Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

Forgiveness?

August 6, 2017

This post may cost me followers, maybe even friends, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak my mind on the subject of so-called Christian forgiveness.

A number of different situations have cropped up for me recently, to bring my attention to the topic of forgiveness, what it entails, and what preconditions may be necessary for it to occur.  As background, let me say that I was raised in an ethical Jewish tradition, but outside of a Jewish community, such that my classmates and friends were all Christian. This was back in the days when public school classes began not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but also with prayers, which the teacher usually closed with “In Jesus’ Name” and I silently said “Cross that last line out, God.”

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia in the early 1900’s who became one of the founders of the Labor Zionist party in the U.S., friends with Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann and other early supporters and leaders of what became the Israeli state. He sent my mother to school in what was then still called Palestine, and she was also an active voice for the creation of a Jewish homeland. During my elementary school years, she taught Hebrew in an after school program at a Jewish center, leaving me to come home from school to practice my piano lesson, do housework and prepare supper. My present skill with, and enjoyment of, cooking surely dates back to those meals.

My mother was highly and expressively critical of all religious extremism, Orthodox Jewish as much as Christian or Muslim. She saw the Jewish Orthodox community as actively harming the goals and functioning of secular Israel, as readily as she pointed to the hypocrisy of “Bible thumping Christians” who preached forgiveness but still unforgivingly blamed Jews as “Christ killers.”

From that early conditioning, I moved on to exposure to different Eastern religions, became comfortable with Quaker values and silent worship, and also with Zen Buddhism, finding myself finally, in 1993, a student of MasterPath and happily centered in an unfolding, ever expanding understanding of basic spiritual Truth. As my inner education has proceeded, layer after layer of mental conditioning has been peeled away, sometimes quickly and easily, at other times only after considerable turmoil.

My consideration of the meaning of forgiveness falls in the latter category. I have thought that I’d come to terms with where I stand in relation to “letting go and letting God” as the Quakers express it, but after some months or even years, a situation would crop up to show me I am not yet free of anger and resentment over the way some people have behaved toward me. One friend recently forwarded me one of those picture quotes that make their way around the Internet, this one stating “I’m not Jesus, so I don’t easily forgive, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t forget.” It struck a chord in me, and started me once more into an on-going contemplation of the meaning of forgiveness.

I’m far from conversant with the New Testament, although one cannot live in a nominally Christian country without coming to know bits and pieces of the Bible which get quoted in all sorts of context. I also had an English literature teacher in college who insisted one could not understand most American and European literature without having a familiarity with both Old and New Testament, and who therefore required that we all read substantial chunks of the Bible in order to pass his class. What stays in my memory, in the context of forgiveness, is the blessing (or is it an injunction?) to “go forth and sin no more.” I hear this as specifying that to be forgiven one must change.

“I’ve apologized so you must forgive me” doesn’t cut it. An apology, unaccompanied by meaningful change in conduct, is nothing more than empty words from an arrogant and demanding ego. That is probably why Twelve Step programs include making amends as a crucial step – not just apologizing but doing what one can to set things right – i.e. demonstrating changed behavior. If I am sorry for something I’ve done that hurt another I make certain not to repeat the hurtful behavior. I expect the same from others – and I dismiss as inappropriate, even offensive, those “good Christians” who preach that I “should” forgive just because someone apologizes.

There are profoundly good, caring and sensitive people of all faiths. Most of these, in my experience, have no need to promote themselves by their religious affiliation. Their quiet daily actions speak loudly on their behalf. The more forcefully a person insists that they are acting from Christian, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian or Hindu or any other religious teaching, the more certain I am that the speaker is likely to be disrespectful of others, unforgiving and self-righteous while demanding that their own actions be forgiven “in the name of” whichever form of God they worship.

I suspect this topic of forgiveness remains pertinent to me just now, not only because of a personal, family-related situation, but because of the recent exacerbation of offensive, intolerant, “my way or the highway” conduct by self proclaimed good Christians on the national political scene who mistakenly insist that they are merely returning the nation to its origins. Yes the founders of the United States were almost exclusively Christian men, but they were adamantly opposed to having any form of religion imposed by civil authority. The Puritans fled dictates of the Church of England. William Penn established a Quaker colony. Jewish immigrants created a center in earliest New York city. The Constitution clearly established the separation of church and state, giving everyone the right to worship as he (or she) pleases. Too many current politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten our founders’ emphasis on a secular state. They are instead critical, judgmental, demanding that law follow their particular interpretation of Christian values, and in the process totally betraying those values.

I readily admit that I shut down as soon as someone says “the Christian thing to do”, when they mean the caring thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the right thing to do is X, Y or Z. I make a sharp distinction between someone explaining a teaching of their religion and then showing how they implement it, and another person who says this or that is a religious requirement that everyone MUST be made to obey, often without manifesting the appropriate associated behavior.

Which brings me back to forgiveness, and my inescapable conclusion that it you want me to forgive you, change your conduct before you approach me, and when you approach me, ASK,  don’t demand or otherwise make it my responsibility to bring about a change in our relationship. You caused the rupture, you need to figure out how to repair the wounds. My role is to be open to be approached, and willing to engage in a cooperative effort to heal the relationship.

Not bad advice for the national political scene as well.

Across the Lines

July 16, 2017

Over the years I’ve heard complaints from different people about other different people, that the Italians are so noisy, or the Greeks are loud, that Blacks are impossible when they get together in groups because of their noise level and lately, particularly, that Africans congregating make a constant racket. The speakers are, obviously, not Italians or Greeks or Black Americans nor Africans. The speakers are more likely of northern European or Asian backgrounds, from cultures where restraint, quiet voices, and minimizing confrontation are deeply embedded values.

I’m not out to compare the benefits of restraint versus airing one’s mind, not to suggest that one way of interacting is better than another; all are equally effective for the members of the defined groups. My interest is in a more personal appreciation of how the same action can feel very different when experienced by members of different cultures.

Specifically, I engaged with my spouse in a process of clarifying an assignment. Together we successfully sorted out what was required and he completed his work well before the deadline. The sorting out process went rather more by his cultural norms than my own, feeling to me like an argument with raised voices, almost shouting and bordering on anger, whereas he thought our volume was merely that of a beneficial discussion.

In a similar vein, as I’m making new friends among the Africans attending school near my home, I find I’m having to explain my quietness as “just my nature” and not the result of feeling ill or ill at ease. I speak up when I have something to say, but have never learned to put energy into debate for its own sake, nor to chat casually about non-essentials. I used to think this a failing on my part, this inability to make “social chitchat” as my mother scornfully called it. I used to wish I had acquired that skill, and tried to do so but without success. My efforts were perceived for what they were, a stilted pretense of interest. Only when I had/have a role, like hostess at a party, or instructor, or guide, am I able to talk easily to or in a group. Thankfully, I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept this way that I am, and not feel badly about it.

With that acceptance has come the ability to observe different cultural patterns of communication and even to learn how to participate in unfamiliar ones without too much stress. Not so very long ago, the assignment discussion with my husband would very possibly have turned into a genuine argument, not because we disagreed but because the feeling tone of the way we expressed our understanding of it was so very different. I would have gotten hung up on the sense that he wasn’t listening to me, or giving consideration to my opinion, and he might have given up trying to convince me that I didn’t understand the assignment. Instead of a successful solution, we would have been left with frustration.

In a larger social context it seems to me that our nation is expressing constant frustration these days, arising from lack of ability to communicate across a deep cultural divide. The intolerance on both sides of that divide gets translated into a false belief that trying to understand “the opposition” is a sign of weakness and a betrayal of values. I’m far from the first to point out that “my way or the highway” has replaced finding grounds for “meeting in the middle” to the detriment of civility and increasingly to the detriment of our civil institutions.

I’m old enough to remember my parents glued to the radio listening to the Army-McCarthy hearings that brought about the end of the ugly extremism of the early 1950s. I therefore have a degree of confidence, based on past history, that the present accusatory public debate will also resolve itself and allow us to move forward in a more civil and civilized manner as a society. We won’t get there by each side trying to out-shout the other. Rather, both sides need to find the bases for having sufficient confidence in themselves and their values that they can tolerate listening to a different opinion without feeling attacked.

If we each start with a one on one encounter with someone from another part of the political spectrum, what progress we as a whole might achieve!

 

Healing Wounds

July 13, 2017

I just bought some spoons on Ebay. No big deal, you might think. But to me it is a big deal. Not that the spoons were very expensive; they weren’t. Not that I’ve been looking for them for years and finally found them – I identified what I needed and found them in a matter of hours. The big deal is, really, why I didn’t do so years ago.

You see, I’ve done without those spoons for a good ten years now. Each time I wanted to set my table for company, I had to mix flatware patterns – my own Oneida Yankee Clipper and a very different design inherited from my father. Often, I would opt for consistency and use his flatware, always with a “noodge” of anger that I was not setting the table to my personal taste.

You may be wondering why my own set of flatware was missing spoons. Is my answer explicit enough when I say that well in the past I shared my living space with a heroin addict?

I didn’t know the name of my own flatware pattern. I did look on line at one time for current Oneida styles and didn’t see anything resembling my set. But more relevantly, I clearly wasn’t ready to let go of the anger and resentment that flared every time I needed a spoon and had to hunt through the drawer for “my”one remaining spoon to stir my coffee or to serve up my morning yogurt.

I’ve been processing my relationship with anger during morning walks. There are a couple other circumstances that also bring up a bitter resentment, if I let myself think about the ugly behavior of the individuals involved. So mostly I don’t dwell on them. Fortunately  – or not – the other two people who can trigger my anger do not have spoons or forks or clothing or any tangible item in my household to bring them to mind. I can successfully not think of them for days or weeks at a time.

My morning walking contemplation has centered around what aspect of my ego is so determined to hang onto anger? And what aspect of my better self is being suppressed by my ego? I don’t have answers I can put into words. I can only look at the answer that emerged as my actions this evening – Google Oneida flatware, patiently go through the 25 pages of options on the Find My Pattern website, give a quiet Eureka! when I came to Yankee Clipper, then Google that pattern and find several lots of spoons for sale quite reasonably on Ebay. They’re ordered and should arrive within a week. No more resentment when I want a spoon in the morning, nor when I next set the table for company. How simple – yet clearly not simple or it wouldn’t have taken me so very many years to do.

Now I need to open my mind and heart, to be shown what similar steps will allow me to let go of the other two nubs of resentment which are much more recent, and do not have tangible “fixes” to implement. Righteous anger has its place. Not all actions can or should be forgiven. Deciding what is and what is not forgivable is a very individual and personal task. Maybe the best one can expect of oneself is to set the irritant (and the person if that is the source of the irritation) aside and move on.

Looking out for the small cottontail rabbit who has been hanging out where I walk, enjoying the play of sun and cloud over the mountains, greeting the neighbors who drive past me in the mornings, being present with the moment are all preferable to dwelling on what an angry voice would say to those who have abused me, should we meet once more. I can’t do anything about them being who and what they are. I can choose what I give my attention and energy to. I’m happy to choose purchasing spoons and savoring my surroundings as I walk.

Note: I wanted to post a picture of my Yankee Clipper spoons but haven’t yet sorted out how to import and store a photo on Chromebook. So much to learn, so little time to learn it.

 

Adapting

May 4, 2014

Today, I started my day before the sun came up, chatting with a friend in Lebanon via Facebook.

A simple statement about an activity that is far from extraordinary in today’s connected world.

But this is me – who remembers not having a telephone when I first moved to New Mexico, because there weren’t enough lines in Lamy to connect everyone.

I’m grateful for having experienced that sort of unconnected living; I learned patience and trust and self-reliance and a number of other qualities important to building and sustaining relationships.

None of which negates my current pleasure at connecting over huge distances, easily, now.

I’m equally glad the contact today was via written word; I would have had a hard time dealing with spoken conversation in the attenuated form likely to occur at such a distance. This past week I’ve been dealing with clogged ears – not sure if it’s allergies or an infection that has caused blockage, noticeably worse on the left side.

How limiting it is, to be obliged to hold a phone to my right ear and therefore not be free to use my right, dominant, hand during the conversation. Oh, I’ve tried holding the phone across my body, with my left hand, in order to write down information being given to me. It’s possible, but remarkably uncomfortable!

I’ve also had to alter my eating habits. Why, you ask? Because crunchy foods are now painfully loud inside my head. If my condition were to become permanent, would I adapt, learn to tune out the chewing noise? Probably, in the same way I learned, shortly after arrival in Saigon, to tune out the persistent noise of the cicada-like insects that created a permanent background concert in the trees. We kids enjoyed tormenting new arrivals (as I was tormented) by calling attention to the persistent chittering, just at the time that the newbie’s brain was beginning to accommodate, and thus cease to notice, the sounds.

In the Trees

In the Trees

We humans are marvels of accommodation. We live in the most diverse environments, we survive extremes of privation, we come in such a variety of sizes, colors and skill sets. . . No wonder accommodating to one another is considered to be such a virtue.

No wonder, either, that learning when to draw the line, when to limit adaptation, when to say enough, I want/need/seek to stand apart – no wonder learning how to express one’s integrity can be a challenge. Especially, it seems, for women. Even today’s emancipated, modern women. My Lebanese correspondent was writing me on her smart phone, waiting in the Beirut airport to fly to Dubai for a work day. And questioning her right to step away from a relationship because she’s not yet ready to “settle” for. . .

Accommodate, adapt, be flexible, accept what is.
Go for it, “be all you can be”, make the most of your time, your talents, your opportunities.
Conflicting imperatives, challenging us to know which one to apply in which situations.

Is it yet another sign of our adaptability that we can implement both types of behaviors? Or is it a sign of our integrity that we manage to achieve a balance between seeming contradictions?

I have my own answer to that question. I’ll let you find yours.


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