Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Start Where You Are"

I've just started reading Pema Chodron's book, "Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living." She has some interesting things to say about how we approach our experiences, both good and bad. For starters, she writes that "we already have everything that we need. There is no need for self-improvement.... From this perspective we don't need to change: you can feel as wretched as you like, and you're still a good candidate for enlightenment. You can feel like the world's most hopeless basket case, but that feeling is your wealth, not something to be thrown out or improved upon."

The approach she describes is one of staying mindfully present in the moment, of fearlessly staying present with our pain rather than avoiding it, and even of moving towards our pain -- because by approaching our pain in this way we can allow our pain to "awaken your heart and let it soften you."

Profound stuff. And radically different from a western world that tends to avoid pain at all costs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


OK, so I just read this article, which I find troubling on a number of levels.

1. The entire notion of having to "hide" those with autism or other disabilities is troubling.

2. The apparent belief of the child's mother that her son has autism and nothing can be done about his behavior is troubling.

3. The idea that a church would file a restraining order against a child is troubling.

4. The mother's apparent refusal to find some sort of mutually acceptable way to worship is troubling.

5. The mother's disregard for the rights of fellow parishioners is troubling.

6. The idea that this is being turned into a battle, with simplistic labels thrown on people is troubling.

7. The way that autism can ravage a young life is troubling.

Peace to you all, my friends.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

on the radio

Saw the movie "Iron Man" tonight. Really enjoyed it, actually. I was impressed with how it had a kind of emotional depth -- and wasn't afraid to discuss complex ethical issues -- while still being a good action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Anyway, on the way home, I was scanning through radio stations and happened to hear a snippet of a Catholic radio program. This one involved church doctrine on those who disagree with some church teachings (like capital punishment) may still receive communion, while those who disagree with other church teachings (such as on abortion or euthanasia) are prohibited from doing so. The argument (put forward by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict) is that different moral issues carry different moral weights -- and that those with more serious moral weight must be treated more seriously.

Of course, this puts the church into a precarious position, both politically and morally. The assumption here is that the church has some great moral clarity that allows it to speak authoritatively about which moral issues are of greater significance than others -- as if they alone hold some sort of metric, some way of assigning comparable values to moral issues.

Such arrogance. Such condescension. And so deeply misplaced. They create conflict and estrangement at the very time that the church needs to create a positive identity for itself. Sigh.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the church should not sometimes speak with conviction and clarity on matters of moral importance. But turning away from communion those members who hold principled disagreement on serious issues? That seems to me to run contrary to the essential meaning of communion -- of acceptance of our part in the body of Christ, of accepting our differences and seeing past them to a greater unity.

I'm afraid my church will continue to decline in numbers and significance so long as it places more value on speaking from a presumed authority than it does in speaking from compassion. I pray that it (that we, as church) may be awakened to this insight.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I came home from lunch today and got to spend some mostly pleasant time with my kids because they had the day off from school (one of those "nobody really knows why we don't have school today" kind of days off from school). Anyway, I was having some sort of discussion with my son Jacob -- it may have even been a discussion where he was disagreeing or arguing with me. And at one point, Patrick gets frustrated, reaches over, and bites Jacob on the back.

This has been something of a recurrent struggle for Patrick. His autism leads him to have an oversensitivity to sound, and he seems to react to overly loud noises with either aggression or shutting down. Today, as you already know, he chose aggression.

My initial reaction was one of shock, and then of anger. Jacob had done nothing, really, and he didn't deserve to be attacked by his brother like that. So I yelled at Patrick "stop! You may NOT bite your brother!" And Patrick clamped on to Jacob's back for another minute or so before looking at me and I took him to his room for time-out.

A bit later, I worked on trying to induce some guilt in Patrick by showing him the bite marks he left on Jacob's back, and my wife and I talked to him about what he could have done differently.

Still, I find myself feeling a strong bit of guilt. Here's a kid who dislikes noise and I raised my voice pretty loud. I reacted out of anger when it would have been better if I had kept my cool. I reacted to my son's weakness by showing some of my own.

OK, I know this is hardly child abuse. And perhaps I'm being a bit hard on myself. Still, my hope is to model calm, reasoned problem solving in response to stress. Today, I'm afraid I fell short.