28 July 2013

danger within

I suppose I should begin by saying that the idea of photographing my genital area has never occurred to me.  Nor has the idea of transmitting such a photograph ever occurred to me.  So, in that respect, it is difficult for me to relate to Anthony Weiner, a.k.a. “Carlos Danger.”  Of course, he is not the only person, let alone politician, to be publicly humiliated.

And it is in that respect that I can relate to him.  Who among us has never done anything that they deeply regret?  And it’s only by the grace of God that we haven’t been exposed in a way that is meant to hurt, not to heal.

In her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister includes commentary along with the chapters of the Rule.  In Benedict’s chapter on humility, Chittister adds these thoughts:

“Benedict wants us to realize that accepting our essential smallness and embracing it frees us from the need to lie, even to ourselves, about our frailties.  More than that, it liberates us to respect, revere, and deal gently with others who have been unfortunate enough to have their own smallnesses come obscenely to light.”

I’m not saying that people should not be held accountable for their actions.  Sometimes we do “endanger” others in ways that are not just or fair.  Still, there is a clear difference between good-natured humor and mockery, which attempts to build ourselves up at the expense of those who have been caught.  Chittister continues:

“Aware of our own meager virtues, conscious of our own massive failures despite all our great efforts, all our fine desires, we have in this degree of humility, this acceptance of ourselves, the chance to understand the failures of others.  We have here the opportunity to become kind.” (70)

When we realize that we are in danger of slipping as long as we still draw breath, we can afford to “deal gently” and to seize “the opportunity to become kind.”

18 July 2013

some nerve

What do you get with a retelling of the Columbus story, the evolution of life on planet Earth, and a vision of how data and empathy are detrimental to leadership?  One thing would be the book A Failure of Nerve, written by the late Edwin Friedman.  I finished reading the book this morning, and my brain will be unpacking and re-sorting the ideas presented in it for a while.

One of his recurring themes is that we suffer from chronic anxiety.  It affects all aspects of life:  family, education, government, places of worship.  Chronic anxiety is not the same thing as being anxious about certain individual things, like losing a job or having to go to the hospital.  It is systemic.  As the word “chronic” implies, it’s an ongoing thing.

This is one of his diagnoses:

“I believe there exists throughout America today, a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety-storms of our time.  It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society—a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of government and corporations… and…seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards.  It is ‘something in the air’ that affects the most ordinary family no matter what its ethnic background.  And its frustrating effect on leaders is the same no matter what their gender, race, or age.”

When he talks about a “failure of nerve,” he’s talking about the reluctance to stand against the anxiety and cynicism that would wash over us.  Those “with nerve” are the ones who practice at self-differentiation.  People who do that respect the boundaries of others.  They work at raising the threshold of pain and uncertainty that they can tolerate.  They learn how to value risk-taking and adventure, rather than always retreating to their comfort zone.  (I still have much to learn about self-differentiation!)

Those who work at self-differentiation realize that it is futile to attempt changing others.  It is quite enough to pay attention to our own functioning, as well as learning how to be, if not a non-anxious presence, at least a lesser-anxious presence.

And that takes some nerve!

07 July 2013

evolving through day and night

I’ve been reading Michael Dowd’s somewhat cheesily-named Thank God for Evolution for a few weeks now.  (I tend to read more than one book at a time, thus my slow progress.)  It was first published in 2007.  I find him to be a kindred spirit.  Like me, he went from the Assemblies of God to Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary), although he was there in the 1980s.

His writing style is very much intended for a vast array of laypeople—regarding both religion and science.  He says early on, “This book is intended for the broadest of audiences.” (xxv)  Dowd tells us much about himself, and he delves into his discoveries about faith in an evolutionary context.  He even includes some terms and concepts that he invented!

I like his discussion of “day” and “night” language, which he says describes “two complementary sides of the one coin of our experience.  On one side is the realm of what’s so:  the facts, the objectively real, that which is publicly and measurably true.  Let’s call this side of reality our day experience.  We write or talk about it using day language—that is, normal everyday discourse.  The other side of our experiential coin I call night experience.  It is communicated through night language, by way of grand metaphors, poetry, and vibrant images.  Our attention is focused on What does it mean?” (113)

For Dowd (and for me), pitting these two against each other is nonsensical.  To do so displays, on the one hand, an ignorance of what science is all about, and on the other, a cartoonish trivializing of faith. 

I’m waiting for more discoveries as I continue through the book!