A Post Mid-Term Reflection

I’ve had a couple of days to sit back and reflect on this year’s mid-term elections.  This time of reflection has shown me how my perspective on things has shifted as I’ve accumulated life experience.  Let me take a moment and share with you what I’ve learned.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I was convinced that the world would be a better place if one side won control of absolutely everything: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government.  THEN – and only then – could we get things done!

In my thirties and forties, I began to realize something.  There are serious problems that arise when one side has all the power.  The primary problem is that the other side gets incredibly angry and resentful when they have little if any power.  A huge amount of negative energy accumulates among the outsiders – and those not in power spend every waking moment plotting how they will first regain power and then stick it to the other side.  This puts us on a pendulum where we swing from one extreme to the other.  The only constant is that roughly 50% of the population is angry and resentful at any given moment.

In my fifties, I have grown to see the wisdom that can come when different factions are forced to share power.  The fact that no ONE group has all the power forces folks to actually talk with each other and work to identify places of shared vision and value.  Such a scenario creates the possibility of a time when most groups get something (other than simply shut out of the process).

Of course, the last situation I laid out was described in ideal terms.  It is contingent on people understanding that when people live in groups it is impossible for everyone to get everything they want all of the time.

Sadly, we live in a time when many don’t seem to realize that.  So many conduct themselves in ways that suggest they think that they SHOULD get everything they want all the time.  And when they don’t, they rage.

How did we get to this point?

This is where my religious tradition helps me understand.  To put things in the language of Congregationalists, instead of living in a time where the individual’s demands (autonomy) are held in balance with the needs of the group (covenant) – we live in a time where individuals think of themselves as self-contained, completely autonomous units.  Groups of people are no longer seen as communities; they are often seen as nothing more than a collection of individuals.

What do we do about it?

I can’t answer that for you.  I do two things.  First, I use my 12 Steps skills to let those who wish only those who see things like them had all the power vent and/or rage.  After all, they have a right to their perspective – and it’s not up to me to help them “get it”.  Second, I do everything in my power to help people build relationships with those with whom they disagree.  When diverse people enter into authentic relationship with one another, each of their worlds is transformed.

When I say this, I often get some who respond by saying: “Are you suggesting that we sit down at a table with Christian nationalists and say it’s perfectly fine for them to viciously attack People of Color, LGBTQIA+ people, women, and people of other faiths?”

Absolutely not!  For if my 55 years on the planet have taught me anything, it’s that the vast majority of Progressives, Conservatives, and Independents are good people who think all people should be treated fairly and with dignity and respect.  The challenge lies in figuring out how we get to that point – for each camp has a VERY different vision for how we make that happen.

My prayer moving forward after the election is that we will grow in our ability to recognize the hidden blessings inherent in those times when we are forced to work together.  For in the midst of those highly charged moments comes the one thing that can change our world for the better: personal relationships.

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The Power of Acknowledging Our Limitations

It’s been a quiet couple of months as I worked hard to wrap up my ministry in Los Angeles, prepare for my move across the country, and began settling in.  I arrived in New Jersey last Saturday evening, found a place to live yesterday, and am preparing for my first day of work next Monday.

So how have I been through this time of transition?

The short answer is mostly well.  While there were certainly moments of uncertainty and anxiety, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I have lived through the series of challenges.

What was the secret to negotiating this time?

To answer that question, I will use my Twelve Step language.  The secret was embracing Step One.  For those unfamiliar with the Twelve Steps, Step One says (in the language of Codependents Anonymous): “We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Those 13 words save my sanity and serenity more times than I can count.


Over the past two months, there were dozens of questions with which I had to grapple.  Here are just a few:

  • How would my congregants respond to news of my departure?
  • How would the folks in the conference I am coming to receive me?
  • How would I handle making a cross-country move entirely by myself?
  • How would I first find – and then set up – a household in a part of the country I had never been to before?

These were just a few of the questions that were my constant companions.

My Twelve Step work taught me that I could not accept responsibility for creating the answers to the questions – for there were many parts of the answers that were far beyond my control.  Let me give you two examples of what I mean.

I couldn’t accept responsibility for how my congregants in LA felt about my departure.  That was because I knew two things: (1) the congregants had a right to their feelings; and (2) I was not responsible for their feelings (i.e., if they were sad or mad, it was not MY fault they were sad or mad). That clarity made it much easier to be present with them in the days leading up to my departure.

I also had to reject the notion that if the move was to go successfully, it was entirely up to ME.  I had to remind myself each day that my job was to simply show up to each situation as best I could – using the knowledge and abilities I had.  I also had to make peace with the fact that my knowledge and abilities alone couldn’t guarantee things would go well.  There were a lot of variables involved in the process that I could do nothing about.  I might fill out an application for housing perfectly, for example, and hand it to a leasing agent that HATED Californians.  Most days I took a deep breath, relaxed, and acknowledged my limitations.  Then I leaned into the presence of my Higher Power (which I call God) and trusted that God would provide me with the presence and support I needed in order to negotiate the unexpected.  That is exactly what has happened.

So why am I sharing this with you?

Chances are I am not the only one going through major transitions in life right now.  Maybe you are too.  When we bump into those uncertain places, it’s easy to respond to our anxiety by trying to double down and force things to unfold in the time and manner we think they must.  In my experience, such an approach is a recipe for disaster.

If you can follow the wisdom of Step One and honestly acknowledge your limitations, not only can you achieve a sense of peace.  You might even be able to get out of your own way and allow your Higher Power to bring forth things that are FAR better than anything you ever imagined … 

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The Importance of a “Both/And” Approach

I’ve gotten behind in my interactions with readers.  Here is a question that was raised 10 days ago that raises many important questions.  Let me share a reader’s question and the context she provided.

“I work with the public, and I of course try to engage with them. Sometimes I get more than what I bargained for, and I like to think of myself as a good sounding board. Sometimes when this happens, I carry perfect strangers sorrows on my shoulders and I dwell on what they have told me. One such person has been on my mind for 24 hours- maybe not her, but her poor daughter.”

“While sharing small talk with a customer, she let out that her 14 year old daughter had had her first day of school. It did NOT go well, and she had been crying ever since. I of course, living in the area almost all of my life, and raising four kids here; inquired about the school. It was a brand-new charter school I had never heard of.”

“The Mom continued on saying that all of the girls friends whom she had gone to school with for many years are attending public schools, and she is alone. She goes onto tell me (this is the alarming part) that she (the Mom) had fasted for 3 days and her whole congregation (a very large church I know of ) had been praying for her daughters acceptance. That is fine— as humans we all have to accept change, no matter how drastic— there are always bumps In the road of life. She goes onto tell me how her daughter is so depressed that she had to re-tell her about Jesus’ acts for her life, holds her in the palm of his hands, died for her, and that He loves her that much.”

“Is there something wrong with me that I feel sorry for this young girl to have a Mother like this? I worry for her— the young girl. Not because she has to go to a new school— she will have to adapt and make new friends. I worry because her Mother had fasted for three days, and prayed to God to get her child in this school, and then I felt like she guilted her child into not accepting the way she was feeling, but making her feel even more downtrodden because now Jesus has somehow taken it personal that this girl was sad or upset.”

“It has been on my mind since, more than 24 hours. Do you have a take?”

Thanks for sharing the situation with us.  I’ll take a moment and share a few thoughts the situation raises for me.  Then, I’ll invite others to share their perspectives as well.

One of the greatest challenges I face is living in a world that would have us believe the solutions to all our problems are “either/or”.  To put it in context of this situation, the world would have us believe that the solutions to the girl’s problems are either purely secular (i.e., get her on medications or into a therapist’s office) or purely sacred (i.e., pray and fast for her).  As a Progressive person of faith, I believe that the best solutions to such challenges are “both/and” – meaning there are elements of the solution that include BOTH secular and sacred aspects.

From what you shared, it sounds like a big piece of the young girl’s challenges right now are situational.  She is depressed because she has changed schools and left her friends behind.  This leads me to believe that it might be good to start by having her see a counselor or mental health professional to help her process her feelings and assess if there are deeper challenges (i.e., chemical issues) that might need medication.  This is what many would call the “secular” aspect of the problem.

While some might stop there, I would not.  As a person of faith, there are wonderful ways in which one’s faith could help support the girl in this time of transition.  As a Progressive person of faith, I would articulate those things in ways that are different from this girl’s mother and congregation approach.  Instead of assuming that WE know God’s will (i.e., God wants her to attend this new charter school), I would embrace the spirit of The Lord’s Prayer – especially the “THY will be done” portion – and ask for guidance to understand what is truly best for the young woman.

I would also pray for the humility to accept that my perception of the solution might be misguided – and that God’s desires would be for her to be in a different setting (i.e., return to the public school her friends are attending).  To figure this out, I would use spiritual disciplines ranging from discernment groups, prayer groups, and conversations with trusted spiritual guides that could help the young woman  discover the best – not necessarily the easiest – path for her.

In terms of her mother’s approach, I have one primary concern.  Sometimes people who embrace a particular form of Christianity take an approach to mental health issues that I would summarize as a “pray the problem away”.  They believe that prayer alone can “fix” the problem or crisis.  What they fail to appreciate, is that prayer is only one part of the equation.  Prayer leads us to the second half of the equation: action.  That action can take many forms including things like seeking out a good licensed therapist or counselor, seeking the advice of trained medical professionals versed in mental health issues, and a willingness to revisit one’s earlier decisions (i.e. changing her school enrollment).

While I believe the mother’s intentions for her daughter are good, her “either/or” approach to resolving the issue (i.e., emphasizing only a “sacred” approach to the challenge and ignoring “secular” solutions) might be putting her daughter at risk for a mental health crisis.

So what perspectives would you share with our reader about her concerns?

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