Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

God, Dogs, and Unconditional Love   2 comments

From a blog I follow by David Anderson:

On the Monday following the terrorist rampage in Orlando, a dozen Golden Retrievers showed up in the Disney city. They were part of the K-9 Comfort Dogs team, a ministry run by Lutheran Church Charities. The dogs had come to give the kind of love and comfort that come only from a furry friend.

There was a time when bringing in dogs to care for the emotional needs of the traumatized would have seemed odd. But now it’s common. K-9 Comfort Dogs came to the emotional rescue after the Boston Marathon bombing, after the Sandy Hook shootings. “We’ve had a lot of people here that start petting the dog, and they break out crying,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the charity. “Dogs show unconditional love.”

…. Our love comes with a lot of conditions, a lot of strings. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it just means we’re human. We know that mom or dad love us, but they love us more when we visit more often, stay longer and discipline the kids a little more. Same with husbands and wives. There’s a baseline love, but more can be earned in all the ways we know.

Yet the one thing every soul seeks is simply that unconditional love, where there is nothing to be earned. So when I read stories about Golden Retrievers being flown in to offer stringless love to grieving humans, I can’t tell whether that’s a beautiful thing (how we’ve finally understood the emotional and spiritual capacity of our pets) or whether we have outsourced our love needs to animals because we can’t find a way to do it ourselves.

[Read the full text here]

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Posted June 20, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Raw Edges of Life   18 comments

I read this piece in tears the day after my dad’s funeral where we were all dressed in black dignity, smelled of shaving cream and lilacs, and spoke in polite, quiet voices.  This story by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, is raw and real and connects with the deep places in my heart that long for grace in the messiness of living.  The truest bonds come from sharing our brokenness with one another.

Then I called my Jesuit friend, Tom, who is a hopeless alcoholic of the worst sort, sober now for 35 years, someone who sometimes gets fat and wants to hang himself, so I trust him. I said, “Tell me a story about Advent. Tell me about people getting well.”
He thought for a while. Then he said, “OK.”
In 1976, when he first got sober, he was living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, going to the very hip AA meetings there, where there were no fluorescent lights and not too much clapping — or that yahoo-cowboy-hat-in-the-air enthusiasm that you get in L.A., according to sober friends. And everything was more or less all right in early sobriety, except that he felt utterly insane all the time, filled with hostility and fear and self-contempt. But I mean, other than that everything was OK. Then he got transferred to Los Angeles in the winter, and he did not know a soul. “It was a nightmare,”he says. “I was afraid to go into entire areas of L.A., because the only places I knew were the bars. So I called the cardinal and asked him for the name of anyone he knew in town who was in AA. And he told me to call this guy Terry.”
Terry, as it turned out, had been sober for five years at that point, so Tom thought he was God. They made arrangements to go to a place Terry knew of where alcoholic men gathered that night in the back of the Episcopal Cathedral, right in the heart of downtown L.A. It was Terry’s favorite gathering, full of low-bottom drunks and junkies — people from nearby halfway houses, bikers, jazz musicians. “Plus it’s a men’s stag meeting,” says Tom. “So already I’ve got issues.
“There I am on my first date with this new friend Terry, who turns out to not be real chatty. He’s clumsy and ill at ease, an introvert with no social skills, but the cardinal has heard that he’s also good with newly sober people. He asks me how I am, and after a long moment, I say, ‘I’m just scared,’ and he nods and says gently, ‘That’s right.’
“I don’t know a thing about him, I don’t know what sort of things he thinks about or who he votes for, but he takes me to this place near skid row, where all these awful looking alkies are hanging out in the yard, waiting for something to start. I’m tense, I’m just staring. It’s a whole bunch of strangers, all of them clearly very damaged — working their way back slowly, but not yet real attractive. The sober people I’ve met back in Berkeley all seem like David Niven in comparison, and I’m thinking, Who are these people? Why am I here?
“All my scanners are out. It’s all I can do not to bolt.
“Ten minutes before we began, Terry directed me to a long flight of stairs heading up to a windowless, airless room. I started walking up the stairs, with my jaws clenched, muttering to myself tensely just like the guy in front of me, this guy my own age who was stumbling and numb and maybe not yet quite on his first day of sobriety.
“The only things getting me up the stairs are Terry, behind me, pushing me forward every so often, and this conviction I have that this is as bad as it’s ever going to be — that if I can get through this, I can get through anything. Well. All of a sudden, the man in front of me soils himself. I guess his sphincter just relaxes. Shit runs down onto his shoes, but he keeps walking. He doesn’t seem to notice.
“However, I do. I clapped a hand over my mouth and nose, and my eyes bugged out but I couldn’t get out of line because of the crush behind me. And so, holding my breath, I walk into the windowless, airless room.
“Now, this meeting has a person who stands at the door saying hello. And this one is a biker with a shaved head, a huge gut and a Volga boatman mustache. He gets one whiff of the man with shit on his shoes and throws up all over everything.
“You’ve seen the Edvard Munch painting of the guy on the bridge screaming, right? That’s me. That’s what I look like. But Terry enters the room right behind me. And there’s total pandemonium, no one knows what to do.The man who had soiled himself stumbles forward and plops down in a chair. A fan blows the terrible smells of shit and vomit around the windowless room, and people start smoking just to fill in the spaces in the air. Finally Terry reaches out to the greeter, who had thrown up. He puts his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Wow,” he says. “Looks like you got caught by surprise.” And they both laugh. Right? Terry asks a couple of guys to go with him down the hall to the men’s room, and help this guy get cleaned up. There are towels there, and kitty litter, to absorb various effluvia, because this is a meeting where people show up routinely in pretty bad shape. So while they’re helping the greeter get cleaned up, other people start cleaning up the meeting room. Then Terry approaches the other man.
“My friend,” he says gently, “it looks like you have trouble here.”
The man just nods.
“We’re going to give you a hand,” says Terry.
“So three men from the recovery house next door help him to his feet,walk him to the halfway house and put him in the shower. They wash his clothes and shoes and give him their things to wear while he waits. They give him coffee and dinner, and they give him respect. I talked to these other men later, and even though they had very little sobriety, they did not cast this other guy off for not being well enough to be there. Somehow this broken guy was treated like one of them, because they could see that he was one of them. No one was pretending he wasn’t covered with shit, but there was a real sense of kinship. And that is what we mean when we talk about grace.
“Back at the meeting at the Episcopal Cathedral, I was just totally amazed by what I had seen. And I had a little shred of hope. I couldn’t have put it into words, but until that meeting, I had thought that I would recover with men and women like myself; which is to say, overeducated, fun to be with and housebroken. And that this would happen quickly and efficiently. But I was wrong. So I’ll tell you what the promise of Advent is: It is that God has set up a tent among us and will help us work together on our stuff. And this will only happen over time.

Posted June 13, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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My Life as a Legalist   Leave a comment

This article is worth your read.  It doesn’t offer a path forward (how to learn to love yourself), but it is a very good description of well-meaning legalists like I was most of my life and the consequences in myself and my relationships that I am still working to overcome.  The grace of God is key in this process of recovery, but it takes faith, time and perseverance.

5 Toxic Things That Will Happen If You Don’t Learn To Love Yourself

 

Posted January 29, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Death of a Good Man   Leave a comment

This is the kind of eulogy I would wish for myself–not to be remembered for my intelligence or talents or accomplishments, but for a sweet spirit.  I think it will take another couple decades of fermenting to become what I wish to be.  Here is Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) remembrance of Alan Rickman, the late actor:

 Alan Rickman is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with. He is also, one of the loyalest and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry. He was so encouraging of me both on set and in the years post-Potter. I’m pretty sure he came and saw everything I ever did on stage both in London and New York. He didn’t have to do that. I know other people who’ve been friends with him for much much longer than I have and they all say “if you call Alan, it doesn’t matter where in the world he is or how busy he is with what he’s doing, he’ll get back to you within a day”.

People create perceptions of actors based on the parts they played so it might surprise some people to learn that contrary to some of the sterner(or downright scary) characters he played, Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny. And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass.

As an actor he was one of the first of the adults on Potter to treat me like a peer rather than a child. Working with him at such a formative age was incredibly important and I will carry the lessons he taught me for the rest of my life and career. Film sets and theatre stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man.

Posted January 14, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Surprising Nature of Forgiveness   1 comment

“FORGIVENESS is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.

“It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defenses must remember and organize against any future attacks – after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having being wounded.

“Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it….

“To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seem to hurt us. We re-imagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we re-imagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”

~ David Whyte

Posted November 11, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

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Failure Is a Necessary Part of Life   Leave a comment

Excerpt from Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People:

We should never be ashamed to return to the drawing board.  In fact all of us should return there every day like children playing on a chalkboard.  The virtue of a chalkboard is that everything drawn on it can be wiped out and begun all over again.  If we were children living in a cottage beside the sea, then every day we would rush out to the beach to play at drawing and building in the sand, and then every night the tide would wash our sandbox clean.  As adults, we might perhaps consider this a pointless activity.  But why cling so tightly to our grown-up accomplishments?  What better way to live than with a clean slate every morning?

Consider the example of Brother Lawrence, who “asked to remain a novice always, not believing anyone would want to profess him, and unable to believe that his two years of novitiate had passed.”  Even the truth, after all, is not something to be held on to doggedly.  If something is really true, then let’s learn it anew every day.  And if there’s anything we’ve acquired that is not true, that does not stand the test of heartfelt love, then let’s wipe it away with the blood of Jesus!

This openhanded, reachable attitude is what is implied in the word practice.  Inherent in this word is the freedom to experiment, to try and try again with limitless humility to fail.  Practice makes perfect, but the practice itself is not perfect.  Practice is a patient, relaxed process of finding out what works and what doesn’t.  Practice leaves plenty of room for making mistakes; indeed mistakes are taken for granted.  In practice it goes without saying that any success is only the fruit of many failures.  Hence the failure is as important as the success, for the one could not happen without the other.

Many people avoid practice because of the fear of failure.  Perfectionists have the mistaken idea that something is not worth doing if they cannot look good by getting it right the first time.  For the perfectionist, any misstep is an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise.  But for a humble person, the surprise is getting it right.  Humility expects trial and error and so rejoices all the more at success.  Humility is always being surprised by grace.

Either life is practice, or it is performance.  It cannot be both.  Do you love surprise, or do you prefer to stay in control?  Are you a professional at life or an amateur?  Do you live spontaneously and experimentally for the sheer love of it  Or are you an expert who takes pride in being right about everything?  Would you rather be right than happy?

None of us can be perfect.  But everyone can be free.  Which will you choose?

Posted August 14, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

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Great Picture Books   Leave a comment

I love children’s books with powerful truths.  Leo Lionni has written “Fish Is Fish,” a story of a fish imagining the world as described by a frog.  Here is Fish’s mental picture of a cow:

Fish Is Fish

It is basically a fish with four legs, horns, and a “pink bag of milk.”  It is a profound parable of how we see everything from our own perspective, even when we do our best to be “unbiased.”  We unknowingly skew everything to match our preconceptions, experiences, personality, etc. so that we can wholly misunderstand others even when we listen with best intentions.  Seeing things from another’s perspective is an art and skill that require patience, humility, empathy, curiosity, and practice, and it is one of the most powerful expressions of love we can grant.

Posted May 9, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

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