Addicted to Hating Trump

A few nights ago I dreamed about a man I love to hate—a man whose conservative, self-righteous, Jesus-talk drives me crazy. In my dream I publicly embarrassed this man. I called out all the ways he was wrong in a room full of people. He was humiliated. I even made him cry. I woke up from this dream feeling so…satisfied.

Karen Armstrong, a British author known for her books on comparative religion, wrote “12 Steps to Compassion” which she based off the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In an interview on the Ted Radio Hour, Armstrong explained, “We are addicted to our pet hatreds. We don’t know what we would do without the people we dislike. We meditate on their bad qualities. They become our alter egos. They are everything we are not. When we say something negative about these people we get a buzz of pleasure almost like the first drink of the evening.”

I immediately thought of the man in my dream as I listened to Armstrong speak. Her words rang so true. My dream reflected my ego’s desire to win, to be right, to defeat this man with whom I disagree. “People don’t want to be compassionate,” Armstrong said, “they want to be right.” Our egos drive us to these conflicts, even in our dreams.

We would be well served to pay attention to Armstrong. My Facebook feed has been full of articles about Donald Trump—negative articles, because that’s what my friends are posting. At first, I read these articles eagerly, looking for more reasons to support why I was right about our new President-elect. But I have started to question this national addiction to hate, to oppose, to prove ourselves right. It seems like we are enjoying ourselves a little too much.

Over dinner the other night, my husband, Dan, cut our 9-year-old son off as he was making fun of President-elect Trump. Our son was just mimicking what he had heard others do. But Dan corrected him, saying that we will not make President Trump the butt of our jokes. We will critique what he does when we believe his actions are wrong. We will work to hold him accountable to what we believe is just. But we will not disparage him or make fun of him for the sake of our own pleasure.

I appreciated Dan’s words to our son and realized I needed to hear them myself. It’s easy to hate, criticize, and meditate on the bad qualities of others. But putting another down is a terrible way to win. It does nothing but produce more conflict and rancor—ugliness just breeds more ugliness. Armstrong suggests, then, that we wean ourselves off of our addictions, our pet grudges, our hatreds. It’s a project for a lifetime, she warns. But it will be a lifetime that prioritizes compassion—all day, every day.

 

[Feature Image: Tony Webster]

Preaching Death

048-XLAlthough I love to write, the sermons I post here on my blog are meant to be heard. So instead of posting the text for my most recent sermon, I decided to share the podcast. You can hear me preaching my Ash Wednesday sermon by following this link. The sermon is called “Choose Life” and it is based upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20.

The Practice of Doing Nothing: Introduction to Meditation

My meditation practice began with the purchase of a new, maroon zafu and zabuton—fancy names for the pillows I learned were a must for those who suffer empty-handswhile sitting cross-legged on the floor. The cushions feel good under my sit-bones, keep my back straight and my anklebones comfortable. I sit in a dark room near my office at the college where gray light filters in through venetian blinds. Behind me is a green chalkboard since this used to be a classroom, turned conference room, now cleared out as a space for prayer and meditation. Our college has welcomed a new group of Muslim students who needed a quiet place to pray. So we created this space in which I find myself meditating each morning.

Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock wryly cracked, “Meditation is a waste of time, like learning French or kissing after sex.” And I might agree, except that French is a beautiful language and kissing speaks of love—especially when it’s not required, or expected. This is the beauty of meditation for me. Out of the nothingness of it, out of this waste of time, comes beauty and knowledge I never expected.

For instance, one day I sat, focused on my breathing, and came to the knowledge that my body is not happy unless it is in constant motion. I itched to go and do while I sat. It was a pulling within me towards activity like the addict is pulled to her dope. The same was true of my mind that was not content unless it was leaping, forward or backward, to any moment but the present. After my practice I wondered how I could be happy if my body and mind never wanted to be where I actually was? I didn’t know of this discontent—of my unrest and addiction to motion—until I practiced doing nothing.

Meditation, then, is a clearing of space for me, an emptying ritual of only ten to twelve minutes. My desire is to open myself through this practice so I can receive whatever comes. Sometimes nothing comes. But that’s okay. Who am I to judge the nothingness? More often, though, I am given something out of the nothing—an epiphany (such as the discontent to which my mind and body lure me) a knowing humility that the world moves on as I sit, or a simple and subtle diffusing of the urgency of my emotions. These are gifts I never would have received had I not engaged myself in the practice of doing nothing, had I not stopped for a few minutes to sit cross-legged, in a dark room on a maroon zafu and zabuton.

 

 

Choose Life–Even When Life is Hard

13030589.aspxI have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19

Do you believe life is a choice?  It doesn’t feel like a choice.  Life feels more like something that just happens—something you can’t control.  Life propels you forward and you just swim along, doing the very best you can.  Then sometimes life is too much—too hard.  Someone close to you asks, “What’s wrong?” and you can’t tell them—because it’s nothing and everything—and because you don’t know.  All you know is that life is too much and you can’t deal with it.   You just want to make a little nest for yourself and crawl in, lie down, and go to sleep for a day, or a week, or a month.  But you can’t, because you have kids and responsibilities—because life just keeps pushing you forward.

Kathleen Norris, the poet and memoirist, writes that this state of lethargy, or weariness of life, is what the desert monks might have called, “acedia” (a word that can be translated as “indifference”) and in the Middle Ages it was considered sloth, but these days is most often named, “depression.”  Kathleen Norris knows this state herself.  She writes, “I had thought that I was merely tired and in need of rest at year’s end, but it drags on, becoming the death-in-life that I know all too well, when my capacity for joy shrivels up and, like drought-stricken grass, I die down to the roots to wait it out.  The simplest acts demand a herculean effort, the pleasure I normally take in people and the world itself is lost to me.  I can be with people I love, and know that I love them, but feel nothing at all.  I am observing my life more than living it.”[1]

Norris’ words resonated with me because I’ve suffered from depression off and on my whole life.  If I don’t take care of myself, especially during times of extreme stress, it can get pretty bad.  For a long time, I thought I was alone on this island of depression.  But I’ve become increasingly aware of how prevalent “acedia” has become in our society.  I counsel college students suffering from it all the time.  Sometimes their depression is situational—they are extremely stressed about their classes or their future and the stress just takes them down.  Other times the depression comes as if out of thin air.  It’s something chemical—an imbalance that they may have inherited—and for which they need to get some help.  I’ve known farmers who suffer with it, affected by the winter’s lack of light, prompted by the stress of trying to predict Mother Nature’s whims, or just trying to survive their general daily grind.  Older adults know it too, those who are alone for a majority of their day with little to occupy their minds and their time.

So, in our text for today, when I read of God laying out a buffet of choices for the Israelites who are about to enter the Promised Land saying to them, “I have set before you today life and death, blessings and curses” and then implores them to choose life—I wasn’t sure I quite understood (or agreed).  Is life a choice?  Certainly we have the power to choose death over life because we have the power to end our own lives and the lives of others (through acts of violence.)  On the other hand, though, life can be a form of death, we can be alive physically, but dead spiritually, emotionally, psychologically—the depressed person knows this well.  And this state of death-in-life isn’t always a choice.  Sometimes it just happens.

But I do understand why God would implore God’s people to choose life, because the temptations to escape to a state of death are everywhere.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death led a group of us at the college into an interesting conversation about addiction and temptation.  Hoffman apparently died because of an addiction to heroin—which, I learned in this conversation, is a drug that offers a high like no other.  Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs because its effects are so euphoric.  As I sat there listening to heroin’s euphoric high described, I remember thinking—wow, that does sound pretty good.  To just escape life for a little while—go on a little euphoric trip and leave all your worries and responsibilities behind.  Of course I never would do heroin because it is clearly a choice of death.  But I might sit down with a glass of wine to melt my worries away…or hit the mall for a little retail therapy….or (as I found myself doing last week) raid the refrigerator way too late, dipping spoonfuls of frozen yogurt into a container of vanilla frosting and then slapping it on a cookie to eat.  These temptations don’t rival the evil of heroin, but they could still lead me to a physical, spiritual, emotional state of death if I excessively indulged…and kept indulging.  The temptation to escape life is huge—especially when you are tired, or stressed, or—depressed.

And I imagine God knows this—which is why this scripture feels more like an imperative than a statement.  “Choose life” God implores, “so that you and your descendants may live.”  There’s passion in these words.  There’s love in these words.  There’s almost a sense of desperation in these words because God knows that life can be hard and that the temptations to escape life are so strong.

I come to understand God’s sentiment even better when I started to think about these words from the perspective of a parent.  I wouldn’t say these words to myself so much….I wouldn’t implore myself to choose life over death (especially if I was feeling depressed) but I certainly would my child.  I can picture my children, Isaac and Ella, going through life, encountering its hardships, struggling with defeat and stress, even tragedy.  And I can see the temptations to escape looming around them.  Perhaps they will be tempted by drugs or alcohol or wild nights out.  Perhaps they will be tempted to overindulge, to drown their sorrows in Happy Meals and chocolate milk shakes. Perhaps they will turn away from God and the church and from the community that cares for them in search of something else.

The parent knows the value of her child’s life because the parent knows how much that child is loved.  The one who created you, labored over you, and bore you into this world knows how much you are loved and knows how valuable your life is.

And as my own children face all this I imagine myself saying to them, with the same passion and the same authority as the God who made all of us, Choose life, Isaac and Ella.  Choose life over all that is dark, and death-like, and tempting.  Choose life, Isaac and Ella, because you are extraordinary and you are valuable and your life is a gift—even when it is hard.  So don’t give up.  Always push on.  Choose life.


[1] Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk, pg. 130-131.