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Return to Pacifism

Watching the news in recent weeks and months, I find myself searching for that small space inside me that once held a faith in pacifism. Today, I felt a hope of renewal as I read a reflection by Richard Rohr. Lately he has been writing about mystics, perhaps for the same reason that I have had this yearning. Today he highlighted Catholic priest and peace activist, John Dear. He quotes Dear in his explanation of what it means to be a pacifist:

“What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as ‘causing no harm, no injury,no violence to any living creature.’ But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical  forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation….”

Rohr suggests another way understand nonviolence by claiming our fundamental identity  as the beloved (children) of the God of peace….This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes the sun rise  on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.

If we believe that we are all children of God, then every human being is our sibling, he says, “then we can never hurt anyone on the earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction…”

When I meditate on the words that Jesus spoke and the life he lived, it baffles me that any acts of violence, ANY harmful acts against other human beings can be justified in his name. I feel the light again, a tiny flame now, but I hope that in finding others who believe in peace as a way of life, it will burn brightly once again.

Loving Kindness Meditation – Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the practice of Loving Kindness Meditation. I wanted to demonstrate its importance as a tool for changing one’s own self and even changing the world. Here I would like to share the steps involved in the meditation. It is slightly different than the way I was taught in that it keeps returning to love for one’s self. I made only a few changes to the meditation as described by Newberg and Waldman.

Step One: Sit and slowly repeat the following prayer ten times, out loud or silently to yourself:

May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be filled with kindness and peace.

Step Two: Now turn your attention to someone you love such as a friend or even a pet.

May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be filled with kindness and peace.

Step Three: Now turn your attention to the person you like/love the most. Smile as you visualize his or her face and repeat the prayer above. Then return the love to yourself as in step one.

Step Four: Now move on to another person, not so much in this inner circle such as another relative or friend, someone who comes to mind because you happen to have a concern about them or recently encountered them. As you pray the prayer of loving kindness, notice how your feelings change with each person.

Step Five: Keep enlarging your circle to include as many different people as you can: colleagues, neighbors, the mail carrier, etc. Again, notice your changes in mood.

Step Six: Now extend your prayer to include people you may have difficulty with or whom you find it difficult to forgive. As you pray, think to send loving thoughts to those persons who may have hurt you in the past. If you feel resistance, don’t fight it. If you feel resistance, just acknowledge it and come back to loving yourself.

Step Seven: Pick One person whom you may find especially difficult to forgive. Look for one small quality that you may like in that person and focus your attention on that one trait. Hold any positive thoughts that might come to your mind. Pray the prayer for them. Do you feel any less angry toward that person? Less hurt? Even the slightest decrease in anger is beneficial to your brain. Each time you do this exercise pray for this person again. Give the prayer time to soften your heart.

Step Eight: Finally, extend your loving kindness to the world:

May everyone be happy.
May everyone be well.
May everyone be filled with kindness and peace.

Hold a vision in your mind of all the different people in the world, all cultures, all colors, all religions, and all political groups. Imagine everyone getting along with each other and living together in peace.

 

Loving Kindness Meditation Part 1.

I am reading a book by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain. Because it has been the case for myself, I agree with the authors who maintain the importance of meditation in achieving changes in one’s brain. These scientists share the technicalities of actual changes that occur in the brain when one meditates. Fear and anger can be transformed into serenity and love for those who regularly practice meditation. I have been practicing meditation for years and I can assure you that the person who interacts with the world is far different than she was before she began.

The meditation I read about this morning is especially powerful and I would like to share it as background before I share how to do the practice which I first knew as the Loving Kindness Meditation. These authors entitle the section “Sending Kindness and Forgiveness to Others”. They suggest a person use this meditation when one is feeling dislike or hate toward another person. The people in my life that fall into this category are few these days, but when I get outside my own circle there are individuals that fit. Today, politicians are for sure on my list. I will start by saying that hatred for particular political leaders or people who disagree with us politically is an epidemic today and a real danger to the future of the human race. Let me be clear. It isn’t the differences between people that are dangerous, but their hatred. Hatred goes beyond discomfort and dislike in that one wishes harm to come to the one hated. When hate occurs in masses, it can lead to war and genocides. This is why the authors suggest that Loving Kindness meditation may be the most important, yet the most difficult, form of meditation. When we practice Loving Kindness meditation we are changing the world.

The meditation is the most difficult, not because it is so complex, but because of what it demands. It is the cornerstone of every religious tradition – the golden rule, loving your neighbor as yourself. But Jesus and the Buddha went one step further. They taught that we should love our enemies as well. This is where the difficulty lies.

Ghandi once counseled a Hindu whose child was killed during a religious war suggesting that the man adopt an orphan, but he was to raise the child as Muslim. He knew that this would eventually alleviate the man’s religious hatred.

What the meditation helps with is forgiveness. Forgiveness improves family relationships, decreases depressive symptoms while enhancing empathy and life satisfaction. Even the act of choosing to replace an unforgiving attitude with a forgiving one affects the peripheral and central nervous systems in ways that promote physical and psychological health. 

The authors suggest that we take a moment to think about a person we hate and imagine sending him or her love. I once set out to pray for each person serving in the U.S. Congress in this way. I completed the Senate but was unable to get through all of the members of the House. I found some politicians easy to think of kindly, but others, I struggled with. I was able to give my words, but my heart was resistant.

If you are one who hates a particular person or political party, or ethnic or racial group, imagine the difference your achieving a change of heart does for world peace. This was the teaching of Peace Pilgrim who inspired this blog.

In my next blog, I will share with you the meditation.

Showing up and Priming the Pump

Yesterday, I met a woman who just had her memoir published. I am always wanting to support writers, so I bought it and began reading it this morning. The author is close to my own age and I marveled at the work she has done. I wondered where she found the time and energy in her mid 70’s. She is also a blogger…more time spent writing. Thoughts about her accomplishment made me feel a bit guilty.

When I started my blog, I made a commitment to post something every day for a year and I succeeded. In the process, I learned that the best way to become a better writer is to write. I also learned that life offers lots of things to write about if one is paying attention.  It was during that first year that I began writing the stories that later became my book, The Memorial of Jesus. Seemingly, the process of forcing myself to sit down to write, driven by my commitment, was like priming a pump. This aspect of daily writing is one I didn’t realize until now. I can honestly say that I haven’t written anything of substance in at least a year, probably because I have failed to show up in the first place.

I have already learned this important lesson in other aspects of my life. I have a daily exercise routine and rarely have miss a day. It consists of about 20 minutes of movements and stretches I learned from yoga, exercise classes, and physical therapy, I can’t do all of the moves that i could in my younger days, but I am convinced that the osteoarthritis that now makes itself known in my body would be far worse if  not for my morning practice.

The same is true for my meditation practice. When I began, I was still working and managing a house and family and I could not imagine taking time for what seemed like a pretty meaningless activity. Yet those who I most admired in the world were almost all people who had a meditation practice. So, I started. I set a timer for 5 minutes and struggled to silence my thoughts as best I could. Those five minutes seemed an eternity and the volume of thoughts that could march through my mind was amazing. But I kept at it until I reached a point where I was surprised when the chime announced the end of 5 minutes. At some point I was able to move on to 10 minutes. Now I set the timer for 20 minutes and meet with a contemplative body for an hour of meditation each week.

I have applied the same principle to other things. I managed to complete the process of going through old family pictures neither dated nor labeled with names and organize them committing to 1/2 hour per day. It took me months to complete the task. Again, I showed up, set a timer, and often worked far longer once I got into the task. I have gotten organizing “stuff”, sewing projects and seasonal cleaning in the same way.

Whenever I talk to someone wanting to begin a new practice of exercise or meditation or anything, really, I tell them that starting is half the battle. Make the commitment to start, put it on your task list, start small, but start, even if your have to argue with yourself and moan and groan as you get up off the couch.

Okay, so here I am, on the cusp of a new adventure. Self, this is my first day of showing up once again, priming the pump that I hope is connected to well of ideas and inspiration out of which the writer’s ideas flow.

My Journal Entry Today

I am trying to get used to the idea that I may one day be living in a monarchy. What does one do? I am 74 years old. My world is getting smaller each day. That is, my world of influence.

What does one do when children are suffering? Would hopping on a plane and going to the boxes that hold them, banging on the doors, parking on the concrete and crying “help” do anything?

Would such a gesture mean anything in a monarchy? I don’t know. So far I have not had to live in one. I didn’t think so, anyway.

I have studied history. I have studied religion and philosophy. Some of my most profound teachers have lived under monarchical systems who prayed and wrote and served the poor. Some who lived in democratic sytems did the same. Some were activists, known by many or by a few. But all lived their lives authentically, no matter the context in which they lived. They were free, even in shackles or behind bars.

God’s ways are so far above mine that I am breathless. I have to stop in my track to rest. I look. I listen…what is to be my response? I pray for these who act, even if their actions seem to lead nowhere. They inspire me. They deepen my belief in a God Who may not really care about systems, but about loving. Just loving.

I don’t know. I care, I love my neighbor in my little corner of the world. This I can do.

Why I argue on Facebook

I am reading Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks. It is the first book I have read by a person on the conservative right that I can get excited about. Read it, especially if you are a liberal.

The subtitle is “How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt”. I wish Brooks were sitting with me on my back porch as I read so I could throw out my ideas. I throw them out anyway even though he is not here. Sometimes I bring them onto Facebook or into my blog where at least someone is listening. I hope to do some writing about his ideas. Actually I have, though not in reference to Brooks’ book.

The title of this blog is “My Thoughts on Peace”. It was inspired by Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked across the United States on foot carrying only a tooth brush, a comb, a pencil and pad of paper, stamps and envelopes, and two documents: a message to the United Nations and another to the United States Congress. As she traveled, she stopped and spoke wherever she was invited and she collected signatures for her documents. This is what she did for peace. I use my blog to share a message of peace.

My belief in peace is grounded in my Christian faith. Jesus’ words are my foundation, just as they were for Peace. I am not alone in my convictions. Quakers are pacifists, for example. Among their ranks have been conscientious objectors and people who served as medics in the military because they believed in the cause of their country but cannot support killing.

Quakers also believe in equality. They have been beheaded for refusing to bow down to the king because, in their belief, the king is just another equal human being with a job to do. Their basic belief is that we are all equally children of a loving God which forms the bases of their non-violence as well. They believe that there is “that of God” in everyone.

Simplicity is another of their values. I aspire to simplicity to the point of annoyance to friends and family. It is okay. I annoy myself, as well.

I try to promote peace here on my blog but also in other media such as Facebook. If I read an attack by a person with my own political views upon someone with an opposing view, I attack the attack. Everyone has a right, even a responsibility, to express their opinion about issues. We all see things from a different perspective and as we talk and listen, we become more aware of the limitations of our own perspective. At the same time, we are influencing another. But this exchange can only happen in a spirit of mutuality. When we attack another or attack their group, we put up walls instead of tearing them down. We accomplish nothing except contempt and broken relationships.

Mothers Day began when a woman in America took a stand for peace, Julia Ward Howe, who served as a nurse during the Civil War. She wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” calling all mothers to work toward world peace. Ann Jarvice, another Civil War activist, organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” to foster reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers. The work of these and other women led to the official declaration by Congress establishing Mother’s Day as a national holiday.

Over the years, Mother’s Day has been redirected to honor mothers, but I have not forgotten its origins. I have chosen to unite myself with its original intent: to promote peace in the world.

I think Arthur Brooks’ book Love Your Enemies will go far in promoting peace, especially in our own nation. His principles can help families and sectors of our society find peace, as well. I am delighted to share the book with you. I am delighted to be hearing his words from a conservative. It really pokes a hole in the demonizing that comes from the political left. Good! A step toward peace!

Parenting Styles and Outcomes

A conversation I had with a friend recently led to my searching through my old parenting files from my teaching days. We were talking about teen rebellion and I said out of my distorted memory that when kids rebel against their parents, they will tend to choose a lifestyle, religious or political expression that is the opposite of the one their parents lived or attempted to teach them. They do that, I said, because they know it will hurt their parents.

My friend agreed with me, but noted that these rebellious teens tended to choose lifestyles and belief systems that were left-leaning. I  tried to say that he was wrong.”If the parents a teen is rebelling against is liberal, they will choose a conservative path,” I said.

Even as I spoke, I knew I was wrong. But something wasn’t jelling quite right. I should have been right, but when I revisited my my old lesson plans, I had to admit that I’d been wrong. But I realized we were comparing apples to oranges.

I once taught a class on parenting styles using a video series that I borrowed from a local Lutheran church, “Active Christian Parenting”. I remember liking it so much because it showed real-life scenarios that typified specific child behaviors and parents modeling the various ways that they can handle these behaviors. It was non-judgmental toward parents and children and very positive. What I learned as I reviews the lesson plan is that different parenting styles tend to result in different outcomes in children, not all of them rebellion.

When I taught the class, I gave the parents an article “Our Parents, Ourselves: Echoes of the Past” published by Child Magazine, Dec./Jan/1991. As I read it I realized what I was recalling, a bit distorted as I said above. Author, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, licensed consulting psychologist and columnist, suggests that new parents will find themselves repeating the words and behaviors of their parents even though they believed their parent manner of raising was wrong, even harmful. On the other hand, he writes, “Parents may choose a certain style or approach to raising children because it’s different, even completely opposite from what (their) parents did. But this can be very difficult,” he adds, “…because we don’t have a strong model of what we should do with our kids, only one of what we shouldn’t.” I know I chose this article because it rang true for me. I tried to use modern parenting styles while constantly finding myself repeating the parenting behaviors of my mother.I know this resulted in mixed messages for my children.

Dr. Ronald Levant, professor of counseling psychology and author of Between Father and Child, sees this choice of an opposite parenting style as a form of rebellion. He says that he recalled his father as being extremely strict and overbearing and promised himself he would never act that way toward his own children. As a result, he says, he abdicated some of his responsibilities as a parent. “I bounced too far in the other direction…I should have forgiven my father for his limitations. That way, I wouldn’t have seen discipline as inherently destructive.”

I hope you can see the source of my assumption about rebellion in the context of how we choose to parent. But what I was trying to tell my friend was not about parenting in particular. It was about lifestyle. He had witnessed a young man totally rejecting his parents by choosing to drink and party. It seemed he was seeking a lifestyle strictly for the shock power. “Active Christian Parenting” teaches more clearly how kids react when raised in certain households.

The series suggests three types of parenting: The Permissive Approach, the Democratic Approach, and the Autocratic or Punitive Approach. Here is a summary of each:

Permissive Approach:
* Parents’ Beliefs: Children will cooperate  when they understand that cooperation is the      right thing to do. My job is to serve my children and keep them happy. Consequences  that upset my children cannot be effective.
* Power and Control are in the hands of the children.
* Problem-solving Process: Problem solving by persuasion. In a Win-lose situation,              children always win. Parents do most of the problem solving.
*What Children Learn: “Rules are for others, not me. I do as I wish.” Parents serve children. They are responsible for solving children’s problems. They tend to grow up dependent, disrespectful  and self-centered.
*How Children Respond: They test limits, challenge and defy rules and authority, ignore and tune out words, and wear down their parents with words.

Autocratic or Punitive Approach:
*Parents’ Belief: If it doesn’t hurt, the child won’t learn. Children won’t respect your rules unless they fear your methods. It’s my job to control my children. It’s my job to solve my children’s problems.
*Power and control are in the hands of the parents.
*Problem-solving Process: Problem solving by force, adversarial, In a Win-Lose situation, the parent wins. Parents do all the problem solving and make all the decisions. The parents direct and control the process.
*What Children Learn: Parents are Responsible for Solving Children’s Problems. Hurtful methods of communication are problem solving.
*How Children Respond: Anger, stubbornness, Revenge and rebellion or withdrawal and fearful submission.

Dr. Levant’s story is one of his choosing a permissive approach in reaction to his father’s punitive approach. But one can clearly see that either approach has its pitfalls. When people complain about children of today, they will say that, lacking discipline, they tend to have an attitude of privilege and entitlement. They don’t know how to work thinking the world owes them a living. I hear employers complain ll the time about the lack of work ethic among today’s youth. These folks tend to recall the punitive style of their parents and insist that this was far better.

But punitive parenting has its pitfalls. If parents are too severe, their children are apt to rebel  or even take revenge. Studies show that some choose another route. They go into their adult lives looking for someone to serve as surrogate parents who will to tell them what to do. During my years as a youth minister, I learned that these kids were the ones most vulnerable to being taken in by cults where they found leaders to tell them how to think and act.

The course offered a third parenting style that they say works much better than the other two. Here is what it looks like:

The Democratic Approach:
* Parents’ beliefs: Children are capable of solving problems on their own. Children should be given choices and allowed to learn from the consequences of those choices. Encouragement is an effective way to motivate cooperation.
* Power and Control: Children are given only as much power and control as they can handle responsibly.
* Problem-solving process: Cooperative, Win-win, based on mutual respect. Children are active participants in the problem-solving process.
* What Children Learn: Responsibility, cooperation, independence, respect for rules and authority, and self-control.
* How Children Respond: More cooperative, less testing of limits. They learn to resolve problems on their own. They regard their parents’ words seriously.

No one is a perfect parent. The reality is that few of us come into the role fully prepared. We try different things and many parents will shift gears after they begin to see that what they are doing isn’t working with their kids. This is one reason older kids might accuse their parents of being more strict on them than on their younger siblings. Parents are learning as they go.

To complicate matters, couples raised in different households will often use different styles with their children. This can cause behaviors like children playing one parent against the other to get what they want.

Clearly a more democratic approach is better, but kids are resilient. Unless parents are extreme, most children will survive to face the same issues their parents had to deal with when they decided to have kids.