Sunday, February 25, 2007

an inconvenient truth

I just returned from an Oscar's party. Actually, I came back early from it. I gave the polite excuse of being tired (which is true), but the real reason I left was because I had become rather angry.

The party was held by a friend of mine who happens to be rather conservative in his politics. Many of the people there were even more conservative than my friend. And several of those are counselors at a local Christian counseling agency where I do some contract work.

Anyway, tonight Melissa Ethridge won an Oscar for a song she wrote for the movie "An Inconvenient Truth." And in her speech, she mostly focused on Al Gore's message and leadership on the global warming issue, but at one point she made a simple statement of thanks to "my wife."

And the room coldly erupted. Snide jokes came out about who was the "husband" in her relationship with her partner, comments emerged along the lines of "so much for moral values."

I suppose I should have expected this, given the crowd I was with. But some of the more outrageous comments were from COUNSELORS, people who are likely to actually work with GLBT individuals during moments of great pain and crisis. These clients will look to them for signs of their essential value as human beings, who will wonder whether God can accept them for who they are, for who they love.

This thought bothered me so much that I felt I should go. Perhaps it would have been better for me to challenge them, to get into a real discussion of what they believe and why, of how it affects GLBT individuals and those who care about them to hear such comments. But I did not. My anger was probably too intense for me to have had that discussion in a productive manner.

I suppose it could be said that the inconvenient truth for them is that they shall have to face such individuals in their practice from time to time. They will have to reconcile their beliefs about gay people with the realities that they will face, with the empathy that their job requires them to form. I pray that this causes them to look seriously at their beliefs during such moments. From my own perspective, I cannot imagine how such beliefs can be consistent with God's command that we love.

As for me, my "inconvenient truth" is that I believe God calls me to find some way of loving these individuals who offended me tonight. If I simply write them off, refuse to think of them or treat them as human beings any longer, I am perhaps doing no more than they are.

I hope that as my shock and anger subside, I shall reflect more deeply on their perspectives, on their values, on their fears. I hope that I can come to more deeply understand why they feel they must interpret the Bible as they do, why they feel called upon to "defend" the institution of marriage, etc. I hope that I can restrain myself from the urge to "understand" solely so that I might come up with ways to change their mind.

This, I think, is the hard work of love.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

reflections on love, part IV

"The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go...If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think that upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don't love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination."

"As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or se ourselves as different from others, we do not have true equanimity. We have to put ourselves 'into the other person's skin' and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him."

"Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him ina tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is upeksha."

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Teachings on Love"

I have often thought that if this teaching was widely taught, widely understood, and widely practiced, I would lose about 95% of my marital therapy cases. And I would rejoice in it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

reflections on love, part III

"The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love."

"Some commentators have said that mudita means 'sympathetic joy' or 'altruistic joy,' the happiness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone."

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Teachings On Love"

Sometimes I think that out of a desire to condemn excessive materialism or selfishness, the Christian tradition has unintentionally neglected (or even scorned) the value of personal happiness. One of the reasons I like this teaching is that it does the opposite -- it recognizes that our capacity to feel joy for others depends on having at least some measure of joy within ourselves. Put another way, our personal and spiritual growth cannot be thought of in purely selfless terms. We have to love and nurture ourselves, for it is in doing so that we also achieve the capacity for loving others.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should succumb to materialism or selfishness. These do not produce lasting joy or happiness, in any case. But in rejecting the allure of such things, we mustn't make the mistake of assuming that the only proper spiritual concern is with others, that a consideration of one's own happiness is a kind of spiritual poison. Indeed, I think this teaching tells us that nurturing happiness, joy, and peace within ourselves is a necessity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

reflections on love, part II

"One compassionate word, action, or thought can reduce another person's suffering and bring him joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person's life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our hearts, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle."

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Teachings On Love"

I love this teaching in part because it makes me mindful of the power of each thought, word, and action I have. It helps me to be more careful in one sense, but also gives me a sense of profound hope that these simple things can make a difference.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

reflections on love

"The first aspect of true love is...the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy. If you offer your beloved something she does not need, that is not [love]. You have to see her real situation or what you offer might bring her unhappiness."

"Without understanding, your love is not true love. You must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love."

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Teachings On Love"

In my view, our idea of love has been cheapened, made into some sort of Disney picture notion of romance. We tend to think of love as something that is easy, a feeling that simply comes up when the right person or situation brings it forth.

The notion of love that Thich Nhat Hanh discusses is far more complex, but far deeper I think. This notion of love says that we cannot truly love unless we have done the deep work of truly understanding our beloved, of putting our own perspective aside and thinking through what would make them happy.

I don't mean to say that love should always be difficult. But neither do I think that it is right for us to assume that love should come to us without any effort on our part. We must nurture our capacity for love, just as we must nurture our beloved.

Peace and love to all of you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

downer blog?

OK, looking back at the past several posts, I realized just how depressing they might be. Like why don't I just call this thing "downer blog" and get it over with?!

Which, of course, I couldn't just leave alone as a stand-alone observation. It made me start to reflect on the areas of stress in my life. Clearly, my job can be one of them. It used to be that my job stressed me out because I questioned my own competence. That is no longer the issue, really. Now it's more the sense that I know I can do my job reasonably well, but there's only so much that I can do. Which brings its own kind of helplessness.

And then there's the simple effect of hearing all the stories. Which is an honor, really. I mean, to have someone trust you enough to share that kind of's almost mind boggling. But there's also a slow emotional toll of hearing story after story of pain, of loss, of tragedy.

It's that sort of worn down feeling that makes me acutely aware of my need for things that recharge me.

So my hope is to make more of a priority, more of a commitment to things that nurture peace, joy, and happiness in my heart and soul. I pray that in doing so I will also nurture my ability to bring those things to my family, my clients, and those good and patient folks who read and comment on my blog.


I have these odd little thoughts or memories that go through my head sometimes during a session. Today it was that line from the Lord of the Rings (LOTR for those who really get into that kind of thing): "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."

This quote was going through my head today as I had a young man explain to me that he'd rather go live with a father who was horrendously abusive to him and his siblings for years -- than to stay in the foster-care system any longer.

These emotional ties to family. So powerful. Which is wonderful in the vast majority of cases...but for this young man? To say I worry about the effect of such a move would be an understatement of extreme proportions.

He knows what's happened to him. He remembers. Yet he is drawn back, prefering the comfort of "family" to living with strangers. Even when that connection with family could have such destructive influence on his life. I wonder how much of this is conscious. Or how much of this is unconscious, eerily like what Tolkien wrote "...and in the darkness, bind them."

I pray my words of caution to this young man seeped in, meant something to him.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Not so long ago, one of my young adolescent clients received some devastating news. His mother had failed to live up to the terms of her parole. She was being sent back to prison. For this particular young man, it was just another in a series of disappointments in his life, whether it was one in a string of relapses on drugs or alcohol, his mother's choice of abusive boyfriends...and now this.

One of the reasons that I hate such situations is that, like it or not, I have to talk to them about their hopes for their parent, about whether they're realistic. I'm very careful not to suggest that they abandon all hope for their parent "turning things around," but I do feel like I need to have them face the possibility that their parent is going to keep doing things like this.

I try not to talk about this in terms of giving up hope. I try to talk about it in terms of creating hopes and plans for himself based on several possibilities -- that his parent turns things around, that she doesn't and he stays in foster-care, etc.

But part of me wonders just who I'm trying to fool here. I'm being forced to ask this kid to question his hopes for his parent. No matter how necessary the cause for this, it's still got to be devastating for him.

I know I'm not the cause of this, exactly, I'm just trying to help him through it. You could even argue that his relationship with me might become one of the few sources of stability in his life. I hope that's the case. But I still remember the pained, angry look on his face when he got the news about his Mom, and the look of resignation on his face as we began to talk about his hopes.

Friday, February 09, 2007

computer woes, part II

OK, so here's the thing: I just only bought the computer in 2003. Late in 2003, as I recall. So the bloody thing is only about three years old, really.

The computer repair folks tell me that they've narrowed the problem down to either a defective motherboard or defective CPU chips. The problem is that the kind of CPU chips made for my computer (which, again, is only 3 years old!) aren't made anymore and simply cannot be replaced. And as for the motherboard, it's only produced by Gateway, and it seems they don't produce that model anymore, either. Even if we could find a motherboard somehow to replace the one I have now, there's no guarantee that it would fix the problem (it could still be the CPUs) -- and it would be $150-$200 just for that part alone. And even if it did work, there's apparently a high risk that this problem could keep happening.

Sigh. I'm having to face the fact that I may simply have to get a replacement.

I'm actually tempted to look at getting an Apple. But there's the cost issue for one thing, and...well, I have several rather technical pieces of software (e.g., programs that administer psychological tests), and I worry about their compatibility with an Apple system. Hmm...I'll have to look into that a bit further.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

computer woes

My computer is ill. Not too long ago, it started making techno-music like sounds right before it freezed up on me. It is currently being looked at in a repair shop.

The bothersome thing is that the same thing happened about 8-12 months ago (fortunately, it was still under warranty at the time and the repair was free). So I worry about doing too much of an expensive repair if I'm just going to have this continue to happen again and again.

I'd really rather just buy a new one if this repair is going to cost as much as I think it might (I'm thinking around $500 for parts and labor). Yuck.

The big problem, really, is that if and when I get a new machine, I'm going to have to find a way to transfer all the songs I've downloaded off of iTunes (oh, and all of my work files) onto the new machine. I do, fortunately, have the hard-drive backed up, but I've never actually had to restore any files. I hope that partis relatively easy.


My father was born on this day in 1936.

He died just about exactly two years ago now, so today carries its own kind of sadness. But I also find myself profoundly grateful for his life, for his years of quiet, gentle fatherhood to my siblings and I.

Because he lived, I live. Because he lived, my children are possible.

Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A pretty good joke...

Heard this weekend on the annual "Prarie Home Companion" joke show:

So Abraham has this old computer, and he's trying to install a new version of Windows on it. But Isaac looks at his father and says, "Dad, this machine is way too old. There's no way it has enough memory to run this new operating system." Abraham looks over at Isaac and says "Son, God shall supply the RAM."

I love that joke!

Monday, February 05, 2007

My father's son...

First of all, many thanks to all of you who wrote in with thoughts and support following my post. It was much appreciated.

As the actual day of his birth (and the day of his death, which were oddly close together) approaches, I find myself thinking about the things that connect my Dad and I. For instance, he was a rather infamous "absent minded professor type." And I am frequently given reminders by my wife about how I have my own issues in this regard. For instance...she has told me several times that today is Patrick's IEP, and that the schedule of our day would have to change this afternoon.

So when she talked to me today about dropping both of the children off at daycare (instead of my taking Patrick home to work on his autism), did I say "oh, of course, we have his IEP"? Did I say, "yes, I remember"? No. Instead, I looked at her with puzzlement and asked "why?"

I am my father's son. You might think this would cause some irritation at him. But though it might frustrate my dear wife, right now it makes me smile. I am my father's son.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's late...

I have a Palm Pilot that I use as a scheduler for my work (well, let's face it, for my life in general). Typically, I have a great fondness for my Palm Pilot, and defend its honor against those who decry its technological wizardry and praise the simplicity of a paper calendar.

But at this moment, I hate my Palm Pilot.

Well, maybe hate is a strong term. And maybe its not exactly the Palm Pilot that I hate.

I hate the fact that at this moment my Palm Pilot has a message for me. It's telling me that my father's birthday is coming up, that I shouldn't forget to buy him a card or a present.

My father died almost two years ago. He had this long battle with Pick's Disease, a progressive dementia somewhat similar to Alzheimer's except for the fact that Alzheimer's hits memory in a big way first -- and Pick's goes after expressive language skills. My mother was driving back home from Minneapolis with him when he simply slumped over. The paramedics were too late by the time they arrived.

My father was a silent man, mostly, at least as I grew older. He'd watch his sports, he loved watching 60 Minutes. But he didn't usually say too much. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the fact that he was often so quiet kept us from spotting that something was wrong for far too long. Certainly, his colleagues at work noticed something was different about him far before we did. They didn't say anything, they told us, because they didn't want to insult him, to risk offending the pride of this man who had taught countless college students for years and years.

And now there's this message on my scheduler. My Dad's birthday is coming up. I need to get him something.

Perhaps what I hate is simply the fresh grief that comes up at this moment, all pointless and silly and yet real and powerful. Perhaps what I hate is the fact that I felt somehow like I could turn his death into a reason to live my own life more fully, to imbue it with more meaning -- and that the cold realities of my day to day life seem to mock that pledge.

I also know that it's late, that this feeling will pass, that the act of simply putting it into words will help it pass. I'll forgive my Palm Pilot (out of necessity if for no other reason!), and hopefully I will remember the lessons that fatherhood has taught me: that love isn't something based on success or achievement or progress, that the love we have for our children simply IS.