stable, healthy, supported, and in a good place to be mothers, how do we suppose their offspring will be? Pardon me if I believe that the miracle comes not from expecting women to magically raise perfect children, but rather in creating a society that allows women to live up to their potential.

So shame on you, Ohio. But other lawmakers are getting it right. Case in point, Mia McLeod of South Carolina has just introduced a bill which would require men who seek treatment for erectile dysfunction to wait 24 hours to fill the prescription, have a sworn statement from their partners of the problem, and undergo a psychological assessment.

Make no mistake, these bills don’t care about whether or not men use Viagra. What they absolutely aim to do is highlight the injustices aimed at women who seek abortions. It’s about time someone cared about women. It’s about damn time.

See story:

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/want-viagra-s-c-bill-would-make-men-go-through-n480741

Maternal mortality numbers from the 2014 CIA factbook:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html

 

Critical thought down the rabbit hole: A need for intellectual faith

One thing that tests my faith more than anything else is when a sermon or argument feels like it has an intellectual hole. The other part that deters me is when faith pretends to be above politics, or divorced from it, when in practicality, the two have been dancing closely for millennia.

Today I listened to (mostly strong) sermon about how to keep money as a tool and not let it become your master. The pastor told the parable of Jesus and his disciples feeding 5,000 followers with only five loaves of bread and two fish. He tied this in with instruction to give our money first, before we save or spend it, because in doing so we will have enough to help others and ourselves.

He followed his sermon with a call to donate ten dollars on a particular day so that the church could take the money and give it all away to missions or organizations serving the community.

I really enjoyed the message that we should all grow rich from generosity first; through faith, we learn that we always have more than we think. We have plenty to give and we come back richly blessed. Money should not dictate how we live, but it should always be a tool for us to serve others.

So what then, tested my faith?

Devil’s in the details. First, this particular church prides itself on “not being into politics.” (I don’t feel like Jesus ever had such a luxury. Heck, the Jewish people were expecting a king who would be the next political savior and securer of their earthly territory and rights.) So I found it odd that the pastor asked the congregation, “Why is it so hard to give everything I have over to God?” He followed this by saying that he felt comfortable with his money in the hands of a tax advisor or his retirement planner. He even gave everything (information-wise) over to the government! When the IRS came calling, he dutifully delivered his tax paperwork to show them everything he had. Surely, he said, if he could trust the government with his money, he could trust God to do well with it all! He made a few more quick cracks about the government’s use of money before moving on.

I could make the argument that my pastor just really knows his audience. Most people in rural Georgia are not fans of big government, for whatever reason, although much of it stems from the idea that the government will never do as good a job with your money as you do. (Oh, and they’re corrupt hooligans, too.)

Never mind that 80% of the country is in debt and one-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement (apart from Social Security). All I’m saying is, if the government sucks so hard at handling people’s money, the average citizen hasn’t proven to me that he or she could do any better. Most Americans aren’t in a position to turn down the Social Security program or Medicare or another large benefits program.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just say the pastor really dislikes paying taxes, reason be darned. By making such a statement in a sermon, the sermon has just gone political. He just told your congregation that the U.S. government won’t do as good a job with your money as God will. That is probably true. What irks me about this, though, is that churches, by law in the USA, are tax-exempt organizations.

To me, this is really a case of biting the hand that feeds you. The government doesn’t have the right, nor should it, to tell you not to criticize it. While I support this freedom, I often wonder how many comments are made with lack of acknowledgement or gratitude – not only do we believe in religious liberty in this country, but we support it to such an extent that we give faith organizations special financial status.

From an intellectual argument, one could say that donations to the church are multiplied because of their tax-exempt status, which should encourage even more giving. God could be seen as using the U.S. government to do his work. Rarely does one hear this argument in church. But, if you’re not a political church, then leave the politics out of the sermon.

Better yet, acknowledge that politics and religion are closer than kissing cousins.

Churches argue for all kinds of things in the politics of our society. The most recent and divisive examples being gay marriage (usually against, but some progressive churches came out in favor) and abortion (usually against). Some people argue that churches should provide for the poor in society, which use to be the case before some of our national welfare programs came about.

I can live with knowing that churches have certain views, as long as they are transparent about them, but to say that a church is “not into politics” seems disingenuous, at best.

If a church really wanted to capture my attention intellectually, it would host political forums to have debates on specific issues from a Biblical perspective. Ideally, these discussions would respect differing viewpoints as a ground rule. But to take it a step further, I would hope they be moderated by theologians who have differing opinions. This could really encourage parishioners to think critically and for themselves on each issue, rather than saying, “I believe in God and family values,” when exiting the polling booth.

The other place the sermon let me down was encouraging the congregation to come together for a day-long fundraiser that would result in the church redistributing the funds to worthy organizations (rather than putting it toward its own operating costs). If the church wants donations to redistribute, it seems contradictory to complain about government operating from the same principle.

As a corollary question for analysis, if the church just a middle man, do people assume that the church is going to give to causes they agree with and support? If people think they can do more good with their money as individuals than by giving to the government collective, why would the same argument not hold true for giving to a church? To be sure, I’ve found just as much variability in ideas and values within churches that gives no guarantee of how funds would be used.

Worse, since the parable of loaves and fish saw Jesus asking the disciples to give the bread themselves, this can be seen as Jesus telling them they must have faith in him, but do the legwork of helping others themselves. It seems incorrect, then, to encourage your parishioners to give through the church as a lazy conduit rather than self-select their own organizations to support. Maybe the church is happy with lazy parishioners, especially if they have an agenda to push.

I crave discussions with people of faith who analyze and critique the messages they are given. When I find a church that doesn’t back away from intellectual, analytical arguments, especially as they dance with politics, my comfort with “just have faith” may stand a chance.

 

 

 

 

This Veteran’s Day, back up your words of thanks

This Veteran’s Day is the first since I met my husband that we will be together since we met. For this, I am infinitely grateful. He is a brave and selfless person, and I’m proud to be his wife and share my life with him.

Last year, I spent the day alone while he was overseas. The year before we still lived in separate cities. The year before that, he was locked away in training for his deployment. The year before that, we had just met and were dating long distance. It’s a hard day to spend apart, and in 2013, I made the mistake of going to work and acting like it was no big deal.

I ended up in tears before 9:30 am.

Despite being surrounded by coworkers, no one saw the stress that dating someone in the military put on me. He was prepping for Afghanistan, and I was freaked out that 1)something would happen to him and 2)if something happened, I would have no legal right to know. I didn’t want thanks (thanks for what – for not throwing a fit that the government sent him away?), but I did want someone to take me out for chamomile tea. I didn’t know how to ask for that.

Now, three years later, I have endured thanks upon thanks. “Endured” may sound off, but it makes more sense when people often trail off when they say, “Do thank your husband for his service, and of course, um, thanks to you for…your…*mumble mumble*…”

I usually say, “thank you for your support” now before the poor sap gets to the end. I alleviate them of the awkwardness of not knowing what to do or say. And I think people don’t know what to do or say because they honestly have no idea what life is like for me. So let me help you out. Please don’t thank me for my service or sacrifice. Thank my husband if you’d like, but realize he’s not particularly comfortable with public recognition or praise.

Perhaps people think we don’t get thanked very often. Trust me, we hear it a lot. I often wonder what motivates the thanks. From those who lived through Vietnam, I wonder if they’re trying to make up for the treatment of veterans in that era, and I understand the mental urge to distinguish one’s words from the attacks and spit of the 1970s. (From my perspective, the scales are more than tipped, but I’m also one who doesn’t believe that joining the military automatically makes one a hero.)

I’m sure others feel truly patriotic and grateful for our freedoms. That’s a comforting thought, but I believe that citizens fight for our freedoms just as much as our military, just in very different ways. Some of them literally put themselves in the line of fire. It’s not the organization that makes the hero, either.

Sometimes, on my skeptical days, I feel that words of thanks are simply a soundbite which absolves a person’s conscience of the responsibility of stepping up to help in any meaningful way.

It’s not that I think thanks are bad. But, just like dating, it’s not what someone says, it’s what they do. 

Allow me to illustrate how the last example goes down for me. On a recent trip to Kroger during the six-month period my husband was away this year, I ran into a woman I knew casually through church. Literally, our carts nearly collided around the pasta sauce and we found ourselves awkwardly apologizing to each other, slowly moving to recognition.

“I heard,” she said, “That your husband is away.”

“You heard correctly,” I said, smiling through somewhat gritted teeth.

“Well that must be so difficult, I just can’t imagine.”

To be fair, this exchange started off better than most. I almost mistook it for empathy at first, and relaxed.

“Please thank him for his service, and of course, you too, for your…sacrifice.”

The hairs on my neck stood on end immediately. I could feel my throat constrict. I wanted to scream, but settled for calling out her authenticity.

“Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” she said, starting to reengage her cart in an effort to move past me. The words cut deeply, because in the era of social media, not only did I not know the woman’s last name, number, Facebook account, Twitter handle, or schedule, I didn’t even know where she lived to accost her properly at her door for my future needs.

“As a matter of fact,” I chimed in, stepping to the side of my cart to block her cart from moving forward, “I’m so glad you offered – I really hate to cook and I haven’t been eating well. I’m buying these groceries, but could really use company to have a proper meal.”

This is true. My husband is the cook of our household and I don’t eat well when he’s gone. But to prove my point, her immediate reaction was disbelief, moving into a stammered balk.

“Oh – oh sure, I’d, um, be glad too.” She didn’t take her cell phone out of her purse, the sure sign that someone considers you calendar or contact-worthy. “This week is so crammed, with the kids’ Little League practices and PTA meeting. I also need to bake three dozen cupcakes for the Sunday School fundraiser.”

I pushed on, not because I enjoy being a jerk, but because I really am interested in understanding the weight of offers emanating from the verbal fetish of thanks for military service. Hell, even my pastor asked our congregation to remember military wives. He even said he would like to invite me to his house for dinner once, but promptly forget to schedule anything to back it up.

“Well, he is gone for four more months,” I said. “Would next week work for you?” I always like to give options to test commitment. She did not take out her cell phone.

“Oh, that could work,” she replied. “But my husband might be out of town for a few days.”

That stung. As if I, the woman to whom you just bestowed your false feelings of empathy and warmth for her sacrifice at having a spouse out of town for half the year should suddenly feel sorry for someone who can’t offer company because she’ll (probably falsely) *sigh, gasp, sigh* be left alone for three days. Shit, don’t let me cramp your style.

I let her off the hook. I had made my point. When I don’t spend time with people, it’s because I don’t want to. But I certainly haven’t offered to to help them in any way possible before deciding not to hang out. I don’t have a problem with people not preferring my company as a human. What I dislike is the hypocrisy of appearing concerned about my military situation without bothering to learn anything about it and secretly giving less than two hoots about the loneliness of my days. Apparently some people are too busy to stuff in an hour or two of empathy. It’s annoying, relieving others of the burden of their words which bit off more than they meant to chew.

“Oh, of course, I totally understand, life can be so busy,” I said.

Of course, I didn’t understand. I know that life can be busy, but I also know how hours can stretch into endless days and sleepless nights and countless moments of wondering when the cosmos will resume its normal pace. At that time, life did not feel so busy. Despite the activities that made it necessary to get out of bed and go through the day, life was not so busy. Life was painfully slow.

So what should she have said? My ideal interaction might look like this:

“Oh hello, how are you?”

“I’m doing okay, thank you.”

“Have a nice day!”

Say this if what you mean is that you don’t care any more than that. Otherwise, the fact that my husband is away is just gossip. Mention of his service is brought on by societal peer pressure. What else can you say if you do truly care?

“Hi. I heard your husband is away. How are you holding up?”

*Only say this if your heart is truly invested in listening or following up in some way.* This allows me to reveal what I will about my situation. At that point, if you care to get more involved, you can, and you’ll have a starting point to know what I’m struggling with.  Because by the time you say,

“What can I do?”

I’ll expect you to do it, just like any person would no matter what his or her situation. My military status shouldn’t change the size of your heart or generosity. My loneliness as a person dumped in a new town with few contacts could.

After several rounds of this with slightly different circumstances, it seems that many who thank me for my sacrifice are content for me to carry that burden. After all, why would they thank me if they didn’t want me to sacrifice my hours of happiness? If they wanted to step in and provide relief, they wouldn’t be thanking me for any sacrifice, they would be there. They would show up unannounced or ask me for my number to text me with a plan to have dinner, or see a movie, or attend an event that I just can’t drag myself to do alone. They wouldn’t expect me to organize my own social events, because even at my best times, that’s never been my strength. I know how to be alone and it seems that in being good at it, the thanks I receive for it has backed me into a hole.

While he was gone, I took time to travel various place to see my girlfriends or my family. This, without a doubt, was the best thing a military wife could do. It was the best way to forget myself and the tick tick tick of seconds. We went to Barre3 or to music events. They offered me wine and long talks on the porch to ponder the state of the universe. They allowed me to cry and vent that I have spent half of my marriage as a single woman, but we spent equal time covering their struggles and hopes as my heartache. That is as it should be. It is friendship and love, it is thanks and gratefulness for my company, defined. And that, more than anything, is what I need when my husband leaves. To know that I am not defined by him and his absence, but by my brain and capability for contributing to moments of joy on my own.

Months later, the woman from Kroger hasn’t reached out to me. I wonder if flippant words of thanks will ever be enough and I doubt it. I’ve never been good with sound bites or lack of action.

What’s the best way to thank my husband? You’d have to ask him, but I’m guessing he would appreciate people asking about the specifics of his deployment and listening to the true challenges of our national defense issues. He supports Wounded Warrior, Fisher House, and other programs to help veterans. Celebrate the spirit of hopefulness for future peace of Armistice Day, the original Veteran’s Day.

As for me, don’t thank me. Just get to know me as more than the military cover. I have dreams and hopes that you’ll be more than just words.

Why we should care about Merrick Garland

Don’t let the Supreme Court fall without a fight.

It is hard for me to put words to feelings in a haze of sleep deprivation today. Last night’s election taught me the power of “it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” My guard is up, searching for clues about how strangers may treat women, people of color, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. I no longer trust my religious advisors or those who share communion with me. I am worried that the quiet – those who took to the ballot with views far different than what was alluded to in polls – will now become much louder and my voice will be silenced.

While some people would like to “just see everyone get along,” I’m not prepared to be so accommodating. To be sure, I am committed to not attacking others for their beliefs – that is a right we should all enjoy. But to settle in and watch how things go down as if I were enjoying a four-year Hollywood flick is also not an option.

Our big fight remaining – and it is a huge fight, but an important one to fight – is on the Supreme Court. To have a united White House and Congress is one thing, but a check can still exist in the system. We need to be as outraged about Mitch McConnell’s declaration to not act on any Obama nominee (a travesty the media and citizens let slip right on by) as those on the right were about feeling left out of the new economy (which isn’t bad, by the way, and I’ll go on record saying that a “shake up” will be more likely to devastate the very base that clamored for it, as well as, well, pretty much everyone else). We need to demand that the Senate do its job. When it doesn’t, we need to protest unreasonable nominees with the same vigor we give to the Superbowl or Brangelina’s Breakup, or any other number of superfluous deities that capture our attention.

What’s at stake? The right to have health coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, reproductive rights for women, gay rights, and so much more. Please read the article I pasted here, please care, and please, let this government know that while we are civil, we are not silent.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/trumps-victory-has-enormous-consequences-for-the-supreme-court/2016/11/09/1ea52b3e-a671-11e6-ba59-a7d93165c6d4_story.html