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Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

In many Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships, we share Joys and Concerns (sometimes called Joys and Sorrows) each Sunday morning. The usual caveat is to not bring our political concerns and activities into that time, which I usually agree with because of the possibility of disagreement and destruction of a worshipful time. But, sometimes, as now, there are situations that threaten to affect everyone. Those situations and threats make it too difficult to keep silent.

As UUs, we are sometimes criticized for being too individualistic. One of our treasured UUA principles is “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”  Yet, according to Michael Durall in The Almost Church Revitalized, [that principle] “is of questionable value, and may be detrimental to future growth. This is because the search for truth is the quintessential private spirituality.”

Our own private spirituality is very important and necessary. However, I feel there are times when a strong  public witness in a church service is needed. I am in no way belittling the sharing of individual concerns and joys, our hopes and fears for ourselves and our friends and families, our deaths, our hospitalizations, our birthdays, our graduations, and all of the other private  feelings and concerns about our daily lives. That is so important. If done in a spirit of respect and reverence, that time can be thoughtful and important.

But, most of us have strong beliefs and feelings when things are just plain wrong and dangerous, and we work to make a difference in peoples’  lives, both individually and in groups. I am extremely concerned and very frightened about the current Republican attacks on women’s freedoms. Many of us worked so hard in the 1960s and 1970s to help guarantee the right of contraception, the right of abortion, the right to have control over our own bodies. I see the future of those rights being eroded daily and cannot be silent.

Perhaps those concerns do not belong in sharing personal Joys and Concerns. But to me, a situation that threatens to affect the lives of everyone, both women and men, so negatively by taking away the rights of women over their own bodies has to be shared openly so that we can make a concerted effort to collectively do what is necessary to preserve and enhance those rights.

How can we share that in a reverent fashion?

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“You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!”

Yashar Ali is a Los Angeles-based columnist, commentator, and political veteran whose writing is showcased on The Current Conscience. On Sept. 12, 2011, he wrote about gaslighting,  a term “to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.” That blog, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy”  helped me think about the number of times I’ve experienced comments like those above and seen other women try to deal with them, knowing those comments were a form of emotional manipulation yet still unsure if they were valid or not. I’d never heard the term “gaslighting” before, but think it’s a helpful one.

Please read the blog and, if you’d like, let me know what you think.

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Just when I started questioning myself, wondering if my need to help change the world in a compassionate way was somehow wrong, not normal, misguided, whatever words people have used, someone I care about very much let me know my craziness has helped her and her husband communicate better. “Although I don’t always agree with what you say, I’ve found that instead of just watching TV, we are now able to talk about what we’ve seen.”  She added that they now even allow themselves to question some of their long-held ideas and beliefs and be a little more open about disagreements.

To me, that was worth all the self-questioning in the world.

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I’m a little down right now and can’t seem to spring out of it. Friday night a friend and I had a misunderstanding caused by the way we wrote some email. We seem to have made it worse by both trying to prove how right we each were. And now we’ve been trying to not think about it by staying busy with work, perhaps too busy. I know I hurt him and he hurt me as well. Sometimes it might be nice to just be able to jump in some kind of time machine and return to an earlier time. It’s possible to use Restore to take a computer back to a better time. Why not people?

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 I had an interesting experience this morning while shopping at Sprouts, our local produce and healthy-food store. The checker, a young man, greeted me and asked, “How are you today?” I told him I was fine and then asked how he was doing. He stopped what he was doing for just a few quick seconds, smiled broadly, and replied that he was doing great. He thanked me for asking and said that he’d gotten so used to people not saying anything that my question was a welcome surprise. We talked a little more while he rang up my few purchases, and he thanked me for our conversation.
I thought about my own son who worked as a grocery-cart pusher, a checker, and a produce clerk for quite a few years, and wondered how many people are actually aware of how hard supermarket employees work. I wondered how many people realize how difficult it can be to stand in one spot for an entire shift and handle all kinds of food and other supplies and be pleasant all the time. I wondered how many people think to return the polite questions with real care and concern for the checkers at those grocery check stands. 

I wonder. Do you?

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A wonderful August 2nd to all of you as well as lots of ice and freezing temperatures to those of you in the scorching parts of the country. I wish I could ship tons of the stuff to you. It’s been hot and muggy here in San Diego but nothing like Oklahoma or New York. Please try to stay cool. It’s got to end sometime.

Today I got a kind of wake-up call about how high medical costs have risen lately. I haven’t had any kind of medical insurance since getting divorced in 2006 and am anxiously looking forward to Medicare (ala Secure Horizons) in December. I’ve been very healthy, only going to clinic doctors as needed and buying meds in Mexico. So, I just hadn’t noticed the costs, other than the out-of-reach cost of medical insurance. However, my left eye has been bothering me a lot for a week so I finally made an appointment this afternoon. Turns out I have a virus in my eye (had never heard of that) caused by the same virus that makes cold sores. The treatment is one drop of stuff nine times a day for a week and an ointment to make it feel better. All well and good—until the bill.

The doctor visit was $160, and my debit card groaned but spit it out into the machine. However, the tiny bottle of drops (generic) was $143! Ouch!!! That had to go on a credit card since I haven’t even paid this month’s bills yet. I sure do hope those drops do the trick. I was kind of expecting to pay $4 or so at Wal-Mart, too. And what world am I living in, I wonder?

I’m knocking on all the wood I can find right now, hoping that nothing else will happen until I can rely on the government a little in December. This experience gave me a down-to-earth idea of why so many people are struggling with healthcare issues and why I’m so adamant that the U.S. is so far behind other countries in assisting their people. It isn’t funny.

 

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 Since pretty much giving up the nomadic RV life several months ago and returning to San Diego to live, I’ve become more and more involved in homeless advocacy and assistance projects. At a training meeting with other volunteers for the Point-In-Time Count nationwide count of the homeless this week, I began wondering why I’m so passionate about these activities and decided to try to find a beginning point, something that got me started. However, my memory is a little fuzzy about many years ago, most likely when Reagan was president, so I won’t use that as a starting point. But, that time is indeed a beginning.

While going to seminary in Seattle from 1999 to 2003, I began noticing more and more people on street corners and freeway on and off ramps, holding signs offering to work for food or requesting money. In a field work class, one of my classmates, a rather quiet, unassuming young man, spent much time walking around downtown Seattle, stopping to talk with homeless individuals. I was impressed that he could do that. It tugged at me in ways almost nothing else had for a long time. However, at the time I was not prepared to do it myself.

After graduation, I returned to San Diego to do a year-long CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency with the Center for Urban Ministry, hoping to be assigned an internship with one of the homeless shelters downtown. At that time, San Diego County had just experienced several of the worst wildfires in history. Seventeen people had died, and many, many were left with no place to live. The head of the CPE program asked if I would be interested in being a chaplain-intern with those fire survivors, so I did. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I had ever done. My office was my small Nissan Sentra and my cell phone. I visited people wherever they were; in tiny motor homes, in tents, in half-burned buildings, in motels, in the homes or relatives or friends. I tried to give them hope. Possibly I succeeded. Little did I realize at the time that I would soon be in a similar situation.

Because of a well-paid job that just didn’t work out, I found myself without enough money to pay rent on the rather-overpriced apartments in the county. It wasn’t as serious as it could have been as I could have possibly lived with a relative or even returned to Portland. However, I was newly divorced and really needed to “stand on my own two feet.” So, I bought a very small motor home, 23-feet, traded the Sentra for a Ford pickup I could tow behind the RV, sold or gave away almost everything I owned, joined workamper.com, and found a job in Kanab, Utah, working as a breakfast buffet server for Parry Lodge. It was my first workamping job, one that provided not only an RV site, but also full hookups of water, electricity, and sewer, as well as pay for all hours worked. But, I was technically homeless, though not in an ordinary sense.

 Living in that very small space of one room with no separate bedroom, helped me understand a little better how the people I had tried to help in San Diego after the fires might have felt. Some of them had the same size motorhomes for their families of two or more people. I had a hard enough time taking what one person called “hokey-pokey showers,” you know, “put your right foot in, put your right foot out…” I couldn’t imagine two, three, or more family members doing it.

I was a full-time workamper for four years, working at various places during spring, summer, and fall. However, winters were difficult as there were very few jobs. Most workamping jobs were seasonal. So, I struggled to find places to live during the winter without having to pay an outrageous amount for space rent. Sometimes I parked in casino and Walmart parking lots for several nights. I volunteered one or more days a week at the Desert View Tower overlooking the desert in return for a spot to park that included electricity, water, and a fantastic view. Although not living on the street or in a shelter, I was technically homeless.

However, it was time to find a more permanent place so I returned to San Diego to live with my mother. It is working out well for both of us.

Two months ago I saw a request for volunteers for “Homeless Connect,” a one-day event downtown that provided resources for the homeless population of the county; clothing, medical and dental attention, food, pet care, legal advice, spiritual assistance, haircuts, and many more. I worked as an escort, helping a 60-something woman find her way around the large room to get the services she needed. We talked a lot and got well-acquainted. Yes, I most likely knew in my mind that homeless individuals were people just like you and me, but it never really sank in until then.

I talked with representatives of some of the many advocacy and aid groups in the county and learned about the Point-In-Time Count (PITC) this coming weekend. It is a national program that counts the homeless population each year at the same time in all areas. The tallies are entered into a large database and used to help get more funding for homeless work. So I will be among more than 550 other volunteers getting out there very early Friday morning, counting homeless individuals.

What comes next? I have no idea. However, I am making lots of connections with groups in the area such as the Interfaith Shelter Network, and will be doing a little volunteer work with them through my Unitarian Universalist church in the next few months.

Yes, I am passionate about this work and hopefully compassionate towards the many homeless people in this county. There are too many. And, the economic and unemployment situation now just makes everything worse. We all need one another, regardless of political or religious beliefs, and I really hope I’m doing my part to at least help with some basic needs. It’s the least I can do.

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