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.

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.

“Win Bigly”

I am approximately 1/3 of the way through Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter by Scott Adams. I knew after the introduction that I would have to comment in my blog on this strange book, but I hardly know where to begin. The book is about President Donald Trump, whom Adams sees as a Master Persuader. I don’t disagree with his assessment. I am just not sure what to think about the value of being a master persuader in the first place. I know that I myself am not among the persuaded.

Most of the books I read are about how to live well, not in a material sense, but spiritually. I seek to be a better version of myself every day and I appreciate those writers who help me do that. I find living on the earth difficult at times and appreciate when others can lift me up to a place where I see Light about me instead of darkness. Light is about Goodness. Goodness in others inspires me to live the goodness in me. When I see goodness in myself and in others it is like looking into the Face of the Very Enthusiastic Creator who exclaimed “Good! Very Good!” when he rested from His work.

Win Bigly has nothing to do with goodness. As I said, the author’s intention is to show that our current president, Donald Trump, is a Master Persuader. The direction of the persuasion seems irrelevant.

The ability to influence others is a gift given to some by the Creator. Gifts can be used for good or for evil. The way it is used may not matter to Scott Adams, but it does to me. I am learning a lot in Win Bigly, but I am not sure what I am learning is what Adams intends.

Politics and a Higher View

I am reading a book by one of my favorite writers, Parker Palmer. Like many of the books I have visited lately, On the Brink of Everything, deals with getting old. It is a collection of some of his writings over the years, including articles, speeches and poetry. Through these, he brings his message to the world almost as a last testament. As a writer, I understand exactly what he is doing. My book, The Memorial of Jesus, is less about Jesus and more about what I want to pass on to my loved ones and to the world.

This morning I read two pieces Palmer wrote after the last national election: “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” and “The Soul of a Patriot”. I have been hesitant to write my thoughts about the current president or about what is happening in congress. This is because I view politics as an enlarged view of what goes on within each of us or in the relationships we have each day. I have this idea, perhaps an illusion, that if we only understood the battle that goes on within, we would understand the other battles that go on in families and communities throughout the world.

I find myself not able to  avoid all political discussion, however. There are certain issues that come up on Facebook that are so  important to me that have to jump into the discussion. My intention has not been so much to debate issues but to present a deeper view or, as the Eagle flies, a higher one. I like to assume the good intentions in those who take views different than my own. I know and love conservatives and see their innate goodness. I may question their knowledge but I never question their intentions.

The higher view I try to project is this: our national problem is not that we see things differently. Our national problem is that our differences are degenerating into self-righteousness, hatred, fear and violence. I believe that if Satan is real and has a mission in this earthly realm, it is to divide us. Because of this, my attack when I engage in political discourse, is against words that divide such as name-calling, judgment, and stereotyping. Jesus’ words about loving our enemies, forgiveness and our oneness come flying at me when I hear them. The more we contribute to the divide, the more distant is the Kingdom that Jesus came to establish.

Message in Unexpected Places

I read a story in my morning meditation book this morning that I thought was interesting. I thought I would share it.

A man once had a flat tire right outside the gates of a mental hospital. As he removed the lugs from the flat to switch them with the spare, they slipped off the curb where he’d placed them and down through the grill of a sewer drain. As he realized there was absolutely no way to retrieve them, he began to swear in frustration.

Just then, an inmate, who had been standing at the fence watching him said, “Why don’t you remove one lug from each of the other wheels and put them on the spare?”

“My gosh,” said the man, “what a brilliant idea! What in hell is someone as smart as you doing in there?”

“I may be crazy,” said the inmate, “but I’m not stupid!” 

(Step by Step by Muriel Zink)

The concluding remark: My Higher Power speaks to me through others in unexpected ways.

My thought: I will hear what God has to say to me when my ears are open to listening.

Our Amy for Presidency

I rarely write about candidates running for public office. I prefer to address issues and I can get pretty passionate about that. But after listening to our own Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar, speaking at a town-hall meeting, I can’t help myself. This is not an endorsement. It is about how Amy rattled my thinking.

Generally, Amy holds the same positions I do on gun control, health care, education, etc. But she was painfully honest and realistic.  I have never heard a candidate that didn’t talk about what they were going to do in office as though they were actually going to be in control of everything after their election. No one who seriously hoped to get elected ever suggested that they might have to compromise or take baby-steps when they get there. Amy wouldn’t even guarantee that what her constituents wanted could even be achieved. I wanted her to at least say that her long-run goal was what I wanted, namely single payer health care. Instead, she talked about fixing what is broken in Obamacare and tackling the problem of the drug costs. Her goal, she said, is to make health care affordable to all. She wouldn’t add much of anything to that. She said that we have to begin where you can expect to be successful.

She did the same thing with the Bernie Sanders idea of free education through a four year degree. She was speaking on a college campus and a student, whose monthly loan payment was more than his rent, questioned her about this. She talked about making junior college free because industry so desperately needs people trained. Because of this, she said, these students can almost be guaranteed  jobs when they graduate. She also said that those buried in student debt should to have a way to renegotiate their loans to make them affordable. When the moderator reminded her that she was speaking on a college campus and that her answer might not be exactly what the student wanted to hear, she said, “I have to tell the truth. What is being asked is not attainable at this time. I want to focus on what we can do now.”

Amy has the best record on Capital Hill for getting legislation passed into law. After she announced her candidacy, a number of republican senators spoke about her as someone they could work with. One even added that he hoped his speaking on her behalf doesn’t hurt her campaign. She seems to understand that legislators represent different needs and finding solutions to problems can be a challenge. But she has never shied away.

As I have listened to candidates for public office, I used to smirk a bit when I would hear their promises, “I will…blah, blah bah.” “Yeah, right,” I’d say. “Wait until you get into office. No way in hell will you  be able to do all that.” I understand how government works. Even in the perfect situation with everyone vying for a piece of the American pie, getting a broken bridge fixed in your state means some other state might not be able to invest in building public housing. But Amy did just this and could because she understands about cooperation and compromise. All legislators know this but they won’t tell you this when they are running for office.

I am as guilty as anyone and I felt guilty as I listened to Klobuchar speak. I know what I wanted to hear. I wanted my hopes lifted. What Amy was doing was shaking my tendency to not accept the realities of life as life is. Life is messy and making laws is messiness at its best. I feel challenged. I will support Amy Klobuchar because she has been so good for Minnesota. She visits every county in the state every year, not to campaign, but to listen to her people. My guess is that, if at all possible, she will do the same for each state if she becomes our next president.

I said this is not an endorsement. It still isn’t. This writing is more about me as a person and as a citizen. Am I really ready to accept such truth from a candidate?

I am working on it.